Day 5: Industry and Marine Sustainable Tourism
October 11, 2019

by Caitlin Judge

Today is the last day of National Marine Week. However, the month of October is still “National Marine Month”, as well as we – the global population – should try making small changes that will help ease the pressure on the marine and coastal environment. One of the research areas our NVT Marine Team is currently working on is an exciting ‘Sustainable Marine Tourism’ project, in association with Nelson Mandela University and funded by WWF Nedbank Green Trust. 

The project is the first of its kind in South Africa focusing on the boat-based whale-watching industry. This project will address the importance of maintaining a sustainable boat-based marine wildlife-watching industry that has the conservation of marine mammals as its priority.  Although current regulations are globally perceived as strong, the efficacy of and compliance with these regulations has not before been measured. The study aims to test these current regulations and ensure they are strong enough and being used correctly in order to protect wildlife effectively. By minimising disturbance impacts to cetaceans, and other marine species (currently not requiring permits to view e.g. Cape Fur Seals), the industry will be able to sustain the resource on which it is dependent. We work by studying animal behaviours both with and without the presence of vessels from both land and sea.NVT research vessel FLUKE (left) and Bottlenose dolphins as seen through our theodolite during land-based surveying (right)

Alongside this we are working to quantify the industry to show the importance of this industry to small coastal towns; its impact on the economy; how this feeds into the local community; and how important it is to ensure it is functioning at a safe carrying capacity to sustain the industry. Additionally, we aim to engage with local and international tourists to hear how they perceive the industry, and whether they are happy with the experiences on offer. 

Tourists during commercial boat-based whale watching (left) and commercial boat-based whale watching (right)

The strategic intent of our program is to come alongside the government’s Operation Phakisa initiative to ensure the development of a sustainable blue economy in the marine environment. By identifying the potential negative impact of marine tourism on target animal behaviour and assessing the effectiveness of existing guidelines to mitigate this, we can ensure the development of a responsibly driven and well-regulated tourism sector that adds value to the country’s marine conservation efforts. It is hoped that the unique research done here can then be used nationally to aid the creation of best practice for wildlife viewing and lead the way globally for sustainable boat-based whale watching.

On that last note for National Marine Week, it has been the perfect time to remind us of our unique and wonderful marine heritage, that is not only a source of recreation but also food; employment; and other livelihood opportunities. We need to continue in creating awareness on the pressures that face our marine and coastal environments and the state of our oceans, in order to promote sustainable use; management; and conservation ensuring a healthier environment for future generations.

So please share with us your commitment in protecting our oceans this marine month and all year round, we’d love to hear about it!

WATCH: NVT Marine Team member Minke on her PhD research and the marine sustainable tourism project.

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