Working with tourist businesses in the Maldives to protect whale sharks
The South Ari Atoll in the Maldives archipelago is globally recognised as the only year-round whale shark aggregation site.
With over 70,000 people involved in whale shark excursions in 2013, the South Ari atoll generated an excess of 9 million USD to the Maldivian economy and is estimated to be close to twice this amount in 2020.
However, recent studies from the Maldives Whales Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) has shown that there has been a sharp decline in whale shark sightings in the Maldives’ South Ari Atoll since 2017. This downward trend has occurred in areas where tour operators are not operating trips responsibly which has resulted in vessel and ship collisions with whale sharks.
So, to ensure the protection and conservation of whale sharks in a largely unregulated industry, our local tour operator is working with the MWSRP to create and distribute a science-based, government-endorsed whale shark excursion briefing pack to establish best practice guidelines to best protect these majestic creatures.
This project, funded by the Community Kickstart Project will see the production of a briefing pack to be distributed to 120 local member tourism businesses and 10 local guest houses, equipping tour guides across the industry to deliver a clear, standardised set of messages that will also help to keep guests well informed on their whale shark excursions.
Our Exodus Tour Operator in the Maldives, Ruth Franklin, commented, “Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring experiences you can have in the water. But, it’s in the interests of tour operators and tourists that this experience is both safe and enjoyable whilst also being sustainable in terms of keeping any impact on the whale shark and its habitat to a minimum.” She continued, “A pre-excursion briefing is a golden opportunity to present best practice guidelines, address concerns and to set reasonable expectations within a group of guests. This pack will provide a visual aid along with guidance notes, equipping guides with the information they need to ensure their guests are educated, kept safe and can enjoy their swim knowing that they’re following procedures designed with the wellbeing of the animal in mind.”
This pack not only helps to protect and preserve whale sharks in the South Ari Atoll, it also helps to encourage the recovery of whale shark sightings in the area, that in turn, boosts the national economy and local communities like Dhigurah in the South Ari Atoll who are almost entirely dependent on the whale shark and its habitat for supporting their livelihoods.
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