Marine tourism is becoming bigger every year, especially since fishy documentaries like The Blue Planet hit our screens. Sir David Attenborough, presenter of The Blue Planet and god of all docos, has done more for the underwater world than Neptune… probably. He manages to turn even a dead flapping fish into something extraordinarily interesting and so people have fallen for all things marine hook, line and sinker.
To sate their marine obsessions people want to swim with dolphins, dive with sharks or go whale spotting, or sometimes all three in one day. But many would say these activities are anything but eco-friendly.
Is all marine ecotourism bad?
No, not at all. Some tours adhere to strict eco certified guidelines and educate tourists on the importance of protecting marine life. But, as with any type of tourism, there will always be a few cowboys around who are just in it for the money. They have no idea about marine wildlife, nor do they necessarily care about it. Never fear though, you can usually spot these guys a mile off. They’re usually the ones with little marine knowledge, dodgy dive equipment and even dodgier boats.
OK, so I’m not always brilliant at spotting the dodgy geezers — got any tips for eco-friendly underwater fun?
– Check whether the tour companies or boats have some form of eco accreditation; that’s a good start.
– Ask how many times they visit the site or go out on tours per day. Some limit their tours to swim with dolphins to a few times a week so as not to disturb the animals too much. Others can run up to five trips a day.
– If you’re going into the water as a swimmer or diver it’s important not to touch the marine life. Many dive masters or guides will pick up fish, poke them or touch them. You shouldn’t. Just look what happened to Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife prodder. He got too close to a sting ray and ended up with a barb through his heart — a gentle reminder that marine animals should be treated with a healthy respect.
– It’s important not to feed marine life either. Yeah, it’s a great way to get a closer look at them but if humans start feeding marine life on a regular basis they get out of the habit of hunting for themselves.
– If you’re planning on going on a feeding trip anyway, at least ask them what they feed the fish and how many times a day they do it? Many tours feed the fish things like bread which obviously isn’t abundant in their normal diet and so can cause harm as they can’t digest it properly. If you have a pet of your own, you’ll understand.
– Steer clear of boat trips that take masses of people out to reefs every day. They have good intentions in that they offer people the chance of a day out on the reef yet seldom limit numbers to the area so it quickly gets trampled and dies. Once an area of reef dies so too does a mini ecosystem. The boat then moves on to another part of the reef and does the same thing all over again.
Marine Ecotourism Projects
Earthwatch run research programmes and projects around the world that anyone can be a part of. The not-for-profit organisation has been around since the seventies and encourages all ages to join. You don’t need to be an expert in the field as the projects are run by real scientists so you’ll be taught all you need on site.
Coral Cay Conservation is a not-for-profit organisation that trains volunteers to collect scientific data to aid conservation. There are various voluntary positions available in places like Belize, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Tobago, to name a few. Get involved in educating locals about their reefs so they can maintain them and be able to live sustainably.
Marine Ecotourism is wonderful, if done right. You just need to shop around, do a bit of research and ask a few questions to make sure the tour you’re interested in follows the principles of ecotourism.