Ward-Paige, Christine & Brunnschweiler, Juerg & Sykes, Helen. (2020). Tourism-driven ocean science for sustainable use: A case study of sharks in Fiji. 10.1101/2020.02.04.932236.
The oceans are in a state of rapid change – both negatively, due climate destabilization and misuse, and positively, due to strengthening of policies for sustainable use combined with momentum to grow the blue economy. Globally, more than 121 million people enjoy nature-based marine tourism – e.g., recreational fishing, diving, whale watching – making it one of the largest marine sectors. This industry is increasingly threatened by ocean degradation and management has not kept pace to ensure long-term sustainability. In response, individuals within the industry are taking it upon themselves to monitor the oceans and provide the data needed to assist management decisions. Fiji is one such place where the dive tourism industry is motivated to monitor the oceans (e.g., track sharks). In 2012, 39 dive operators in collaboration with eOceans commenced the Great Fiji Shark Count (GFSC) to document sharks (and other species) on 592 dive sites. Here, using 146,304 shark observations from 30,668 dives we document spatial patterns of 11 shark species. High variability demonstrates the value of longitudinal data that include absences for describing mobile megafauna and the capacity of stakeholders to document the oceans. Our results may be used to guide future scientific questions, provide a baseline for future assessments, or to evaluate conservation needs. It also shows the value of scientists collaborating with stakeholders to address questions that are most important to the local community so that they have the information needed to make science-based decisions.
Globally, more than 121 million people enjoy nature-based marine tourism, making it one of the largest marine industries. Ocean degradation threatens this industry and management has not kept pace to ensure long-term sustainability. In response, some individuals within the industry are taking it upon themselves to monitor the ocean and provide the data needed to assist management decisions. Fiji is one such place.
Between 2012 and 2016, 39 Fijian dive operators, in collaboration with eOceans, conducted the Great Fiji Shark Count to document sharks on their dives.
Using 146 304 shark observations from 30 668 dives, we document spatial and temporal patterns of 11 shark species at 592 sites.
Sharks were observed on 13 846 dives (45% of recorded dives) at 441 (74%) sites. Generally, our results matched those from other more limited surveys, including from baited remote underwater video systems. We found high variability in shark presence, species richness, and relative abundance through space and time. One trend was surprising: the most common species, Whitetip Reef Shark, decreased over the study period at eastern sites and increased at western sites; the cause is currently unknown.
Our results can guide management and conservation needs, future scientific questions, and provide a baseline for future assessments.
Implications: This study demonstrates the value of longitudinal observation data that includes absences for describing marine fauna, and confirms the capacity of stakeholders to document the ocean. It also points the direction for broadscale participatory science methodologies to track the ocean.
Keywords: citizen science, conservation, community monitoring, elasmobranchs, endangered species, marine spatial planning, participatory science, sustainability, tourism.