Our stars of the deep

THE fact that Fiji has being voted the best shark diving destination by global dive bible, EZDIVE Magazine is great news.

It means we have gained a significant foothold in the lucrative shark dive market.

As our report on Page 1 today points out, Tourism Fiji’s marketing manager for the Asia Market Kathy Koyamaibole received the award on behalf of the country at the Dive Resort Travel Expo in Shanghai, China, last month.

The expo was the only professional diving exhibition in China, developed specifically for the diving industry in Shanghai and attracts exhibitors — enthusiastic diving resorts, and live-aboard operators — from all over the Asia-Pacific region.

Interestingly shark diving tourism is worth about $87million for Fiji annually.

And as Ms Koyamaibole said, “Fiji’s shark dive was definitely top of the mind for most of the dive clubs and visitors to the expo.”

What separates us from the rest of the dive spots around the world are the sharks.

“Where in the world can you dive and expect to see more than seven species of sharks in one dive while also feeding them without cages?” she said.

“That’s why Fiji is no doubt the best destination to experience shark diving.”

Given the fact that at one point shark fins sold like hot cakes, this latest news is a welcome reprieve.

A report in the Sunday Times on December 6, 2009 had raised the issue of overfishing affecting Fiji’s shark population. It appeared to affect the number of tiger sharks in particular.

It seemed a high demand for shark’s fin soup in Asia had fuelled an illegal trade.

To some extent, this craving for the soup, accompanied by a demand for meat, liver oil and other products had driven a number of shark populations to the brink of extinction.

There were alarming figures revealed by a study on the shark’s fin trade in Suva in 2011 by Dr Demian Chapman, the assistant director of science at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Stony Creek University in New York.

It showed that a large number of sharks killed for their fins were those that frequent dive spots which tourists visit for shark encounters. Now that we have been earmarked as a top shark diving country, the onus is now on the powers that be to ensure these stars of the deep are protected.

Leave aside the fact that we need sharks in our marine eco-system, clearly we have another tourist attraction that should be promoted and looked after well.

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