Currently, shark ecotourism brings in $314 million annually worldwide, and this sector is expected to continue growing. Surges in shark tourism are particularly evident in the Caribbean and Australia, the researchers said.
“That figure is projected to double to over $700 million per year within the next 20 years,” Cisneros-Montemayor told LiveScience.
In comparison, the landed market value (which refers to the market value of goods on the day they are offloaded from a vessel) of shark fisheries around the globe is $630 million per year, but has been in decline over the past 10 to 15 years, the researchers said. [On the Brink: A Gallery of Wild Sharks]
Approximately 38 million sharks are killed each year to meet the demands of the controversial shark fin industry, which uses the fins to make shark fin soup, a dish that is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries. Sharks are often thrown back into the ocean to die after their fins have been removed.
But, there are other important reasons to promote shark conservation beyond economics, Cisneros-Montemayor said. For one, sharks play a vital role in the ecosystem of the oceans.
“Studies have found that if you remove top predators, like sharks, you change the structure of the ecosystem itself,” he explained. “This significantly changes the ecosystem, and it puts you in danger of all kinds of bad things happening.”