Port Lincoln could become a global centre for great white shark research with plans to develop a world-class discovery centre in local waters.
Travis Nottle, a former local, has returned to his hometown with plans to develop a floating ocean aquarium in waters off Port Lincoln that would temporarily accommodate live great whites.
He said the key purpose of the centre would be to promote conservation of the species through research and eco-tourism, saying Port Lincoln was the ideal location.
"Eco-education tourism is one of the strongest levers in terms of global conservation of these pelagic creatures and we have a great opportunity to positively influence the growth nations of south east Asia," Mr Nottle said.
Mr Nottle presented his concept for a Great White Shark Discovery Centre at a Port Lincoln council meeting on Monday night.
He said very little was known about great white sharks and globally, there was no significant facility capable of carrying out practical, controlled, repeatable research on live great white sharks.
He believes Port Lincoln is the ideal location.
"A unique natural environment and an experienced community makes Port Lincoln an exceptional option to effectively maintain a great white shark in temporary containment for research and eco-tourism purposes," he said.
Mr Nottle's concept plan is for an offshore facility, accessible by ferry, with two 100-megalitre enclosures attached to an observation pontoon, including an underwater viewing area, laboratories and an auditorium.
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California pioneered keeping great whites in temporary captivity in 2004, keeping them in a 4-megalitre open-ocean aquarium for up to six months at a time.
The facility is used for basic research and attracts more than one million visitors a year but Mr Nottle said the number of great white sharks in the northern hemisphere had dwindled and there were no plans to carry out controlled experiments to develop new technologies.
"Unlike South Africa and the west coast of the United States, Port Lincoln has real potential to take advantage of its natural strengths and sustain this for the longer term," Mr Nottle said.
"The Port Lincoln region is arguably the home of the great white shark with plentiful supplies of the predator's natural prey.
"The local ocean environment is most likely to support a healthy live great white shark with its deep, clear and protected waters."
Unlike the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Port Lincoln concept would take the facility to the sharks, rather than the other way around, which would have many advantages.
The centre would leverage the vast skills and experiences of the region, along with other world-leading experts.
Mr Nottle said the potential economic benefits for Port Lincoln were huge, with the centre expected to employ 30 to 40 people, on top of 60 to 100 construction jobs, and create another 200 to 300 indirect jobs.
He estimated it could generate $30 million a year in benefits for the region, or more than $400 million over the next 25 years.
Mr Nottle has already met with staff from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the Federal Environment Minister's office and held positive preliminary discussions.
He said the Western Australian government had indicated its support for the project and he was speaking with local shark cage operators about how they could benefit from increased demand from people who would not otherwise visit Port Lincoln.
"I hope to create a win-win and collaborative relationship with the existing operators. Synergy is a very important outcome for the people of this region."
Mr Nottle has completed the masterplan and pre-feasibility study and the next stage of the project will be the study and detailed design phase, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Mr Nottle presented his plans to the Port Lincoln City Council Monday night and councillors expressed their support for the project.