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Mantas at Hanifaru: Protection from tourists?


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#21 Drew

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 09:17 AM

Folks need to study the evolution of whale shark interaction in Donsol, Philippines. It is far from perfect, but over the past 5 years it has gone from a free-for-all to something resembling a sustainable operation. Operator cooperation - driven by obvious benefit sharing - was a significant factor in that outcome


Well it's sorta easier for the local community around Donsol to get together on this since they all have a window of a few months to earn and the municipality works together to form the Butanding Festival etc. Plus these whalesharks got a presidential seal of protection back in the 90s (Yea Ramos!). The community was already united in hunting the whalesharks, so working towards sustainable tourism was a matter of fine tuning the process, which they have done very well.
The Maldives is a whole different deal. 6 resorts nearby (if I remember correctly), all international owned by different groups. Then count the liveaboards and other resorts which come from further away, all unrelated to each other and all vying for a piece of the action. Hell I remember reading some sales pitch back in Feb saying to go for the Mantas before legislation is enacted, all for $1500 for 5 days or something. Then you also have the age old locals vs foreigner debate and accusations of vested interest (eg SOS's Guy Steven's is also working @ 4 Seasons and brings tourists out there on his research dhoni. Note this is not saying Guy can't be trusted, even he knows there's such talk) I've seen this happen in quite a few places where there is an international presence (eg Komodo National Park (PNK) when many parties want a piece of the very small pie.
As Guy says, the area is slated to be a UNESCO WHS, which will garner some protection. UNESCO listing can help, as the new restrictions on the tours have had an effect on the tourism and its effects on the wildlife. However, it's not always perfect. For eg, shark fishing can still happen, despite PNG's (or with the help of, if one believes the stories) efforts.

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#22 gravity

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 10:09 PM

I have been to Donsol twice, and have not experienced that the practice follows the preaching. The operators often did not follow their own rules about how many people are allowed to swim with a shark at one time. I think there were times that more than 70 people would be in the water. With this many people in the water it was impossible to keep people from touching the shark. I was the jerk who kept grabbing people and throwing them away from the shark when they would reach out to touch it. Even when the operators saw someone touch the shark, there was never any consequences other than asking them not to do it again. I don't know what the solution is in either Donsol or Hanifaru, but operators mentality of 'if I don't accomodate the customer then my competitor will' is pervasive in many places. Effective enforcement is much tougher than good intentions.

#23 Drew

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 07:59 AM

I've been to Donsol quite a few times now, from the 97 to 2008. The transition from shark hunting to eco tourism has come a long way. I think what Donsol managed to do is get everyone to cooperate somewhat. You don't see boats dropping their payload of guests in front of another boat's guest too often. They also don't drive over the sharks and usually work together to share the sharks, much of the time. And there is the municipality rules which govern the whole process. While it may not be enforced all the time, in general it sorta works imperfectly.
The Maldives area will have to adapt and adjust or risk losing a big money earner. With negative press like the BBC article, I've heard that there was a suggestion to shut down the place this year but the dive ops (liveaboard and resorts) are ignoring that. They are even touting the end of the freewheeling days "so come to Baa before the government steps in" and posting such ads with great deals for this year. Lots of money at stake too.

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#24 Drew

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Posted 30 March 2011 - 06:05 PM

For those interested in helping with the situation, please write to the following officials to institute regulations and guidelines for all operators, including an official to regulate the area:

Environmental Protection Agency Director: ibrahim.naeem@epa.gov.mv
abdulla.mohamed@environment.gov.mv
abdulla.shibau@environment.gov.mv
Afra@visitmaldives.com
shahyr@visitmaldives.com
mtpb@maldives.com

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#25 Shaff

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 04:42 AM

Hi Guys,

I still haven't heard anything concrete from the government of Maldives regarding the protection of Hanifaru. All I know is that they are going to make it a UNESCO site. Will keep all of you updated as soon as I get some news.

Cheers from the Maldives

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#26 Drew

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 08:38 AM

Shukuriyah Shaf.

From what I've heard on the outside, there are no plans for anything. The resorts apparently decided to shut down the Baa trips but the dive association and liveaboards boycotted that boycott. It is a bit of a mess I guess when you have that many vested interests in a small patch of sand.

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#27 xariatay

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 09:51 PM

I spoke to the owner of LOBs during ADEX, he said Maldives is in the process of implementing something - a "site" fee & a daily limit to the number of boats/visitors to the site. They know that it is important to protect their rice bowl for the long run. The (dive) tourism market is incredibly competitive in the Maldives, it is important for the stake-holders to work together (easier said than done, I know...)
To prevent the "cow-boy" operations, maybe they should work out a list of responsible dive boats/operators that we (the consumers) can choose from. Many of times, the consumers just go for the lowest priced tours... It is even maybe more complicated in the Maldives where dive operators don't own the boat, they just "charter" the boat for a year (or 2?)...
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#28 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 03:48 AM

Just to update this as I am just back from the area.

The new "plan" is currently in effect and is in Phase 1 which lasts until the end of this monsoon/year (don't remember which). Then Phase 2 kicks in - which is the long term plan. I read the document while I was there. It does seem that Save Our Seas people seem to have been written out of history all together.

Anyway, currently, under Phase 1 access to Hanifaru alternates each day between liveaboards one day, day boats the next. Scuba and strobes are still allowed.

Under Phase 2 the bay will be snorkelling only (which I am in favour of - as it leaves the mantas the rest of the water column and seems a good solution).There are plenty of dive sites nearby where you can easily dive with mantas. But access will be limited to 45 minute windows. No strobes will be allowed (which kind of makes sense for snorkelling only). Professional photography only allowed under licence (this is not defined). I think that the 45 minutes is a bit OTT (but the time could be changed later), but actually don't have too many issues with all these. As at its worst if was a mess and something needed to be done.

I will be interested if there will be work arounds - such as pay enough and you can dive (rich divers do not disturb!). Pay enough and you can link several 45 minute sessions together and effectively spend several hours in the Bay etc.

What does concern me GREATLY is the plan to build a jetty at Hanifaru in the lagoon - to handle all the people and manage the 45 minute sessions. Hanifaru only exists because of a unique interaction between the tidal currents and the topography. Making a significant change to the topography, like this, really doesn't seem a good plan. It could potentially lead to a change in the flows or even a filling in of the bay with sediment, particularly during the NE Monsoon when wind, waves and currents come from the opposite direction. A series of permanent moorings would be a better solution.

Finally, there seemed far less people about than during my trip at this time last year. Although it could be that with a relatively poor showing by mantas (we only had a max of 20 at any time). That is not going to affect liveaboard numbers, but it will cut down on day boat numbers from the local resorts.

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#29 Drew

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 04:36 AM

Alex, who is the overseer? Is it the Maldivian government's own agencies?

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#30 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 06:09 AM

I think so - I posted, hoping to prompt a discussion involving some of the locals who are better informed than me. Who can furnish us with some more facts.

There are park wardens on site now.

Alex

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