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A shark lover's dream

Ropate Valemei
Saturday, April 11, 2015

FIJI has a lot to offer when it comes to adrenalin activities, particularly on a dare to do something dangerously exciting under water.

Imagine diving into a swirling throng of jacks, snappers, groupers and a mix up of about eight different species of sharks such as bulls, tigers, sicklefin lemons, silvertips, grey reefs, whitetip reefs, blacktip reefs and tawny nurses.

This is truly a shark lover's dream come true.

Tourism Fiji global public relations manager Patricia Mallam saod shark dive tourism was a niche and very high yielding segment of Fiji's tourism products.

The demographic of divers, she said, were mostly men who had attained higher education levels (about 60 per cent) with 30-39-year olds who earned within $50,000-$75,000 per year with about 30 per cent allocated for leisure and travel.

She said Tourism Fiji was dedicated to promoting aspects of Fiji that were unique and set the country apart from its competitors in the same set — other tourism destinations similar to Fiji such as Tahiti, Bali and Mauritius.

"Tourism Fiji has made concerted efforts to work with local industry partners to develop the dive industry in Fiji, and have also invested considerably in ensuring presence at international dive shows and tailoring communications tools that serve as a talking point to divers," she said.

Citing a comprehensive study conducted by PEW Environmental Group titled the Socio-economic Value of the Shark Diving Industry in Fiji, Ms Mallam said the shark diving industry contributed $US42million ($F86.1m) to the Fijian economy in 2010.

Ms Mallam said this revenue came from 49,000 divers or 78 per cent of the total 63,000 tourists who visited Fiji to dive in that year.

"Tourism Fiji is working very closely with industry partners, such as the Fiji Hotels and Tourism Association's dive committee to elevate Fiji as an ideal diving destination, not just for sharks, but also for the endemic marine life and pristine ecosystems found in parts of Fiji. One such initiative is the dive expo being held on Mana Island for all dive operators in Fiji."

About 75 sharks and ray species inhabited the waters of the Fiji, she said.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species, 66 per cent of those species were globally threatened or near threatened. Although Fiji had implemented strong measures to safeguard the marine environment, she said there were no specific protections for sharks.

"Over the past two years, several countries including Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, and the Marshall Islands have created sanctuaries and prohibited commercial shark fishing to protect these species in their waters," she said.

Fiji's shark dive has gained incredible momentum in the Chinese dive industry and has rightfully received the "best shark diving destination" award at the Dive Resort Travel Expo in Shanghai this week.

Another major dive event attended by Tourism Fiji and partners, Ms Mallam said was the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association show in Florida, US later this year — which attracts about 11,000 buyers and exhibitors specifically related to dive tourism. She said Pacific Harbour was the most famous shark diving destination in Fiji as it offered the opportunity of reliable sightings of a number of species of large sharks.

"Bull (Carcharhinus leucas) and tiger sharks (Galeocerdo curvier) represent the main attraction for tourists diving in the area, with 120 and five individuals of these species identified at one of the principal dive sites respectively."

Notably, she said abundant soft corals constituted the main drawcard for divers to Fiji as it was known as the "Soft Coral Capital of the World". However, she said, operators also advertised shark diving based on opportunistic sightings at certain dive sites.

On Vanua Levu, she said a dedicated shark dive focuses on scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) was offered by three dive operators in the area.

n Next week: Shark

conservation efforts.

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