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From Tourism to Conservation

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

The ‘Coral Triangle’ encompasses the highest biodiversity of coral fishes in the world; the area only covers 1.6% of the world’s oceanic area (waters from Malaysia, through Indonesia and The Philippines, to Papua New Guinea), but it includes 76% of all known coral species and more than 3,000 species of fish. The area has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and includes several natural parks and marine protected areas (MPAs).

Magnificent biodiversity of the Coral Triangle (Image credit: Misool Eco Resort, Source:

Within the triangle, the waters of Indonesia are a global biodiversity hotspot for sharks and rays. As many as 117 species of sharks can be found in Indonesia waters, including multiple requiem sharks (Prionace glauca, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, C. falciformes, C. longimanus, C. sorrah, C. melanopterus), hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini), mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus), thresher sharks (Alopias pelagicus), dogfish (Centroscymnus crepidater and Squalus megalops) and smooth-hounds (Mustelus manazo), and even the fabulous whale shark (Rhinocodon typus). Consequently, Indonesia is a major global destination for marine-based tourism. Of a total of 200 million tourists visiting Indonesia annually, 18 million take part in marine-based tourism, such as snorkelling or diving (Gade et al, 2016, Mustika et al, 2020).

Diving with whale sharks in Indonesia (Source:

When comparing the capitol generated, shark tourism is valued at 1.45x the value generated by landing sharks in fisheries in Indonesia! If shark populations remain at the levels they are now, by 2027 the shark watching industry in Indonesia could generate $487.3 million USD annually, but if shark and ray populations decline, it is projected that Indonesia could incur economic losses up to $USD 121.1 million USD! That is a loss of 24.8% of the their potential revenues!

If that is not an incentive for Indonesia to work to protect their sharks, I don’t know what is!

Snorkelling with sharks in Indonesia (Source:

And they certainly are working to protect their natural resources! Indonesia has now established hundreds of MPAs and reached its goal to protect 10 million hectares by 2010, in accordance with their commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). They also have action plans to protect sharks specifically. Measures include regulations on fishing and limiting trade of several species which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and/or the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (Gade et al, 2016, Mustika et al, 2020).

Locations of Marine Protected Areas in Indonesia (Gabe et al, 2016)

However, implementing MPAs can have a significant impact on local communities that are excluded from fishing in protected areas. Indonesia still ranks as the world’s largest exporter of shark products and shark fishing is important to many people in Indonesia, both for subsistence and income. So, whilst protective legislation can improve the Indonesian economy in the long-term, there will also be medium-term economic losses in the fisheries sector. Therefore, shifting the value of sharks from an extractive resource to non-consumptive on a national scale will involve ensuring that capitol generated by shark diving not only benefits communities which are involved in tourism, but also filters down to benefit fishers and retailers, who otherwise might favour selling shark products (Gade et al, 2016, Mustika et al, 2020).

Diving tourism certainly has the potential to be a significant driver of shark and ray conservation in Indonesia, but increasing gross national profit (GDB) is only valuable if it genuinely benefits the people. Incentivising local people to value sharks will only be possible if the fishing industry can flourish alongside the tourism sector, so that the traditional Indonesian way-of-life is not pushed aside to make way for big business (Gade et al, 2016 & Mustika et al, 2020).


Gade M, Mayer B, Pohlmann T, Putri M & Setiawan A (2016). Using SAR data for a numerical assessment of the Indonesian coastal environment. Proceedings of Living Planet Symposium 2016. Access online.

Mustika PLK, Ichsan M & Booth H (2020). The Economic Value of Shark and Ray Tourism in Indonesia and Its Role in Delivering Conservation Outcomes. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, 261, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00261. Access online.

Online resources

CBD (2020). Convention on Biodiversity. Access online.

CITES (2020). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. Access online.

CMS (2020). Convention on the conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Access online.

By Sophie A. Maycock for SharkSpeak.

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