Does shark cage-diving increase conservation behaviour?

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RESEARCH AREA
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This week’s featured research article has just been published in Marine Policy by Flinders University researchers and examines whether white shark cage-dive tourism influences conservation behavior in South Australia. Wildlife tourism is often promoted as an activity which supports conservation by enhancing environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour through interpretative messaging and personal experiences with wildlife. Despite these potential linkages, evidence to support such claims is limited. In order for wildlife tourism operators to build a motivated constituency supporting conservation, elements of the tour which contribute to positive attitudes and environmental behaviour must be identified. This study investigated the attitudes and environmental behaviour of 136 wildlife tourists following a white shark cage-dive experience in South Australia. Responses to an online survey revealed a significant increase in participation for seven of the eight conservation-related behaviours explored, and a positive shift in participants’ understanding, awareness, attitudes, and concern for sharks following the tour. Results suggest that emotional engagement during the tour is associated with enhancing participants’ knowledge and attitude towards sharks. The researchers state that even a brief encounter can have a profound effect on participants’ awareness, understanding, attitudes, concern, and behaviour towards wildlife conservation. For wildlife tourism operators and managers aiming to encourage visitors to increase their participation in pro-conservation behaviours, the findings from this research suggest emotionally engaging participants in an experience. Visitors can be encouraged to reflect on their experience to think deeply about what they have seen and heard to establish a personal response and relate the animals encountered through broader environmental issues. Suggested strategies include implementing interpretation programmes which reinforce participants’ sense of wonder, awe and excitement. Participants are likely to benefit from examples of practical actions they can take to contribute to the conservation of sharks and other wildlife. Post-visit resources are recommended to allow participants to follow-up on particular interests and conservation strategies, extending the conservation potential of the experience beyond the time of the tour. The paper can be downloaded here (or email jennie.fluin@sa.gov.au for a copy).