Marine Programme

Photo credit: Gwenith Penry

Sustainable Marine Tourism

The ‘Sustainable Marine Tourism’ project was the first of its kind in South Africa focusing on the boat-based whale-watching industry. The research addressed 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 never been measured. This study aimed to test these regulations and ensure they are strong enough and being complied with to protect marine wildlife effectively. By minimising disturbance impacts on cetaceans, the industry will be able to sustain the resource on which it is dependent. The success of the industry is also dependent upon a satisfied customer and a profitable operator, additional aspects that this study aims to assess.

The strategic intent of the project was 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.

A strong emphasis on the economic value, both directly and indirectly, of boat-based marine wildlife activities is needed in order to demonstrate the value-added potential of this industry to the growing blue economy, while at the same time securing commitment by industry operators of a code of conduct to ensure best practice and compliance to regulations.

Some resource outputs from this project can be found here.

There were 3 main components to the project: Biological, Social and Economic.

Economic

What is marine tourism worth to small towns that depend on tourism as their main industry?

To provide standardised industry training guidelines to ensure the sector is driven by sustainable ecological measures rather than unrealistic tourist expectations. By developing an improved industry-driven code of conduct, in conjunction with a large social media driven awareness program, we aim to reduce the disjunction between tourist expectations and sustainable industry norms.

Biological

Where is the tipping point between enabling the growth of the industry while maintaining healthy biodiversity?

Assess the impact of boat-based marine tourism on coastal cetacean behaviour using Plettenberg Bay, South Africa as a case study. The current regulations were largely designed to minimise disturbance to southern right whales, however species-specific guidelines would be more appropriate due to the wide range of target species occurring in the region. The results will be used to develop recommendations for a revision of the current permit regulations pertaining to the industry to ensure sustainable use of the resources, and to reduce habitat displacement and disturbance of resident and migratory species that utilise the area for critical life history purposes (e.g. breeding).

Social

What do tourists expect to experience when they go on a marine wildlife tour? Are their expectations realistic, and how can the industry adapt its marketing and operational strategies to ensure it is not driven by unrealistic expectations?

Assess the economic value (direct and indirect) of marine ecotourism to the Garden Route with the intention of improving local government awareness, protection and enforcement of the resource, through active integration of marine spatial planning into municipal Integrated Development Plans and raised awareness of the economic importance of sustainable blue economy development in small coastal towns. Using the Rand value of healthy whale and dolphin populations determined by the study, create awareness of the economic benefits to the those who would not normally see the immediate advantages, but do benefit indirectly. I.e. How does the man in the township benefit from a strong whale watching industry in Plettenberg Bay?

Objective 1: Assessed the impact of boat-based marine tourism on coastal cetacean behaviour using Plettenberg Bay, South Africa as a case study.  The regulations at the time were largely designed to minimise disturbance to southern right whales, however, species-specific guidelines would be more appropriate due to the wide range of target species occurring in the region. The results were used to develop recommendations for a revision of the existing permit regulations pertaining to the industry to ensure sustainable use of the resources, and to reduce habitat displacement and disturbance of resident and migratory species that utilise the area for critical life history purposes (e.g. breeding).

Objective 2:  Assessed the economic value (direct and indirect) of marine ecotourism to the Garden Route with the intention of improving local government awareness, protection and enforcement of the resource, through active integration of marine spatial planning into municipal Integrated Development Plans and raised awareness of the economic importance of sustainable blue economy development in small coastal towns. Using the Rand value of healthy whale and dolphin populations determined by the study creates awareness of the economic benefits to those who would not normally see the immediate advantages, but do benefit indirectly, i.e. How does the man in the township benefit from a strong whale watching industry in Plettenberg Bay?

Objective 3:  To provide standardised industry training guidelines to ensure the sector is driven by sustainable ecological measures rather than unrealistic tourist expectations. By developing an improved industry-driven code of conduct, in conjunction with a large social media-driven awareness campaign, we aimed to reduce the disjunction between tourist expectations and sustainable industry norms.

Environmental Outcome

In line with the WWF Nedbank Green Trusts objective, this project addressed the importance of maintaining a sustainable boat-based marine wildlife-watching industry that has the conservation of marine mammals as its priority. 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. In addition, we will highlighted the economic importance of this industry to small coastal towns, thereby raising the profile of the sector and its input to local economies.

We developed an improved and species-relevant set of permit regulations and code of conduct to ensure minimal disturbance to sensitive marine mammals that are targeted by the industry. We aimed to determine what level of adherence there is within the industry to regulations and proposed enhanced strategies for reporting transgressions. In the long-term, and in line with the National Protected Area expansion programme, the information collected on the spatiotemporal use of areas by cetaceans will feed into a regional (South Africa and the South West Indian Ocean) assessment in 2019 of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMA’s) which falls under the Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force of the IUCN. Nationally the information will be used to create spatial layers for Marine Spatial Planning in South Africa and to implement spatial and/or temporal closures to whale-watching vessels.

In-water tourist activity disturbance on Cape Fur Seals

Snorkelling and scuba diving with fur seals have become popular tourist attractions at two particular locations in South Africa, namely Robberg Peninsula in Plettenberg Bay and Duikerklip near Hout Bay. Both these colonies are situated within marine protected areas namely Robberg MPA and Table Mountain Nation Park MPA. These activities have the potential to add significant growth to the country’s tourism industry, resulting in socio-economic benefits and if conducted responsibly have conservation benefits. However, if not conducted in a sustainable manner it could put the animals at risk of harassment, potentially affecting their natural livelihood. To ensure that the animals are not disturbed or otherwise adversely affected and that the activities are conducted in a sustainable manner, an understanding of how the seals react to these activities is required.

This study aimed to give an understanding of the short-term effects (behavioural) on the seal colony located at Robberg MPA and provide scientific recommendations towards a sustainable code of conduct and effective regulations.

Aims of the project include:

Describe the swim-with-seal tourism operations at Robberg, Plettenberg Bay

Investigate short-term effects (behavioural) of swim-with-seal tourism on seals at Robberg

Provide scientific recommendations towards “sustainable industry practice” and effective regulation