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For years, Isla Guadalupe in Mexico has been a much sought-after destination for shark enthusiasts. However, this dream has come to an end with the permanent closure of the Great White Shark cage diving site to tourism.
The Mexican Government announced the ban on "all tourism activities, and film and TV productions at Isla Guadalupe" on January 10, citing conservation concerns as the primary reason. This ban expands on an already-existing suspension from May to December 2022 on cage diving and sport fishing in the same area. The initial closure aimed to "gather information that will guide activities and the adoption of the best sustainability practices that guarantee the conservation of the aforementioned populations," according to a statement issued by the Mexican Government.
The new Management Plan for Guadalupe specifies that "White Shark observation may not be carried out in the Reserve for tourist purposes, to avoid altering [sharks'] habitat, behavior and feeding sites, and thereby preserve and conserve the species."
However, local tour operators and some shark advocates have expressed concerns about the closure. They argue that the absence of dive tourists may result in more harm to shark populations, despite good intentions. According to critics, liveaboards that visited the protected waters served as an effective physical deterrent to poachers and illegal fishing activities. Operators were present on an almost-permanent basis throughout the six-month season when Great Whites migrate to Isla Guadalupe each year. They brought tourists, which helped to keep poachers and fishermen out.
With the new ban, these tour operators and liveaboards are effectively out of business, and the local economy, which relies heavily on shark tourism, will suffer.
Horizon Charters, one of the original Great White Shark cage diving liveaboards in the area, issued a statement saying, "As it stands, there is no mechanism that will magically reopen Guadalupe, no legal challenge, no petition, or pressure campaign. It is closed."
The operator also pointed out that there are no provisions in the new management plan to protect the 400+ Great White Sharks that they've come to know and love. These particular sharks are the "main breeding animals" for most of the waters from Hawaii to Washington State, the entire coast of California, Baja, and the Sea of Cortez, the operator continued.
"The loss of these animals to illegal fishing could potentially collapse the entire white shark population in the Eastern Pacific," the shop added. "As such, it is imperative that Mexico set aside the manpower and funding necessary to protect these animals each and every season moving forward."
As the reopening of Guadalupe remains uncertain, Horizon Charters has decided to refund all bookings for the upcoming season.
The closure of Isla Guadalupe may be a blow to shark enthusiasts, but it is also a reminder of the need for sustainable tourism practices to protect our planet's precious marine life.