Economic development and ecological health have long been at odds with each other. Plans to develop tourism or increase production capacity have invariably disrupted sensitive marine habitats. WWF-India works in regions like Goa, Lakshadweep Islands and Andaman & Nicobar Islands with local stakeholders and policy makers to create ecologically sustainable development plans.
Goa, located on the west coast of India, is a globally renowned tropical tourist destination. Tourism is currently one of the primary industries in the state, and is expected to steadily expand. Marine tourism in particular has seen rapid growth over the past few years, and comprises: (1) recreational tourist activities, including fishing and watersports such as riding water scooters, water skiing, parasailing, jet-skiing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, windsurfing, riding banana boats, sailing, and yachting, and (2) Nature-based tourism activities including watching Indian Ocean Humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) on tour boats, visits to the Grande Island archipelago, and coral reef scuba-diving at Grande Island.
WWF-India has been working, to identify and assess the impact of marine nature-based tourism on coral reefs off the Grande Island archipelago, and the Indian Ocean Humpback dolphins at dolphin-watching sites along the coast.
Initiated in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, marine nature-based tourism started out when a few local fishers took tourists out on boats to watch dolphins, and to visit the Grande Island archipelago. Roughly two and a half decades later, the industry has spread all along the Goa coastline, and it is estimated that peak tourist seasons witness more than 700 boats operating for nature-based tourism activities daily.
Bringing humans into proximity with wildlife is always a delicate endeavor, treading the line between keeping humans safe and minimizing impact on wildlife. It is therefore, critical to ensure that such encounters are planned, carefully regulated and sustainably managed. A survey carried out by WWF-India on the impact of tour boats on the Indian Ocean Humpback dolphins found that 50% of the observed trips were cutting the dolphins’ path of travel, 28.57% were circling the dolphins, and 10.71 % involved chasing them. Dolphins were observed avoiding boats and changing their direction of travel in response to approaching tour boats.
Tour boats offering experiences such as dolphin watching, or reef diving often disturb these animals and habitats. For instance, boats anchoring near reefs often damaged or break corals. This is especially true of the reefs around Grande Island. Damaged reefs offer less protection to the islands, and become less suitable habitats for a range of other species that live within the reef ecosystem.
Increased tourist activity has inevitably always meant and increased inflow of garbage, and Goa is no exception. A large amount of garbage has been found dumped on the Grande Island, polluting the water and affecting the dive industry itself.
Marine nature-based tourism in Goa plays a vital role in the state’s tourism economy, and is an important livelihood for the local community, making the sustainable development of the industry of prime importance. Conservation of the resources on which the industry is based is also important to ensure the industry’s continued success.
WWF-India aims to work to reduce the impacts of existing tourism activities on wild species and ecosystems such as the Indian Ocean Humpback dolphins and coral reefs, through awareness and inclusion of local tour operators.