Research Suggests Ecotourism May Help, Not Harm, Wildlife
March 10, 2012

Research Suggests Ecotourism May Help, Not Harm, Wildlife

A new study investigating the impact of ecotourism activities that use food to attract wildlife for observers has discovered that the booming business does not appear to have a negative effect on those creatures.

In fact, researchers at the University of Miami's (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science have discovered that the opposite may very well be true -- ecotourism may be good for the creatures that are becoming so highly sought after by would-be onlookers.

Their findings -- which a UM press release refers to as " the first satellite tagging study to examine the long-term and long range movement patterns of tiger sharks (the largest apex predator in tropical waters) in response to dive tourism" --  have been published in Functional Ecology, the journal of the British Ecological Society.

According to a CBC News report, the researchers set out to explore the issue by tagging two groups of tiger sharks -- one off the coast of Florida, where the use of chum to attract the sharks is illegal, and one in the Bahamas, where the practice is permitted.

They had hypothesized that the Bahamas group would show less shark activity around dive sites than the other group, but in actuality the opposite was true -- tiger sharks there roamed over an 8,500 square kilometer area, nearly five times greater than the range of the Florida-based group, according to the CBC.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, one of five UM experts involved in the study, told OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer Andrea Mustain that the Florida tiger sharks moved a maximum of 1,000 kilometers from their tagging site, while the Bahamas based ones "moved massive distances“¦[the tagging area] was important, but they didn't rely on it."

Hammerschlag, colleagues Jerald S. Ault and Jiangang Luo, and graduate students Austin Gallagher and Julia Wester, attached satellite tags to the dorsal fins of 11 tiger sharks in Florida and 10 in the Bahamas, following each for a span of six to twelve months, Mustain said. Their work has lead Hammerschlag to conclude that ecotourism, when done properly, might not be harmful to sharks (and other creatures) after all.

"Given the economic and conservation benefits we believe managers should not prevent shark diving tourism out of hand until sufficient data were to demonstrate otherwise," he said in a statement Friday.


Image Caption: A large female tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) circles a group of divers at a popular dive-tourism site, nicknamed "Tiger Beach" in the Bahamas. Image courtesy Jim Abernethy


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