Shark Info Logo

Shark Info   (06-15-1999)



Underwater Parks

Shark Info

  Main article:

Underwater Parks: Economic and Ecological Aspects

Shark Info

  Article 1:

Jeopardized ┬źNurseries┬╗

Dr. T. E. Hopkins

  Article 2:

Requiem for smoked dogfish

Dr. A. J. Godknecht

  Article 3:

Aggressive Sharks, reality or fantasy?

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Fact Sheet:

Spiny Dogfish

Dr. E. K. Ritter

Underwater Parks: Economic and Ecological Aspects

Underwater parks might help marine animals to survive.

Report by Shark Info

Walker's Cay, Bahamas

Walker's Cay, Bahamas     © Shark Info / Doug Perrine

More and more governments are learning that living animals contribute a greater share to a country's economy than dead ones. This evolution in thinking began with the wildlife parks in Africa and is now extending to the oceans. Undoubtedly a big attraction for such underwater nature reserve areas is the shark.

Economic Interests: Example Bahamas

The recognition that it is economically and ecologically more meaningful to use living animals as a tourist attraction rather than to approve overexploitation of their population in order to retain some jobs is gaining foothold worldwide. The market value of an average-sized shark is currently about 10 dollars, but this cannot be compared to its touristic value. In the Bahamas this recurring value is estimated to be approximately 15,000 dollars per shark annually!

What causes such a drastic difference? More and more people choose to spend their vacation at ocean areas marked by an intact underwater environment, biodiversity and associated water quality. In fact, people are even willing to pay a little more for such an intact environment. The Bahamas represent such a touristic magnet which annually attracts around 3.2 million swimmers and divers from all over the world. Situated on the flat plateau in front of the U.S. coast, the islands are treasured by divers since the area is well-known as being one of the best shark regions in the world. The waters surrounding the Bahamas are not only inhabited by a large number of sharks but also by a rich number of shark species, making it a rare underwater region (species list). Bahamian authorities thus estimate that around 40% of all divers who visit the Bahamas do so primarily to view sharks in their natural environment.

Insufficient protection of natural resources

The large number of sharks and their diversity of species translates into real gold in the Bahamas. However, this wealth is significantly endangered due to local fishermen and especially foreign fishing boats whcih catch sharks in Bahamian waters. In the early nineties, the government passed a law forbidding longline fishing, but this law offers only a minimum of protection. Insufficient resources are available to control longline fishing and it should not come as a surprise that more and more unpunished transgressions are registered. It is thus absolutely necessary to establish protected zones, because commercial fishing vessels - both in the Bahamas and elsewhere - ignore any laws and quite often fish entire underwater areas dry in night actions. In Walker's Cay, for example, one such night action resulted in the loss of forty sharks or almost half of the one hundred sharks located in the region. These were sharks which many visitors had been able to observe during many dives, and which many people almost got to know "personally". All of the animals were later found with their fins cut off in the vicinity of Walker's Cay.

Underwater parks as an economic factor

Establishing underwater parks are a first attempt to protect regions which may be hard to control by other means. The control of fishing bans and conserving the environment would be transferred to local authorities who have a more direct interest in maintaining regulations than remote government offices. Underwater parks also have many advantages. Economically, they could be a blessing for many regions as tourist attractions which are protectable and where the variety of animal life is preserved. Furthermore, the transfer of executive powers to local authorities could have the advantage of leading to much improved enforcement of fishing rules because they know the areas very well and could prevent any form of fishing with effective sanctions. This appears to be a simple enough formula - right? Still, using the example of Walker's Cay, Abaco Islands, it is obvious that a lot of persuasive powers will still have to be employed, not only with government offices but also with local inhabitants.
Gary Adkison, a leader in proposing such parks in the Bahamas, has fought for about eight years to put an area of approximately 15 square kilometers fronting Walker's Cay under protection as an underwater park. Subjected to enormous difficulties, including threats from local fishermen, Adkison worked hard to convince local inhabitants that the only way to protect their jobs long-term would be to protect their underwater world. Many residents of the Abaco Islands, at the farthest end of the Bahamas region, work directly or indirectly for the tourist trade. Little by little he managed to convince hotel owners and local residents that an underwater park was necessary and ultimately would serve their own interests. But the Bahamian Government took a somewhat indifferent attitude toward his efforts. More than once Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham assured Adkison that a park project would be implemented, but for years the government did nothing and fostered delaying tactics. On May 1, 1999, following an additional effort and supported by various interest groups, Adkison's ceaseless endeavors were finally crowned with success by an official declaration of protection for the underwater park. It was a very small, yet important step for the Bahamas, and the end of a nightmare for the sharks and other ocean denizens of this region.

Nature reserves serve not only tourism

But why are underwater parks even needed? Has the Bahamian Government not solved the problem with its already longer existing prohibition of destructive "longlining"? The answer is absolutely no, for "longlining' is only one aspect. In reality, the entire ecosystem needs protection. In this case, economy and ecology go hand in hand. Underwater parks allow local authorities to handle any poaching and eventually punish the guilty. Protected marine areas guarantee that the ecosystem and refuge for many animal species is retained and maintained in a usable form. In other words, such parks should not only be seen from the viewpoint of serving tourists, but also under economic, conservation and biological aspects. The protection of certain ocean regions must thus be subject to precise guidelines. Otherwise the danger exists that such parks are misused by purely economic interests. Unfortunately, the rising tide of ecotourism produces more and more black sheep. Uncontrolled shark feedings for show purposes condition sharks and may actually provoke accidents. This should also be prevented, along with any excessive negative effects on the ecosystem arising from touristic overuse. Only strict guidelines and competent, incorruptible control authorities can inhibit such misuse. In that way, underwater parks will not only benefit the region but will also support science and the economy. The Shark Foundation, for example, supports research projects which study the natural migration paths of sharks and their biological behavior. The U.S. Shark Foundation, the affiliated American organization, was founded to support and further promote the Walker's Cay Underwater Park as well as other similar endeavors.

Underwater parks in the Bahamas

Map showing underwater parks in the Bahamas. Walker's Cay Park, which opened on May 1, 1999, and other projected parks near Berry Island, New Providence, Andros and Long Island are circled.

© Shark Info

Unfortunately, while the benefits of such parks as Walker's Cay are obvious, the involved authorities are often very indifferent and the outdated opinion which considers the ocean as a continually replenished source of economic gains still prevails. As a result there is often a tendency to feel that such projects are only slightly or not at all necessary. Today, plans exist to set up underwater parks in the southwest of New Providence, the northern end of Long Island, and parts of the barrier reefs fronting Andros and Berry Island. These plans were submitted to the Bahamian Government, but a possible decision date remains vague.


Sharks of the Bahamas:

Large-spotted dog fish

Scyliorhinus meadi

Dwarf dog fish

Scyliorhinus torrei

Dusky smooth-hound

Mustelus canis

Blacknose shark

Carcharhinus acronotus

Bignose shark

Carcharhinus altimus

Spinner shark

Carcharhinus brevipinna

Silky shark

Carcharhinus falciformis

Bull shark

Carcharhinus leucas

Blacktip shark

Carcharhinus limbatus

Oceanic whitetip shark

Carcharhinus longimanus

Finetooth shark

Carcharhinus isodon

Dusky shark

Carcharhinus obscurus

Northern whaler

Carcharhinus plumbeus

Caribbean reef shark

Carcharhinus perezi

Night shark

Carcharhinus signatus

Tiger shark

Galeocerdo cuvier

Lemon shark

Negaprion brevirostris

Great blue shark

Prionace glauca

Caribbean sharpnose shark

Rhizoprionodon porosus

Atlantic sharpnose shark

Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Scalloped hammerhead

Sphyrna lewini

Great hammerhead

Sphyrna mokarran

Smooth hammerhead

Sphyrna zygaena


Sphyrna tiburo

Cookiecutter shark

Isistius brasiliensis

Bahamas sawshark

Pristiophorus schroederi

Atlantic angel shark

Squatina dumeril

Nurse shark

Ginglymostoma cirratum

Whale shark

Rhiniodon typus

Sandtiger shark

Carcharias taurus

Bigeye thresher

Alopias superciliosus

Thresher shark

Alopias vulpinus

Great white shark

Carcharodon carcharias

Shortfin mako

Isurus oxyrinchus

Longfin mako

Isurus paucus

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info



last change: 06-04-2016 11:48