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Whale sharks are a major attraction for tourist divers and snorkelers in South Ari Atoll, Maldives. Yet without information regarding the use and economic extent of the attraction, it is difficult to prioritize conservation or implement effective management plans. Using empirical recreational data and generalized mixed models, this study provides the first economic valuation—via direct spend—of whale shark tourism in Maldives. We estimate that direct expenditure on whale shark excursions in the South Ari Marine Protected Area for 2012–2013 at US$7.6 and $9.4 million, respectively. These expenditures are based on an estimate of 72 to 78 thousand tourists who are involved in whale shark excursions annually. This level of visitation and expenditure highlights the need to implement regulations and management which can safeguard the sustainability of the industry through ensuring guest satisfaction and whale shark conservation.
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