Ecotourism to help conserve iconic marine species in the Pacific islands

Ecotourism as a tool for conservation of iconic marine species in the Pacific islands was the topic of discussion during a special session coordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and partners at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii this week.

The event aimed to identify an approach to ecotourism that will bring benefits to both communities and threatened species alike.

The Pacific islands region covers over 30 million sq km and suffered one of the highest rates of vertebrate extinctions in the world during the Twentieth Century. In recent years, the viewing of marine wildlife such as whales, turtles and sharks has become an important part of the tourism industry for several countries in Oceania.

NOAA Whale Function 6 KosiSPREP Director General, Kosi Latu. Photo: SPREP

"There are many instances of tourist activities playing an important role in promoting the recovery of threatened species while contributing significantly to the sustainable development of coastal communities," said Mr Michael Donoghue, the Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser of SPREP.

However there are also examples of operations promoted as ecotourism which do little to advance the cause of species conservation. They may even act to the detriment of threatened species instead. We hope that this workshop inspired participants about the ecotourism opportunities available to both conserve our iconic marine species and also provide benefits to the communities promoting their conservation."

The workshop session was chaired by Joshua Wycliffe the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Environment for Fiji. Three panels brought together researchers and managers to discuss the science that underlies best international practice, and ways to promote and ensure compliance with such guidelines.

NOAA Whale Function 4 John Armor - NOAAActing Director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Photo: SPREP

The first session provided a review of wildlife-based and cultural tourism in the Pacific islands with speakers describing a comprehensive review of ecotourism in the region that has been commissioned by SPREP; the economic value of sharks as a tourist attraction; dugong tourism in Vanuatu; and sharks, rays and cetaceans and tourism in French Polynesia.

The second session shared lessons learned from ecotourism with presentations on turtles and tourism; the experiences of the Department of Conservation from 20 years of managing whale and dolphin watching in New Zealand, and how communities should approach the business of eco-cultural tourism..

The final session of the workshop looked ahead at a way forward with presentations from Dr Bradnee Chambers, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme's Convention on Migratory Species and Pascal Hatuuku, Director Ong Motu Haka, Coordinator of UNESCO project in the Marquesas Islands.

This was followed the following day by a Knowledge Café called Wet and Wild, which provided a forum for conservationists, ecotourism operators and tour companies to discuss what works well, legal frameworks and development of sustainable ecotourism business models. Mr Dave Loubser represented SPREP at this session.

The Ecotourism as a tool for conservation of iconic marine species in the Pacific islands workshop was held on 2 September, 2016 from 11.00am to 1.00pm as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.

This event was coordinated by SPREP in partnership with Australian Government Department of the Environment, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy 2013-2016, IUCN, The Pacific Community, World Cetacean Alliance, NOAA (in full), NTEGRE, Sustainable Travel, International
Convention on Migratory Species-CMS, South Pacific Tourism Organisation- SPTO
CRIOBE, Government of New Caledonia, Oceanic Society, and Whale Watch Kaikoura

For more information please contact Mr Michael Donoghue at
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