What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?
This is one example of how what we are doing for the local communities impacts the tourism sector. Aneityum is an island in Vanuatu its villagers are mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen, as in all the communities that we visit. For the last 30 years “Mystery Island” a small uninhabited island just off shore has been occasionally visited by cruise ships. In 2009 this was once every 5/6 weeks and this year 30 ships will visit. This has meant a huge increase in opportunities for the community by selling to and guiding tourists. In the late 1990’s a government funded tourism board was set up and in subsequent years the tourists that came to enjoy the sun and sand and to snorkel complained about a lack of fish. In 2001 this area was declared a Marine Protected Area for a 10 years period. This time is now up and the Area is currently under review but the problem is that without assistance it will probably no longer be maintained.
Other communities where we have been invited to help all have the same problem of reducing fish resources. In different communities this is for different reasons but the solutions of education and marine management are the same. In all communities that have healthy reef systems their tourism potential is enhanced. At present all the tourist resorts in remote coastal locations of these developing countries like Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea exist because of their healthy coral reefs and the diving opportunities this encourages. These eco-tourism ventures bring money into the community through work opportunities and allow crafts to be traded.
OceansWatch has been asked to support the Tourism Board in ways to help them maintain the Marine Protected Area. We will do this by providing scientific data on fish resources and the locals will be educated in the fact that this “Fish Bank” insures their fish stocks for the future due to the effects of fish and fish egg spill-over and the benefits that the fish have on the reef itself. OceansWatch will also assist the community in applying for official recognition of the MPA so that it will be a long term asset for the community.
OceansWatch has also been asked to help with ideas to manage and promote their coastal area. So far we have assisted the locals in the re-setting up of a previous turtle tagging program where tourists can name and tag and release a turtle as part of a SPREP (South Pacific Regional Environment Program) data collection project. Another idea that is being incorporated for the tourists is an underwater botanical garden where the different types of coral and are labelled.
The consequence of having Fish Banks for each coastal community will be that these subsistence villages will be sustainable in protein. Other tourism opportunities extend from this. One of the results of the Marine Protected Area around Mystery Island has been increased cruise ship visits - as they would only go there if it was a popular destination. The potential result that the Tourism Board can achieve with OceansWatch’s assistance is a healthy coral reef serving the community as a Fish Bank and providing the tourists with beautiful Snorkelling and a clean island with activities including turtle tagging and the underwater botanical garden. This community has the potential to be a thriving tourist destination but as the growth is going to come fast they will need a lot of support to create a sustainable community that benefits all sectors of society and the environment.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
2011 During the rest of this year and next year OceansWatch will do what it can to support the Tourism Board to work with the locals to maintain the Marine Protected Area. During our 2011 expedition we will visit this community and other communities to support them in their projects and to serve the increasing tourist numbers. We will monitor the coral reefs, train monitors and check the other projects are working and provide assistance as needed.
2012 We shall work with the Tourism Board to get the Marine Protected Area formally recognised so that it is safe-guarded long term and helps provide a sustainable fishery and tourist attraction. We will again monitor the coral reef with all reports being sent to Reef Check, both in Vanuatu and International. We will continue to train Reef Guardians.
2013 At this stage we will hopefully be able to see that some of the communities that we have been working with are now able to manage their marine resources. There will be marked MPAs that are looked after by well trained Reef Guardians who can carry on the regular monitoring of their coral reefs. The villages will be providing good tourism attractions and making an income from selling their crafts.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
We have run expeditions in Vanuatu for three years. We have done this by having marine biologists working from member’s yachts and also from yachts that have been donated to us to use. If we did not have yacht transport in this way we would not be able to visit the coastal communities that we do.
A serious cyclone, earthquake or tsunami would certainly hinder progress in this project as it would damage both the villages and the reef.
If we could no longer get good quality marine biologists and divers willing to volunteer for us on expeditions this would mean the projects would cost more to run.