Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Sustainable whale shark tourism

Tofo Beach (photo courtesy of Clare Prebble, MMF)
Tofo Beach (photo courtesy of Clare Prebble, MMF)

Mozambique is an extremely poor country. After years of civil conflict, it lacks much of the wildlife found in the parks of neighbouring countries. What it does have, however, is an expanding marine tourism industry, as its coastal waters support an array of marine megafauna species: turtles, rays, whale sharks, humpback whales and dolphins. While this is a great opportunity for Mozambique to generate much-needed revenue, tourism needs to be managed so that impacts on these fauna are avoided and their populations don’t go into decline.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and occur in tropical and subtropical coastal areas around the world. Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, they are threatened by targeted whale shark fishing because as slow-growing and long-lived species they are easily over-exploited.  In recent years, there has also been a growing concern about the long term effects of tourism on whale sharks. Too many snorkelers and boats can cause stress to the animals and it is not known if there might be longer-term impacts as well.

The Born Free Foundation has been supporting the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) with an initiative to reduce impacts of tourism on the behaviour of whale sharks through educating local dive centre staff on codes of conduct developed for marine fauna. In this way, tour operators are encouraged to promote compliance among their clients. MMF is based at Tofo Beach in Mozambique where over 650 individual whale sharks have so far been identified.

The project held a marine training workshop for local dive centre staff to present information on whale shark ecology, biology, threats and codes of conduct in order to ensure a better understanding of whale sharks and other megafauna and best practices for local dive centre staff to pass onto other staff and clients. The workshop also included a tourism module on how to best deal with tourists and prepare them for their excursion.  All the dive centres were very keen for the training and sent as many participants as they could in acknowledgement that adhering to the code of conduct was important. The marine training workshop was well attended by skippers and crew, and there was a significant improvement in knowledge as a result.

Stakeholder meetings with managers and owners of dive centres were also held to raise awareness of the codes of conduct and to enable managers to prepare their new staff in best practices. Finally a compliance survey was implemented among tourists to test the extent to which local dive centres adhered to the codes of conduct after training. Results revealed that the vast majority of respondents were more than satisfied by their experience and felt that the code of conduct was explained and enforced.

The results of this initiative are encouraging but because there is a large turn-over of dive centre staff the project is challenged to ensure that codes of conduct are maintained in the longer-term. In the near future the Born Free Foundation hopes to support the Marine Megafauna Foundation implement more general diving codes of conduct that will encompass best practices for divers around whale sharks as well as the other charismatic marine species that inhabit the phenomenal waters of the Indian Ocean.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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