Thanks To Shark Sanctuaries, We Get To Enjoy And Explore Scenes Like These

08/16/2014 01:47 pm ET | Updated Aug 16, 2014

This amazing creature is a whale shark. Up to about 40-feet long, whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world -- and it turns out their economic value is nothing to sniff at, either.

whale shark maldives

Photo credit: Guy Stevens

A new study put out by the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme finds that tourists in that island nation, which established the world's second shark sanctuary in 2010, spent $9 million in 2012 going to see just one group of whale sharks -- that initial spending, directly to tour operators and the like, is thought to have as much as $20 million worth of value to the Maldivian economy.

The same goes for Palau. In 2009, this country in Micronesia became the first to ban commercial fishing of sharks inside of its waters. A 2011 study found that each shark could contribute about $2 million to Palau's economy. Shark tourism altogether, the study found, accounts for about 8 percent of the GDP.

There are 10 shark sanctuaries around the world -- the British Virgin Islands got us to that nice round number earlier this year -- and we're sure glad to find that doing the right thing pays off so well. Because it results in us getting to see things like this:

  • Palau
    Dmitry Miroshnikov via Getty Images
  • The world's first shark sanctuary is rich in underwater animals. Palau's water is also warm and clear. It's not for nothing that Palau is considered a top, if not the top, scuba diving destination.
  • The Bahamas
    Stuart Cove
  • Tiger sharks, hammerheads, lemon sharks and more are visible at this shark sanctuary, which is just a quick hop from Florida.
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Because of course it is: This is Sir Richard Branson tagging a juvenile reef shark in the British Virgin Islands, as part of an effort to learn about and raise awareness of the many animals living in the world's newest shark sanctuary.
  • The Marshall Islands
    Shawn Heinrichs
  • You may think of Godzilla and nuclear testing when you think of the Marshall Islands -- and, OK, fair enough -- but you should also be thinking about sharks. When the shark sanctuary was created in 2011, it was the world's largest. On top of providing an outstanding environment in which to see sharks and other marine life, the Marshalls is also credited with providing real enforcement of its shark fishing and trading bans.
  • Honduras
    Steve Box
  • Honduras set up its 92,665-square-mile, animal-rich shark sanctuary in 2011. It's not just paradise for divers -- anyone (with $1,500) can stay dry and see large, rare six-gill sharks, from the comfort of a submarine.
  • French Polynesia
    Monica & Michael Sweet via Getty Images
  • Those are reef sharks you can see in the clear blue waters of French Polynesia, which established the world's largest shark sanctuary right around the same time as the neighboring Cook Islands.
  • The Cook Islands
  • In 2012, the Cook Islands created its shark sanctuary of about about 771,000 square miles. With nearby French Polynesia also now prohibiting the commercial fishing of sharks, an astounding 2.5 million contiguous square miles of ocean are now safe for sharks.
  • New Caledonia
  • About 50 species of sharks live in the ocean around New Caledonia, a French archipelago in Melanesia. See some of those sharks in New Calendonia's new marine park -- one of the biggest in the world.
  • Tokelau
    Jim Abernathy
  • Only about 1,400 people live in this South Pacific territory of New Zealand -- which makes Tokelau's creation of a 123,178-square-mile shark sanctuary, in 2011, all the more impressive.
  • The Maldives
    Kate Westaway via Getty Images
  • Here we are, back where we started, ogling the world's biggest fish -- which eats plankton, not snorkelers -- and promoting shark conservation while we're doing it.

Thanks to Angelo Villagomez, who heads the shark sanctuary program for The Pew Charitable Trusts Global Shark Conservation Campaign, for providing background information for this piece.

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