Contributed by Bastien Loloum - NGO MARAPA
Presentation held on 18 October 2012 at the Brazilian Cultural Center in São Tomé,
under EIDL II. Operation Tunhã: a monitoring program Cetacea STP
MARAPA is an NGO located in Sao Tome and Principe (STP), Brazil, whose vision is
creating sustainable and rational management of marine and coastal resources of the
archipelago, by supporting the artisanal fisheries sector and the preservation of
marine ecosystems. The NGO has been running a programme monitoring cetaceans in
partnernship with the Association for Marine Sciences (APCM) in Portugal since 2011.
Scientific research on cetaceans in STP began in 2002 with observations made by biologists Inês Carvalho and Cristina Brito and data collected mainly around the islet Rolas and from the capital coinciding with the migration of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Gulf of Guinea. Several articles were published in journals on cetaceans observed during this period. In 2011, the NGO MARAPA and APCM - an association created by the same biologists and other experts - joined forces with the goal of pursuing the collection of data and working together for the conservation of these species.
In 2011, this partnership resulted in the launch of Operation Tunhã ("Dolphin" in the local dialect), funded by IUCN CARPE and run by MARAPA under the technical guidance of the APCM. It consists of a program of systematic monitoring of cetaceans with regular departures to sea and characterization of sightings of cetaceans, currently limited to the north and east, between the Blue Lagoon and the Santana islet. Through photo-identification, a database was compiled and updated. Data on Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) was used by a MSc Conservation Biology, Lisbon, student for his thesis on "Behavioural Ecology of Bottlenose dolphins of Sao Tome and Principe." A catalogue with about 150 individuals of this species has already been made with data collected between 2002 and 2012. The MARAPA is also capable of responding to cases of cetacean strandings on the beaches of the country, for sampling and identification. In parallel, the NGO also tested a program of observing cetaceans from land, with the support of Club Hotel Santana this year.
Potential for Whale Watching
Today, they are about 10 known species of cetaceans in the archipelago, with 4 of them recently registered by Operation Tunhã. This number may increase in the future with continued efforts in monitoring the sea and enlarging the sphere of data collection.
Whale Watching can be defined as a "practical observation of cetaceans in their natural habitat." This definition can be applied to observation for scientific purposes and recreation, but for this presentation we will only consider the term in the sense of tourism. According to a study by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) published in 2009, Whale Watching generated a global revenues of 2.1 billion Euros in 2008, involving 13 million tourists and generating 13,000 jobs. In the Azores region of Portugal, known for Whale Watching, 40,000 tourists went whale watching spending €5.5million at 19 specialized operators. In Madeira, another island region of Portugal, 58,000 eco-tourists spent 5.3 million Euros using the 9 whale tour operators.
In São Tomé, the potential for this activity has been identified since 2004, using the studies of the above mentionned biologists. In 2007 and 2008, Japanese lobbyists approached the country's rulers to invite STP to join the IWC (International Whaling Commission) and position themselves next to Japan in favor of whaling in the oceans. The counter-lobbying by national and international NGOs such as Greenpeace and Global Ocean stopped this attempt, keeping STP off this platform, and launching the debate on the use of
cetaceans in a non-lethal manner, particularly through tourism. In 2009, a third attempt by Japan was made
combined with the First International Meeting of Local Development, in which the whale watching once again presented and promoted as a viable alternative. A partnership between foreign and local NGOs was formed to express their views on the matter, and MARAPA and the APCM signed an agreement of collaboration with Global Ocean
to support non-lethal promotion of cetaceans in the area. The Japanese
were discouraged, and in 2011 MARAPA signed a partnership agreement
with local leaders in order to implement concrete projects such as Operation Tunhã.
In order to find a way to support research efforts in the long term,
MARAPA decided to adopt the whale watching as a form of
ecotourism to contribute to data collection. With the help of IUCN
and the APCM, the NGO has acquired a boat to take tourists on
excursions in the monitored area. This tour allows visitors to observe
cetaceans, and marine fauna, landscapes and the art of fishing.
Between February and October 2012, MARAPA organised 25
outings for monitoring, with 18 of them for tourists, totaling 125 people.
The success rate in whale watching was 88%, and 27 sightings were
made. The proceeds and profits have been contributed to a Fund for
the Preservation of the Marine Environment, to be used for actions by
MARAPA to raise awareness awareness and further investigate the
local cetaceans without external funding.
Challenges for the development of whale watching
The future of tourism is conditioned by the following factors:
1. Growth in domestic tourism market: Tourism in Sao Tome in general is very limited due to structural, legal and political constraints. Currently, due to the international crisis, the growth of tourism in STP and potential for growth remains uncertain. However, despite a gap in knowledge about the species at present, it may be possible to consider introducing this marine heritage as a potential for further promotion of STP abroad.
2. Improving knowledge on cetaceans will result in a higher success rate of observation, making it essential to continue monitoring the efforts that began in 2002. In particular, extensive research efforts to the under monitored areas is paramount. For example, the autonomous region of Prince has never been subject to scientific monitoring.
3. In general, local tourism operators would be very interested in investing in this activity. The APCM and MARAPA are willing to support stakeholders in creating services that are responsible and respectful manner towards the ecology of these animals. In fact, there are standardized rules worldwide for the safe observation of cetaceans, and others that apply to the STP and that must be monitored for the welfare of these animals and the sustainability of long-term activity.
4. Finally, as with any other type of tourist activity in the natural environment, control and surveillance measures need to be taken by the authorities, drawing on the experience of other countries undertaking similar activities. Similarly, we must urgently take measures to conserve marine resources as a whole, given the critical situation in which they are, after decades of predatory exploitation and disorganization. The recent approval and publication of the Fisheries Regulation, which explicitly prohibits the capture of any marine mammal, leaves us with the hope that the authorities with join the cause we stand for in due course.
For more information about Whale Watching and the issue of global conservation, visit the IFAW website. The IUCN Red List is also an interesting source of data on cetaceans and their threat level in today's oceans.
Whale Watching in São Tomé and Principe