Tenerife — A new study released today on the economic benefits of diving with sharks and rays in Spain finds that this type of tourism supports hundreds of jobs and generates more than €17 million to the Canary Islands economy each year. The report, produced by experts from the University of La Laguna and nef (new economics foundation), also points to potential throughout coastal Spain for developing ecotourism around sharks and rays, but warns that stronger safeguards are needed to protect these species, many of which are threatened.
“Our study reveals that sharks and rays offer considerable economic benefits to our Archipelago through diving tourism,” said Dr. Jose Pascual-Fernandez, Director of the Institute of Social and Political Sciences at the University of La Laguna. “We were surprised to find in our research that approximately one-third of Canary Islands diving activity is linked to these species. All the dive operators we polled were positive about sharks and rays, and many believed that more of them would be good for business.”
The case study on the Canary Islands within the report lists more than 20 species of sharks and rays that have been recorded in the region. The most frequently sighted species include a variety of stingrays and the angel shark, a Critically Endangered species. Giant devil rays and whale sharks, also considered threatened, are seen far less often, but remain favourites of divers in the area. Thirteen species, including eagle rays, catsharks, and dogfishes, were reported from the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands.
"Studies such as ours reveal that sharks offer economic benefits beyond food; left alive, many species can provide a source of long-term income and employment through diving tourism,” said Aniol Esteban, Head of Environmental Economics for the New Economics Foundation. “When all tourist expenditures are taken into account, we estimate that €17.7 million of the €97.2 million that divers bring to the Canary Islands can be specifically attributed to the presence of sharks and rays. There are reasons to believe that we could tell a similar story in other parts of Spain, particularly if sharks and rays were better protected."
Considering Europe has an exceptionally poor record for shark conservation and Spain leads Europe in shark catches, the report makes the case for better protection as a key step towards fulfilling ecotourism potential.
“Spain ranks third in the world for shark catch and has failed to protect some of the most imperiled shark species,” said Àlex Bartolí, the Shark Alliance Policy Coordinator for Spain. “We call on the Canary Islands government to set a good example for the rest of Spain by strictly protecting its threatened shark and ray species, particularly the angel shark and giant devil ray. Such leadership should come from not only the local Ministries for fisheries and environment, but also tourism, given the substantial benefits that diving with these magnificent species bring to the Islands.”
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The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies the common angel shark (Squatina squatina) as Critically Endangered, the giant devil ray (Mobula mobular) as Endangered, and the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) as Vulnerable. Species classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered, and/or Vulnerable are considered “threatened” with extinction.
Under EU regulation, fishermen are prohibited from fishing for angel shark, whale shark, and a few other shark and ray species, but these rules are not well implemented in Spain, and angel sharks are still being landed in the Canary Islands. Malta is the only EU country to protect the giant devil ray.
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 95 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies.
The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-government organisation that is working to end overfishing in the world's oceans.
nef (new economics foundation) is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. We aim to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.
The Institute of Social and Political Sciences of the University of La Laguna has been developing research on artisanal fisheries and tourism since more than twenty years ago, focusing mainly in the Canary Islands coastal areas, being involved in different national and European research projects. Lately some of the research subjects developed by the research group Pescatur, coordinated by Dr. Pascual-Fernandez have been related to the governability of MPAs.