Sunday, July 26, 2015

The right priorities to sustain marine tourism

EARLY this month, the international diving community was up in arms over a series of photos uploaded to social media websites allegedly depicting the removal of marine species from the ocean, including what appeared to be threatened and protected species, and tourists physically touching and handling the creatures out of the water.

Many commentators expressed disgust and dismay at the act, said to have taken place on a boat, operated a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) accreditted dive resort in Sabah earlier this year — condemning it as irresponsible and unprofessional.

Others threatened to boycott the operator.

It evoked strong reactions from the diving community because removing the animals from their natural habitats would not only cause them distress but may also give tourists the wrong idea it is acceptable and routine for such acts to take place.

Sabah wildlife authorities are now investigating the incident while the resort concerned has apologised over the incident.

Misaligned priorities

Situations like these are unfortunately not uncommon in this part of the world where much public and private sectors funding and attention are given to capturing the tourist dollar but comparatively very little to developing sustainable marine tourism.

More often than not, it is a case of good intentions but misaligned priorities. The word sustainability has become something of a cliché with governments and for-profit businesses recognising its marketing and branding value but may not fully understand or be committed to what it entails.

This often puts them at odds with other stakeholders, including environmental non-government organisations (NGOs), scientists, researchers, and local communities dependent on the environment for their livelihoods.

Even in countries with strict environmental protection laws, there may still prevail a blinkered perception of tourism and its subsets as the purview of the National Tourism Ministry, whereas the legislative authority to enforce environmental protection laws and prosecute crimes often lie with other agencies.

This adds unnecessary red tape and confusion when it comes to setting up and enforcing policies which better support sustainable practices in the industry.

Thus, it is not surprising even well-meaning individuals, businesses, non-profit groups and government agencies may still run foul of what constitutes sustainable tourism practices.

Building bridges

One of the aims of the upcoming 4th Coral Triangle Regional Business Forum is to help create common ground between the marine tourism industry’s various stakeholders and establish a framework of best practices to guide decision-makers and business operators, hoping to take advantage of the industry’s economic potential in the Coral Triangle.

The forum which will focus on sustainable marine tourism, is set to take place in Bali, Indonesia, from Aug 27 to 29.

It was created by the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and its development partners to engage with the private sector in creative innovative business solutions to sustain the region’s marine resources that are economically profitable and environmentally sustainable.

Covering 1.6 per cent of the Earth’s oceans, the Coral Triangle, stretching across six countries — the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands — is rich in marine biodiversity.

The area is home to 76 per cent of all known coral species, 37 per cent of all known coral reef fish species, 53 per cent of the world’s coral reefs, the greatest extent of mangrove forests in the world, as well as important spawning and juvenile growth areas for the world’s largest tuna fishery.

It is an important source of food and resources to about 363 million people who reside within, along with many more outside the region. Fish and other marine resources are a principal source of income, food, livelihoods and export revenue in all of the Coral Triangle countries.

However, the pressures of expanding populations, economic growth, international trade and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are putting the region’s marine ecosystem at risk and reducing the region’s ability to ensure food security for the long-term.

Ensuring marine biodiversity and food security for all dependent on the Coral Triangle will require effective preservation and management of the marine life within this area.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: The right priorities to sustain marine tourism