Shark diving trips grow in popularity, boosts Florida's economy

A new study says it added $221 million to Florida's economy, as well as 3,700 jobs.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Depending on who you are, getting up close and personal with a shark isn't a place you want to be.

However, across Florida, there's a growing industry of divers and tourists seeking an encounter with one of the most feared predators in the water.

"We're all about dispelling the jaws myth," said Chris Cameron with Shark Addicts. "We work very very hard to portray the reality and not Hollywood out there. So, we don't dive with cages."

That's right. Cameron and the rest of the team at Shark Addicts based in Jupiter, Florida has put thousands of divers face-to-face with a shark with nothing in between.

"A lot of it looks like a ballet," he said. "It looks like a dance."

Shark diving makes a 'bite' into Florida's economy

A new report says shark diving is more than a fun day for adventure seekers. It's a big business and becoming a pillar in Florida's off-shore economy.

The ledge drops 80 feet and deeper water means more sharks.

"They'll circle around again and again and again to get a pet, to get a rubdown," Cameron said. "It's different personalities. It's different sharks. You never know what you're going to get."

A study found 1-in-5 divers in Florida are specifically seeking a shark encounter. The popularity means sharks are worth some $221 million to Florida and more than 3,700 jobs.

Saving sharks from the risk of extinction

"There really is an economic incentive to protect sharks here at home," said Lora Snyder with Oceana.

Oceana commissioned the study to convince lawmakers in Washington that sharks are financially worth more alive than dead.

"Much like the demand for elephant ivory jeopardized a number of populations, it's the demand for shark fins that's jeopardizing a number of shark populations," Snyder said.

Best estimates are that 73 million shark fins are sold worldwide every year. The fin goes into a delicacy called shark fin soup that can cost $100 a bowl.

Cutting the fin means killing the shark.

Right now, a nuance is U.S. law prohibits finning, but permits buying and selling fins.

"We're working with a number of bipartisan members of Congress to get a bill passed that would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States," Snyder said.

At least 12 states, including California and Texas, have already passed bans against buying and selling shark fins.

In Florida, prohibitive rules are less strict. Thus, the need to understand the profit sharks bring to our state.

"Two years ago we had about an 11-foot dusky shark that came swimming in and had a huge stainless steel hook that had probably ripped about 6 inches of flesh," Cameron said.

The Shark Addicts team got the hook out and the video of the removal went viral.

Now, the group has more than 150,000 followers on Instagram sharing their encounters.

"It went from fun videos, lighthearted stuff, to really trying to attack the issues and problems and be a voice and an advocate for a species that had none," Cameron said.

Click here to find out more information on how you could shark dive with Shark Addicts.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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