Mexico bans great white shark tourism

The crystal blue waters of Isla de Guadalupe are pretty.

It’s not unusual to not have many boats on the volcanic island at this time of year, as it’s peak season for seeing great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) is from July to November. Thousands travel from all over the world to observe these animals in their natural environment, both underwater and from high in the sky using drones.

But this July will be different – tourist boats will not be welcome, with Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources banning shark-related tourist activities in this popular destination. “In the Reserve, it will not be possible to observe white sharks for tourist purposes, to avoid changing their habitat, behavior and feeding places and, thus, preserve and conserve the species”, says the new Management Program. Mexican authorities have already imposed the new ban after suspending shark watching and sport fishing activities from May to December last year to study the matter.

Guadalupe Island, or Isla Guadalupe, is located off the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean. Seals, bluefin tuna and other diverse marine life thrive in the warm, clear waters that surround the tiny island, making it an ideal environment for great white sharks. Therefore, in 2005, the Mexican government designated the island and its surrounding marine area as a biosphere reserve. Since then, large white populations have increased around the island over the past two decades, with males returning annually and pregnant females returning every other year.

Known as one of the hotspots for diving with the massive sharks, this ban has unsettled the myriad tour companies that operate here, “effectively (ending) Guadalupe Island’s once bustling tourism economy,” says CNN. The latest figures show that the shark cage tourism industry on Isla Guadalupe attracted an estimated 2,800 visitors in 2019. And in 2019, there were 10 operators of shark cage diving vessels, up from six in 2014. In some cases , these companies have already announced closures , offering full refunds to customers; in others, they are rotatable.

In addition to the economic impacts, some say this ban will limit great white shark research here, as chartered cage-diving boats have offered researchers a cost-effective way to study them. And despite the ban being meant to protect sharks (and their greater environment), some say this ban could do the opposite with the lack of tour operators in the area, leading some to fear that poachers will move in and start attacking. sharks illegally. Listed since 1996 as globally ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, their population has dropped and is now steadily increasing in some parts of the world as protection measures have been put in place to protect them. fisheries. “Over three generations (159 years), the great white shark is estimated to be increasing in abundance in the Northeast Pacific and Indian Ocean and decreasing in abundance from historical levels in the Northwest Atlantic and South Pacific,” he says. the IUCN.

Arguments for and against the ban have been rampant on the internet. Many believe that cage diving should stay, pointing out that shark-related tourism such as cage diving helps to promote pro-shark sentiments that have been extremely negative since World War II. By allowing people to observe great white sharks in a ‘controlled environment’, some believe they will be more inclined to support conservation efforts to protect them. But other scientists say there are longstanding ethical concerns about cage diving with sharks that have yet to be properly addressed, both here and in other parts of the world. There has been finger pointing in the waters of baiting and chumming as the reason some of these predators exhibit altered behavior putting everyone at risk – especially when this is done improperly and causes a shark to stay in the cage!

It remains unclear how this will affect research in Guadeloupe, or if we’ve seen the last of the ‘Shark Week’ and ‘SharkFest’ shows held at this iconic location. Those doing business here aren’t holding their breath with the island reopening anytime soon. Horizon Charters gave its somber take on the news: “Mexico has adopted the new management plan for the Island of Guadalupe, it is now law and prohibits all tourist activities, movies and TV on the island. To change this status, a new management plan must be written and approved and this will take years – if Mexico wants to reverse this decision. Like Isla de los Cedros, closed for over 25 years, Mexico saw no need to reopen it. As it stands, there is no mechanism that will magically reopen Guadeloupe, no legal challenge, no petition or pressure campaign. It is closed.”

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