World Oceans Day 2020
Healthy Shark and Ray Populations: An Asset to the Indonesian Economy
By Hollie Booth and Irfan Yulianto | June 8, 2020
Indonesia is a global hotspot of shark and ray species diversity. Divers from all over the world come to Indonesia to have close encounters with charismatic species such as manta rays, whale sharks, and hammerhead sharks. It is also possible to see species that are found nowhere else on earth, such as the Halmahera walking shark — found only in North Maluku.
According to a recent study, approximately 190,000 dedicated ‘shark tourists’ visit Indonesia each year with the specific intention of diving with sharks and rays. These tourists bring an estimated USD 22 million per year in to the Indonesian economy, accounting for at least 7 percent of Indonesia’s USD 1 billion marine tourism industry.
The study identified a total of 24 important shark and ray tourism destinations throughout Indonesia. Nusa Penida in Bali; Bunaken in North Sulawesi; Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara; Raja Ampat in West Papua; and the Gili islands in West Nusa Tenggara are amongst the most popular and highest earning sites.
Belongas Bay in West Nusa Tenggara is one of few places in the world where divers can see schooling hammerhead sharks, while Saleh Bay is a newly emerging destination for whale shark tourism.
“The economic benefits [of shark tourism] have not yet been optimally earned by local communities” said Yusron Hadi, Head of Provincial Marine and Fisheries Office, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB). “Shark tourism could not only provide economic benefits for tourism companies, but also support wider sustainable marine and fisheries development.”
The local government is eager to optimize utilization of all marine ecosystem services, ensuring fisheries resources are sustainably managed and communities receive economic benefits.
“The study estimates that if sharks were absent from the surveyed sites, Indonesia’s tourism industry could lose roughly 25 percent of dive tourist expenditures per year.”
Morotai in North Maluku is another important emerging shark diving destination with the establishment of Indonesia’s only baited shark dives, where tourists are almost guaranteed to get up close and personal with black tip reef sharks. It is also home to an endemic species, the Halmahera ‘walking’ shark (Hemiscyllium Halmahera).
M. Buyung Radjiloen, Head of Provincial Marine and Fisheries Office at North Maluku, noted the importance of local institutions for marine management. “We suggest the government develop a marine conservation area management model. For North Maluku, a community-based marine conservation area could be initiated,” said Buyung.
Area-based management could enable shark tourism to provide economic benefits to communities by adopting a user fees model. For example, daily park fees for Komodo National Park help to fund park management, while diver voluntary donations in the Gili Islands help to fund beach cleans and coral restoration. These funds can be used to directly manage marine resources and provide benefits to local communities that incentivise protection of marine resources.
Unfortunately, these shark and ray populations are also under threat, primarily due to overfishing. Sharks (and their cartilaginous relatives, Class Chondricthyes) are one of the world’s most endangered species groups, with an estimated 1 in 4 species threatened with extinction.
“The national government, along with Provincial governments in Aceh and West Nusa Tenggara, are already making strides to protect and manage shark populations.”
The study estimates that if sharks were absent from the surveyed sites, Indonesia’s tourism industry could lose roughly 25 percent of dive tourist expenditures per year. Based on future projections, if shark populations continue to decline, the tourism industry could suffer economic losses of more than USD 121 million per annum by 2027, as well as detrimental impacts on species, marine ecosystems, fisheries and people.
Since the current annual income from shark tourism is worth approximately 1.5 times the value of annual shark exports, shark tourism should provide an economic incentive for shark conservation. However, the study also found a mismatch between the absolute economic value of shark and ray tourism and its role in providing benefits to people who depend on shark fishing.
Interviews with local communities in or near shark and ray tourism sites indicate that most shark fishers do not — and are not well placed to — receive direct economic benefits from shark and ray tourism.
Since overfishing is the primary threat to shark populations, failure to engage with and appropriately incentivise fishers may be detrimental to Indonesia’s shark conservation efforts. This raises important issues regarding who bears the costs and benefits of conservation, and how to equitably re-distribute them.
“Private companies are the primary beneficiaries of shark conservation, through tourism revenue, while fishers suffer economic losses due to shark protection and management measures. Innovative conservation financing mechanisms, such as tourism taxes and payment for ecosystem service schemes, could help to re-distribute these costs and benefits,” said Noviar Andayani, Country Director of WCS Indonesia Program.
Existing financing mechanisms such as the one established on the Gili Islands, which directs dive tourist donations to protected area management, could provide a blueprint for incentivising shark conservation. A newly developed app, called Ocean Eye, also seeks to channel donations from divers to provide financial benefits to coastal communities, which are linked directly to healthy marine animal populations.
“The issue of sustainable financing for conservation is even more pressing, now that the global tourism economy has dried up due to COVID-19.”
“The issue of sustainable financing for conservation is even more pressing, now that the global tourism economy has dried up due to COVID-19. Stable long-term investments will be required, that go beyond the panacea of ecotourism” said Hollie Booth from the University of Oxford, who helped to advise on the study.
The national government, along with Provincial governments in Aceh and West Nusa Tenggara, are already making strides to protect and manage shark populations. For example, science-based quotas have been prepared and released for fishing and trade of silky sharks, while protected areas and fisheries management measures for shark and rays have recently been established in Aceh Jaya, Lunyuk, and Tanjung Luar.
These are in addition to existing no take zones for sharks and mantas in Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat. Additional funds invested from tourism could help to boost these efforts, so that sharks and rays are effectively protected and sustainably managed, and deliver benefits to people and ecosystems.