Is Whale Shark Ecotourism Really Eco-Friendly?

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Big fish are big business on Isla Mujeres. Aside from its traditional offers of sun, sea, and sand, this 2,000 foot-wide island off the coast of Cancun has garnered a reputation for being a hub of Mexican whale shark tourism.

The opportunity to swim with the largest fish in the world was one that I didn’t want to pass up, so when I was traveling last September, I made a point of delaying my journey into the heart of Mexico to go searching for sharks. Once on the island, every hostel, dive shop and bar seemed to offer whale shark tours, and it’s no wonder: at around $120 per head, there is serious money to be made in this game.

But the night before my planned tour, I was wracked with self-doubt. What kind of ecotourism was this, where the opportunity to see such majestic creatures was offered in the same breath as a deck chair rental or a fruity cocktail? How could tour companies offer “guaranteed sightings” of one of the most enigmatic denizens of the ocean? Most importantly, what effect was this having on the sharks?

A piece based on musings I had while I was bumming around in Mexico, made a reality by the good people at Earth Island Journal. Read the whole thing here.

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