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Perth Whale Shark Expert Wins Award


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Perth whale shark expert wins award

AUSTRALIAN naturalist Brad Norman has won an international award for a plan to involve thousands of ordinary people around the world in a project to save the vulnerable whale shark.

Mr Norman will be honoured at a ceremony in Singapore today after being chosen as a Laureate in the 2006 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which recognise outstanding contributions to humanity, science and the environment.

Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, are regarded as "vulnerable" to extinction by the World Conservation Union.

They have been sighted at more than 100 places around the globe, yet remain so scarce almost nothing is known of their abundance, breeding habits or habitat preferences.

Mr Norman, who spent 14 years researching the sharks at Western Australia's pristine Ningaloo reef, has developed his worldwide project to identify individual whale sharks and monitor their status and abundance.

Individual divers and tourists with ordinary cameras will photograph whale sharks and log the images onto an international online database that will identify individual fish from the spots on their sides.

Mr Norman said the whale shark was worth saving.

"It is a big, beautiful and charismatic animal, and not dangerous," Mr Norman said.

"Ningaloo's whale sharks draw more than 5000 visitors a year, mainly from April to June, generating ecotourism worth an estimated $US10 million ($13.22 million), and prove that a live whale shark earns far more than a dead one."

Rolex Awards described as "visionary" Mr Norman's proposal to involve thousands of ordinary people in the conservation of the whale sharks.

Mr Norman will use his $US100,000 ($132,000) award money to devote two years to training local authorities, tourism operators and 20 research assistants around the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans to observe, record and protect whale sharks.

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