For years, Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe has been a dream destination for shark lovers. That dream is no more; the Great White cage diving hot spot has been permanently closed to tourism.
The Mexican Government enacted the ban on “all tourism activities, and film and TV productions at Isla Guadalupe” on January 10, citing conservation concerns as a primary driver. The new ban expands on an already-existing May to December 2022 suspension on cage diving and sport fishing in the same area. That closure was intended to “make it possible to gather information that will guide activities and the adoption of the best sustainability practices that guarantee the conservation of the aforementioned populations,” a statement issued by the Mexican Government states.
The new Management Plan for Guadalupe stipulates 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.”
Local tour operators and some shark advocates are raising concerns about the closure, saying while it may be well-intentioned, that the absence of dive tourists may actually cause more harm to shark populations.
Liveaboards that visited the protected waters served as an effective physical deterrent to poachers and illegal fishing activities, these critics say. Operators were present on an almost-permanent basis throughout the six-month season when Great Whites migrate to Isla Guadalupe each year. They bring tourists, which helps to keep out the poachers and fishermen.
With the new ban, these tour operators and liveaboards are effectively out of business, and the local economy – in which shark tourism is a major contributor – will suffer.
Horizon Charters, one of the original Great White cage diving liveaboards in the area, said in a statement, “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 noted 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.”
Because there is no information as to if and when Guadalupe will reopen, Horizon Charters has said it will refund all bookings for the upcoming season.