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Apps, K 2018, 'More than an adrenaline rush : a study of white shark cage-dive participants in Australia and the potential to encourage a conservation ethic', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright K Apps 2018


Wildlife tourism is often promoted by government and industry as an activity which supports conservation by enhancing participant environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. Despite speculation as to the conservation potential of wildlife tourism, empirical evidence to support such claims is limited. Globally, many shark species are facing significant population declines, yet conservation programs are often hampered by negative public perceptions. Sharks are one group of marine species which could benefit from the conservation potential of tourism. However, despite the rising popularity of shark-based tourism over the past two decades, little academic attention has focused on the human dimension of the experience. To address this gap in knowledge the aim of this thesis is to explore the human dimension of shark tourism, and to investigate the conservation potential of the activity.

A case study approach was adopted using white shark cage-dive tourism at the Neptune Islands, South Australia. As the only white shark cage-dive site in Australia and one of only five sites worldwide, this study is the first to investigate the participant experience at the Neptune Islands. Mixed-method research was used to collect qualitative and quantitative responses from participants on-board the three cage-dive operations between March 2014 and July 2016. Data was collected during four phases: 1) an application of the theory of planned behaviour to determine participants beliefs related to the cage-dive experience (n=86), 2) an exploration of the role of on-tour education and interpretation (n=607), 3) an investigation of the social value of the tourism site (n=675), and 4) an examination of participants attitude and behaviour towards shark conservation post-tour (n=136).

Results demonstrated that cage-dive participants valued the tourism activity and site as an educational opportunity, with demand for additional information focused on shark biology, habits and conservation. Post-tour responses identified a positive shift in participants attitudes and concern for sharks, and increased participation in conservation-related behaviour. A synthesis of findings from the four research phases reveals the significance of education/interpretation and an emotional engagement in the experience, as key themes contributing to the conservation potential of white shark cage-dive tourism. This research concludes that in order for wildlife tourism to build a motivated constituency of people who support conservation, it is necessary for operators to combine the emotional response of viewing wildlife with the educational benefits of a specifically designed interpretation programme.