Hello: Very timely topic!
I think that ecotourism, done correctly with experienced guides working
within parameters, is very beneficial. Increased awareness is always
valuable. The more people who visit natural places and come away with good
memories, new information and the experience of seeing and being there first
hand, will feel a connection with the place and the organisms that live
there. A concern of mine, is that as ecotourism in an area becomes
economically profitable, others will jump in just to make money. Pretty soon,
you have a crowd of boats, or tour vans, or jeeps, or whatever the mode of
transport is. And the level of expertise may drop when this happens. On the
New England coast, when whale watching began in the 1970s, the original
guides and trip organizers were scientists and biologists actually working in
the field. As the business grew exponentially throughout the 1980s and
1990s, the definition of "naturalist" took on rather broad characteristics.
A concern within the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary is that passengers on
different vessels were receiving varying amounts of accurate information.
In Shark's Bay in Exmouth, I really can't say if the diving by whales when
there are dive boats around is a reaction to the boats. You would have to
observe over a length of time the behavior of the whales when there are no
boats around. Are the dive boats the only boats in the vicinity? Are these
feeding grounds for whales, as you mentioned? Or are these breeding grounds?
I don't see that dive boats would spend much time approaching whales, unless
the intent is to dive with/around whales. The behavior of whales when
feeding is entirely different than when they are in breeding mode.
I hope this is helpful. Don't hesitate to write back if you have more
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