Sharing the seas 

sharing the seas - plett - nature's valley trust
Published: December 29th, 2018

As #BaywatchPlett kicks off, we are excited to gain an understanding of how best we can #ShareTheSeas with marine mammals through our Marine Tourism Sustainability Project.

sharing the seas - plett - nature's valley trustYou never forget your first encounter with a great creature of the sea. The impact it has upon you is huge and life is often never quite the same again. The world is brimming with sea lovers; whether it is for whale watching or beach combing – our most abundant natural resource and attraction for tourist is our beautiful coastline and its inhabitants.

When it comes to marine adventures in Plett, there is swimming, snorkelling, diving, surfing, fishing, and the very popular whale-watching and swimming with seals. It is these two later marine wildlife tourism activities that have been the focus of a new marine tourism branch of the Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT) in association with Nelson Mandela University (NMU), WWF Nedbank Green Trust and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). Global interest and participation in marine wildlife tourism activities have been growing and it is no different in South Africa.

Boat-based activities finds its history in San Diego, 1955, when an enterprising fisherman advertised: ‘See the whales: $1’, although the industry really only expanded in the 1980’s. By 2008 the industry was worth over $2.1 billion USD, attracting over 13 million people a year from 119 countries, SA being one. Boat-based whale-watching became a permitted commercial industry in SA in 1998, and by 2018 this has grown from 20 to 40 available permits in 28 designated areas, and Plett has two of these permits. It is well known that both industries can provide substantial social and economic benefits and, if conducted appropriately, can even provide benefits to conservation.

However, there are concerns about sustainability and the potential negative impact on the animals. In SA the sustainability of marine wildlife tourism has not been investigated, and this is where the NVT marine team steps in. The team includes Minke Witteveen (PhD student), and research assistants Sally Sivewright and Caitlin Judge, under the supervision of Dr Gwen Penry (NMU), Prof Amanda Lombard (NMU) and Dr Mark Brown (NVT). Together they will investigate the behaviour of whales and dolphins and their interactions with boat-based vessels to ensure a sustainable industry. They will also be looking into customer satisfaction and the value-add of the industry to small coastal towns.

Using the Robberg Cape fur seal colony, the team aims to investigate the potential behavioural effects of the currently unlegistlated swim-with-seals industry. The goal is to provide scientific recommendations towards sustainable industry practice and effective regulation. As we delve deeper into these two projects, we are excited to gain an understanding of how best we can #ShareTheSeas with the fantastic marine mammals that use our beautiful bay.

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