315 – Shark conservation and demand for tourism in the Maldives

As I’ve noted previously, diving with wild sharks is a growing tourism industry. It has the potential to increase the demand for shark conservation, in order to maintain the economic benefits to tourism operators, and the benefits to tourists. Here we quantify these benefits in the Maldives, as well as the cost of worsening conservation.

The Republic of the Maldives is a small island nation in the central Indian Ocean. The country is composed of about 1200 islands of which 200 are inhabited, around 122 are assigned as resort islands, and the remainder are uninhabited.

Tourism dominates the nation’s economy, accounting for 27% of the gross domestic product in 2014. Diving and snorkelling are the most popular activities of tourists.

In 2010, a shark sanctuary was implemented in the Maldives when the declining status of shark fisheries and concerns over decreased shark sightings from divers encouraged the government to announce a total ban on shark fisheries in its waters. Today, shark populations are recovering in most, but not all, atolls.

However, the new regime is not without challenges. One is the ability of the government to actively enforce the ban on shark fishing. Another is the fact that it is still legal to sell shark jaws and teeth in tourist shops, creating an incentive for illegal fishing. Reef fishermen don’t like sharks eating their potential catch, and have been observed killing them.

On the other hand, conserving sharks is in the interests of dive operators and resorts.  Some resorts report illegal fishing activities to authorities and refuse to buy fish from fishermen that have landed sharks.

Led by PhD student, Johanna Zimmerhackel, we  investigated the link between shark conservation actions and economic returns from diving tourism. A survey-based approach (travel cost combined with contingent behaviour) was used to estimate the dive trip demand under different management scenarios.

Our results show that increasing shark populations could increase dive-trip demand by 15%, raising dive tourists’ welfare by US$58 million annually. This could result in annual economic benefits for the dive-tourism industry of more than US$6 million.

Conversely, in scenarios where shark populations decline from their current levels, where dive tourists observe illegal fishing, or if dive operators lack engagement in shark conservation, dive trip demand could decrease by up to 56%. This decline causes economic losses of more than US$24 million annually to the dive tourism industry.

These results highlight the dependence of the shark-diving industry on the creation and enforcement of appropriate management regimes for shark conservation. These results are important given the shameful over-exploitation of sharks in many parts of the world, particularly to satisfy the pointless demand for shark fins (flavourless cartilage) for shark-fin soup in Asia.

Further reading

Zimmerhackel, J.S., Rogers, A.A., Meekan, M.G., Ali, K., Pannell, D.J. and Kragt, M.E. (2018). How shark conservation in the Maldives affects demand for dive tourism, Tourism Management 69, 263-271. Journal web page  NOTE: The journal article can be downloaded for free, without subscription, until August 15.

Zimmerhackel, Johanna S & Pannell, David J & Meekan, Mark & Kragt, Marit E & Rogers, Abbie, (2016). Diving Tourism and Fisheries in Marine Protected Areas: Market Values and New Approaches to Improve Compliance in the Maldives Shark Sanctuary, Working Papers 243921, University of Western Australia, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics. IDEAS page

314 – ADOPT goes online

ADOPT is the Adoption and Diffusion Outcome Prediction Tool. It is now available as an online version, replacing the spreadsheet that has over 1000 users.

I’ve previous talked about how agricultural scientists, extension agents, policy makers and suppliers need to be able to predict how farmers will respond to a new practice or technology (PD203). How many farmers will adopt the new practice, and how quickly will they do so? This knowledge can influence research priorities, reserach funding decisions, the design and emphasis of extension campaigns, and the effectiveness of agricultural policies.

Although there is any amount of research exploring factors that influenced past adoption of novel practices by farmers, there has been very little effort to convert all that knowledge into a prediction tool.

A team of us developed ADOPT to fill that gap. There have been over 1000 downloads of the spreadsheet tool we developed, which comes in two versions: for developed and developing countries.

Now we have released an online version that superscedes the spreadsheet version for developed countries (we’re still working on the developing-country online version). It has a number of new features that make it even more useful and informative.

If you’d like a to investigate it, head over to adopt.csiro.au. You’ll need to create an account, and then you can explore the tool for free.

There is also an option to register for a full license, costing A$49, which gives you access to more results, a project report, and an unlimited number of assessments for one year.

Meanwhile, our journal paper about ADOPT in Agricultural Systems continues to be in their top 10 most downloaded papers (as of 9 June 2018). There have been around 10,000 downloads of the paper since it went online in late 2017. Feel free to get one yourself – it’s free and doesn’t require a subscription.

Further reading

Kuehne, G., Llewellyn, R., Pannell, D.J., Wilkinson, R., Dolling, P., Ouzman, J. and Ewing, M. (2017). Predicting farmer uptake of new agricultural practices: a tool for research, extension and policy, Agricultural Systems 156, 115-125. Journal web page * Ideas page