Sustainable shark diving industry is possible for Saipan

Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project officer Angelo O’Connor Villagomez share to students of Saipan the wonderful nature of sharks and how they can be protected through sustainable means. (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project officer Angelo O’Connor Villagomez share to students of Saipan the wonderful nature of sharks and how they can be protected through sustainable means. (Frauleine Villanueva-Dizon)

Sharks, often misunderstood and stigmatized creatures, and their economic values were brought to light at the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit held at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan yesterday.

Angelo O’Connor Villagomez, an officer of Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project, said that about 100 million sharks are killed every year.

“We fish them faster than they can reproduce,” Villagomez said, “As result of this, half of all sharks are threatened or are near-threatened.”

Villagomez, who has helped the passage of more than two dozen shark conservation laws in small Pacific and Caribbean island states, shared to the hundreds of students in attendance how sharks can be protected and how they can be part of a more sustainable industry.

He also offered materials for guidelines and best practices in sustainable shark diving such as the ones featured in www.sustainablesharkdiving.com.

Villagomez said that Saipan has an opportunity to protect its sharks and have a great shark industry.

“I have been swimming in these waters for 30 years but actually diving for 10 and we’ve got some cool species,” Villagomez said in an interview after his presentation.

He added that Saipan has whale sharks, tiger sharks, and reef sharks such as the gray, black-tip, and white-tip. There could also be sharks outside the reef such as the silky and blue sharks.

Shark diving on Saipan, he said, could be an option.

“With a little bit of investment, a little bit of work probably could develop a shark dive,” Villagomez said, “It’s something different to do. It’s a growing part of the industry and it’s definitely a niche part of the industry.”

Not only would tourism benefit from this kind of activity, it could also help fishermen.

“If the CNMI were to look into feeding sharks, it’s something that the fishermen could benefit from since they are the ones who will catch the fish,” Villagomez said, “There could be a really great partnership where the fishermen could actually benefit from the protection of sharks.”

However, there should be safeguards established also.

“It’s something that the government should really look into. When you’re playing with big animals, big predators, things could go wrong so the government should look into the best regulations to make sure that it is safe and sustainable,” Vilagomez said.

For Villagomez, sharks are the coolest animals and they are, most of the time, what divers want to see in their natural habitat.

“We think that they’re scary,” Villagomez said, “They are actually not really scary. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.”

“Show me somebody who’s afraid of sharks and I’ll show you somebody who has not been in the water with them,” he added.

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Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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  • Ioanes

    Angelo: Even monkey business these days is good business!

  • Speashell

    I have been to a lot of shark dives in the past. Good one and very bad one went wrong. The bad ones chapter 11 the shop and disappeared and left the state to cover all liability, it always starts at 10 million. Like the last Grotto death, the instructor skips island.

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