Ecotourism is a relatively recent phenomenon, probably because modern man, who is mainly a city-dweller, tends to live more and more in megacities, with a life style that takes him away from Nature. Ecotourism meets an atavistic need for Nature, for wildlife: the city-dweller needs to recharge! In this search for the natural, the sea (and its inhabitants) has an important place, probably because it represents the last space of freedom.
In 2003, the BBC made an inquiry about the 50 things to do before dying. Among the first wishes, four are related to the marine life, with in 5th position, the desire to “dive with sharks”! Why such an attraction?
There are many reasons for this. One can evoke psychoanalysis: the diver finds at sea, the well-being to float in the amniotic fluid of his mother … There is also the need to confront a world called wild, to find its place in this Nature on track of disappearance. For some, the engine is a kind of consumer appetite for records: collectors of sites or species are in this category, they are recognized by their speeches: “This year, we made the great white sharks of Guadalupe, last year we had made the lemon sharks of Moorea!”.
Whatever the motive, there is an undeniable enthusiasm for shark ecotourism. And everyone goes. The authorities are increasingly interested in capitalizing on and regulating a growing economic activity. Scientists are also monitoring the phenomenon to provide authorities with decision-making elements for the regulation of activity, preservation of the environment and conservation of species.
Ecotourism is defined as a tourism activity based on the observation of Nature, whose impact on the environment is minimal, and whose benefits are profitable to the local communities. The encounters with diving sharks have existed since the man imagined a diving suit to breathe under water, which allowed him to realize his dream: see what happens under the surface of the seas! These encounters were generally fortuitous; only a few pioneer adventurers sought the “shark company”! It was only in the 1990s that the first commercial activities with “shark encounters” for a discerning amateur clientele appeared. Today, these activities have become highly diversified and democratized, attracting a more eclectic and growing clientele.
In 2011, the number of sport divers in the world was estimated at about 15 million. The “shark diving” activity was the subject of a scientific study (Gallagher & Hammerschlag, 2011), which identified 376 operators and 83 diving sites with sharks. The main sites are: Tiger Beach (Bahamas), False Bay, Ganbaaï and Aliwal Shoal (South Africa); Ningaloo Reef, Great Barrier Reef and Port Lincoln (Australia), Hawaii and Farralon Island (USA), Guadalupe, Sea of Cortez, Socorro Island (Mexico), Cocos (Costa Rica), Malpelo And Galapagos (Ecuador), Egypt and Sudan (Red Sea), Donsol and Malapascua (Philippines), Fiji, Rangiroa (French Polynesia). There are also sites in more boreal waters: the Isle of Man, the Azores and the Canary islands.