To help ensure that such growth benefits not only the operators but the sharks and rays, local communities and tourists such as divers, conservation organisations Project AWARE, WWF and the Manta Trust have combined to produce what they say is the world’s first practical guide for such operators.

 Released on 3 March to coincide with UN World Wildlife Day, “Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism: A Guide to Best Practice” has been designed to help operators, NGOs and communities to develop and maintain well-managed operations, and to raise awareness of the need to protect often-endangered species.

Unsustainable exploitation of sharks and rays, mainly driven by overfishing, is widespread, say the guide’s producers, with one in four species now threatened with extinction.

 “Shark- and ray-focused eco-tourism has great potential as a conservation strategy,” said Dr Andy Cornish of WWF. “If properly designed and managed, it can provide alternative direct and indirect economic benefits to local communities and economies. Yet sadly there’s limited practical guidance out there.”

“Lack of best-practice guidance can often leave operators confused about how to assess the impact and improve the sustainability of their operation,“ added Isabel Ender of the Manta Trust. “We sought advice from scientists and the industry to help bridge that gap and deliver a best-practice guide – the first of its kind in the world.”

The guide consists of a suite of tools including posters, scorecards and checklists.

The material can be downloaded free from the websites of Project AWARE, WWF , or The Manta Trust.

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