Whale Shark and Photographer Photo by Criso
Top Five Places for Responsible Shark Diving
by Casper OhmMaligned in Hollywood films and popular literature alike, Sharks are the boogie men of the deep. Only in recent years has the hard work of conservationists begun to challenge this deeply ingrained fear of sharks. Sadly, it may be too little too late for these incredible animals. Globally, shark populations have been in steep decline for decades. This is largely attributed to overfishing to fill the demand for shark fin soup, but this is not the only factor. Destruction of habitat, pollution, and other human-caused factors, including scuba diving.
The dangers to marine habitats from scuba divers are manifold and complex. In recent years, fueled by the seemingly inexorable advance of climate change the global scuba diving community has begun to look for more sustainable ways to enjoy scuba diving. Cage Diving is advertised to thrill-seekers and amateur divers by playing off the trope of the sharks as man-eating monsters. Cage diving not only promotes this misguided cultural view of sharks, but it may also be contributing to other challenges facing shark populations. Guides will pour chum into the water to attract the star of their show to the cages. While this guarantees opportunities for shark encounters for their clients, it may have negative impacts on the sharks as well. This is where the real trouble lies; sharks are the apex predators of their ecosystems. By harming them, intentionally or not, human beings endanger the entire marine ecosystem.
Education and appreciation are the essential tools for undoing this harm. Divers seek opportunities to swim with sharks out of curiosity first, and so finding ways to satisfy that curiosity without doing harm is the challenge. What is needed is an authentic experience to dismiss the myths and misinformation Hollywood has filled our heads with. Sharks are shy creatures, and so if one wants to find them beneath the waves without harming the sharks with chum and bad practice, one first needs to know where to look.
Socorro Islands -- MexicoA little less than 400 kilometers off the Baja peninsula, the Revillagigedo Islands -- commonly referred to as the Socorro Islands -- offer a great opportunity for the experienced diver. The water currents are strong and unpredictable, making this first site unsuitable for novice divers. But the strong ocean currents provide an ideal feeding ground for Hammerheads, Silky, Ocean White Tips, Whale Sharks, and even the rare Great White. While the diving is somewhat more challenging in this area, the incredible diversity of marine wildlife makes it a must-see goal for any avid diver.
The presence of manta rays, pelagic dolphins, humpback whales, and barracuda sweetens the pot for even the most discerning of adventure seekers. Diving is best between November and May to enjoy the best weather possible for the area. Most guide companies and boat rentals will not risk the June to October period when the waters are at their most turbulent. It's best to dive around the new moon to avoid the disrupted visibility brought on by plankton blooms.
Shark Reef Marine Reserve -- FijiOften referred to as the Mecca of the Pacific, the Beqa Lagoon offers 305 Kilometers of protected barrier reef to explore. This tropical paradise is accessible year-round, making it an idyllic destination for even the most occasional of divers. Tiger and bull sharks are the stars of the show here, but other species are present in great abundance as well. It's no wonder that the waters of Beqa are considered to be some of the best shark diving in the world. From the relatively shallow waters to the close proximity to Fiji's main international airport, there are plenty of reasons to make this a check on the bucket list.
Tropical island in Fiji Photo by mvaligursky
Malapascua -- The PhilippinesNestled in the azure waters of the Visayan sea, Malapascua offers a unique shark diving experience. The Monad Shoal dive is the only place in the world for divers to see the Thresher shark in its natural habitat. This rare species of shark is small and shy, making seeing them a very special experience. What makes them unique is the elongated upper lobe on their caudal fins. Their population is in serious danger due to pollution and illegal fishing operations. The more attention is given to their situation, the better chance they have of recovering. The diving community can certainly have a part to play in protecting this fascinating species, but they aren't the only sharks to see in these waters. Malapascua offers a diverse ecosystem to explore. While the area is a divable year-round, the best time is between January and April when the Hammerheads and dolphins are in the neighborhood.
Rangiroa Atoll -- French PolynesiaThe largest atoll of the Tuamotu archipelago, Rangiroa is one of the last pristine reefs left. Roughly 350 km northeast of Papeete, this treasured gem is well off the beaten path. Because of its remote location, it is some of the healthiest coral left on earth. It's one of the last places on earth where the shark population seems to be thriving, and so it offers some of the best opportunities to observe sharks uninhibited by human activity. November to April is typically considered to be the best time for diving, but these waters are swimmable year-round.
Raja Ampat -- IndonesiaNestled in the Coral Triangle between Timor, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia, the Raja Ampat archipelago is one of the greatest success stories conservationists have to tell about our oceans. Once in serious risk of ecological collapse due to overfishing, this ecosystem is now thriving. The Indonesian government protected the area in 2007, allowing the fish population to triple over the following decade. The reefs are thought to be some of the most biodiverse on earth, and no ecosystem is complete without its top predators. This area is best enjoyed from October to May to enjoy the best visibility and better weather.
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Casper Ohm is the editor-in-chief at Water-Pollution.Org.UK, an outlet intended to raise awareness of the alarming levels of water pollution in our planet's oceans. When he isn't scuba diving and collecting data in the far corners of the world, he lives in New York with his family. Follow him on Twitter as @casper_ohm