SHARK-related diving contributed $US42.2million ($F75.4million) to Fiji's economy in 2010, a survey has found.
The study - The Socio-Economic Value of the Shark-Diving Industry in Fiji - by the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Western Australia found that shark diving was gaining popularity and is poised to become a tourism economic driver with conservation measures proposed to turn Fiji's waters into a shark sanctuary.
Released yesterday, the study revealed that the industry contributed $US17.5m ($F31.3m) in government taxes, $US11.6m ($F20.7m) in corporate taxes and $US5.9m ($F10.5m) in direct taxes from shark divers.
The study showed that local communities received $US4m ($F7.1) from shark diving operations. This included $US3.9m ($F6.9m) annually in salaries paid to workers and $US124,200 ($F221,904) for traditional reef owners.
"Our survey found that sharks are one of the most significant creatures tourists wish to see when scuba diving," said Dr Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and co-author of the study.
"These animals are also an indicator of healthy coral reef ecosystems."
The survey estimated that approximately 49,000 divers were engaged in shark-diving activities in Fiji in 2010, accounting for 78 per cent of the 63,000 divers who visited the country.
Shark-diving in Viti Levu, which hosted 17,000 dedicated and casual divers - tourists who visited Fiji for other reasons other than shark diving - generated approximately $US10.2m ($F18.2m), 63 per cent of business revenues from shark diving.
The Mamanuca and Yasawa groups raked in $US3.2m ($F5.7m).
Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association president Dixon Seeto said the survey was good news for tourism.
"That revenue is a large figure that's worthy of developing," he said.
"Living sharks add real value to our economy, so it makes sense to do everything we can to protect Fiji's sharks. A Fiji shark sanctuary is the strongest means possible."