|Local newspaper article reveals the town's anger (photo: Eli Martinez)|
by Samantha Whitcraft
There is a lovely town in Mexico's Yucatan called Playa del Carmen; to some people it's one of a series of fun beach spots and a great place to kick back with a beer and watch another Caribbean sunset, but to others it is the place to dive with bull sharks. Every year, around this time, beautiful bull sharks -- up to 20-25 at a time, perhaps remnant of a once bigger aggregation -- show up just off the coast. And because their appearance there is predictable, they became a strong eco-tourism draw. People who love sharks, and their numbers are growing, will pay handsomely to see these amazing animals. And for the past several years, local businesses awaited the arrival of "the bulls of Playa del Carmen" along with the economic boost it brought them and the entire town.
|Divers and photographers experiencing "the bulls of Playa del Carmen"|
The biological loss in terms of population recovery, locally, could be significant in that the estimated average number in the aggregation, based on Shark Diver Magazine's trip reports since 2009 is a maximum of 22 animals. The loss of seven females is especially problematic because bull sharks, like most large sharks, have a slow reproductive rate -- specifically, they mature at 10-15 years old and have 1-13 pups at a time. Given these back-of-the-envelope numbers and assuming a low migration rate of 'new' sharks into the area, the bull shark aggregation at Playa del Carmen may not fully recover for a decade or more. Time will tell and responsible dive operators who care about these animals and their livelihood will, hopefully, keep a close count and a watchful eye on the aggregation over the coming years.
There is a a very real human impact too. Martinez, who leads a yearly trip to dive with the sharks at Playa de Carmen, stated that "...9 bull sharks, which was the working population of sharks the dive shops were working with...and all these females were returning which means these were the same females that came to these waters each and every year. Sad, makes me so damn sad." Since the sharks were caught and killed, the local dive operators haven't seen any of the remaining animals in the area. If the sharks don't come back, Martinez estimates a significant economic hit to the town. A rough, low-ball calculation of the numbers looks like this: there are about 10 dive shops in the area of Playa del Carmen that advertise and bring in divers with the draw of their bull sharks; on average, combining all the shops, there are as many as 30 divers per day paying about $120 each for the experience...now multiple that by a 150-day season. Playa del Carmen's dive industry alone stands to lose in the area of $540,000 this year. That number does not include the loss of revenue to supporting industries like local restaurants, bars, and hotels that cater to the divers that come for the sharks.
By comparison, Señor Andusi probably made between $100 to $200 per shark grossing himself between $900 to $1800 for a single days' work. He likely sold the animals, whole, to a 'runner' who transported the sharks to Cancun or Mérida and doubled his money selling them to an exporter, who in turn will make his profit on the international 'market' with the most valuable parts of the sharks -- the fins, oil, and cartilage. Surprisingly, as in many countries, this series of events is completely legal in Mexico.
|The "bulls of Playa del Carmen"? (photo: http://www.photosfan.com/sharks/)|
WHAT CAN YOU DO? 1. Support responsible, sustainable shark eco-tourism to keep our sharks worth more alive than dead at the local level; 2. Be an informed consumer and never buy anything with shark product in it including pills, foods, clothing and cosmetics; 3. Be a vocal and active advocate for stronger shark conservation laws in your community or where you vacation; and 4. Sign and share the petition to protect the marine ecosystem of the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, addressed to the Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas y Municipio de Solidaridad. Thank you.
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We are an international non-profit organization with members in over 60 countries, spanning 6 continents with 1 mission; healthy aquatic ecosystems free from human abuse and neglect. Oceanic Defense teaches people to protect our oceans by acting responsibly as consumers and by making smart decisions in our daily lives. Whether we are buying groceries, commuting to work, planning a vacation or advocating within our own communities; each action we take or decision we make either helps or hurts our oceans. We empower people to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem and work together to protect our blue planet.
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