June 22, 2016

Biosphere Expeditions Assesses Whale Shark Tourism in New Report

Submitted by Biosphere Expeditions

Biosphere Expeditions is excited to announce that the 2015 Maldives coral reef & whale shark report is now available.

This report is particularly important, “as the El Niño event has continued at unprecedented levels into 2016, it is important that we continue to survey to understand the long-term resilience of areas we monitor.” It also highlights an “out of control” and therefore unsustainable whale shark tourism industry that needs to be “reined in”.

The report covers the results of the September 2015 survey and concludes that “at present the Maldivian reefs surveyed do not seem to be suffering from significant levels of bleaching and disease. The low incidence of coral damage recorded seems to be due to storm damage and Drupella predation…It is crucial to keep a lookout on Ari Atoll reefs as well, given the imminent threat of bleaching.”

Additionally, “Maldivian local communities are only slowly becoming more aware of human impacts on reefs…Given the very real threats to coral reefs and the rapid pace of change, communities, politicians and government must be more proactive in managing the coral reefs of the Maldives properly and sustainably.”

Regarding whale shark tourism in South Ari Marine Protected Area, the report states that “although the area is a Marine Protected Area, as of yet it is merely a paper park. Despite suggestions for regulations being put forward by the MWSRP (Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme), there is neither a proper management plan that all the stakeholders agree on, nor a governing body actively involved in enforcing these regulations. In most cases, it is clear that some of these tourists are either not given a safety or environmental briefing about the code of conduct while swimming with sharks, or they do not care, or both.\” However, there are also numerous examples worldwide of well-managed MPAs engaging in sustainable income generation through interaction with nature and the presence of whale sharks; one example mentioned is Ningaloo in Australia, with strictly enforced codes of conduct.

It is also noted that where officialdom is failing, civil society and committed Maldivians are stepping in. Ever since Biosphere Expeditions started running its annual research cruise to the Maldives in 2011, it has educated and trained Maldivians in Reef Check survey techniques. This culminated in the first-ever all-Maldivian reef survey in November 2014 and other community-based conservation initiatives.

For more information, you can access the full report here: 2015 Maldives coral reef and whale shark report (12mb)

Win a place to join a unique SCUBA diving coral reef conservation expedition to Oman, the Maldives or Malaysia!

In partnership with Reef Check and the Marine Conservation Society, Biosphere Expeditions is offering a free place on an expedition to Musandam (Oman), the Maldives or Tioman Island (Malaysia). Each trip includes training and certification as a Reef Check EcoDiver. – See more at: http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/competition