BOAT OPERATOR PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMME
Goa is home to the endangered Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphin (Sousa Plumbea), protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of India. The presence of this species in Goa's coastal waters , has led to the organic growth of a dolphin watching industry, with almost 400 operators conducting trips in the busy Sinquerim bay, in North Goa and sporadic smaller sets of operators distributed across the coast operating from different beaches. A study conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature - India, supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature - India stated that during observation surveys, dolphins were observed displaying signs of stress around the tour boats, including avoidance behaviour and changing path of travel. The tour boats were found to be often chasing and surrounding the dolphins in an attempt to show a 'guaranteed' sighting to the tourists on - board.
The root cause of the issue is lack of awareness and capacity building, and lack of enforcement of rules and guidelines by the concerned authorities.
• This programme addresses these gaps by building the capacity of the boat operators to conduct ethical dolphin watching trips in accordance with internationally accepted dolphin watching guidelines.
• It also builds awareness and behavioral change amongst promoters, visitors, regulators and the wider public to enable a sensitive and responsible environment within which better engagement and protection is provided to the species and its habitat.
• It promotes the concept of responsible and sustainable tourism as a counter to the current more extractive image of the state’s tourism as a ‘party destination’. This image currently also influences development and regulation in the context of tourism in the state, which has led to widespread degradation of the state’s vulnerable marine and coastal spaces.
Our goal is to build the capacity of the dolphin watching boat operators to provide responsible and ethical experiences by training them in internationally accepted dolphin watching guidelines, developing and placing information signage in our pilot site, and building awareness and marketing campaigns to connect conscious travellers with the trained operators.
At present, we have trained 8 operators in our pilot site at the Morjim bay, in North Goa, and we conduct the ethical dolphin watching experiences with them in collaboration as their knowledge and marketing partner.
Our Ocean Biodiversity Experience, provides a much needed alternate to the current form of these trips and is focused on building an understanding about the species and its habitat. It also aims to build awareness about responsible tourism and encourages both the operators and the visitors to follow ethical guidelines when engaging with the marine habitat.
• Reduced stress in dolphins and reduction of habitat disturbance and pollution: We envision that once a significant number of dolphin watching tour operators are trained and widespread awareness about the species and responsible tourism practices is enabled, there will be a much better response from visitors who engage in these activities and reduce the stress and disturbance currently faced by the dolphins in their habitat.
• A cleaner, safer and more habitable environment for dolphins by altering tourist behavior: Once tourists are more aware of the focal species, its behavior and habitat use, they will put less pressure on operators to provide a sighting and be more compliant in conducting the trips ethically.
• Boat operators’ compliance with ethical guidelines as a result of sustained advocacy/stakeholder dialogue with the relevant authorities: It will also enable us to engage in dialogue with the relevant authorities to implement regulations, with proof of concept evidence, to ensure that boat operators comply with ethical guidelines including addressing waste management in the marine space.
• Sustained Monitoring of the focal Species and its habitat: Better monitoring of this species and its habitat will also be an outcome of this programme, since there will be more widespread sensitization and engagement.
•A more engaged and aware boat operator community, measured through the number of trained operators who are practicing ethical dolphin watching in the project area.
• A higher footfall of responsible and conscious travellers who support educational and ethical experiences, measured through the number of people who choose our ethical experiences.
• Reduced carbon footprint of dolphin watching tours, measured through the reduction of fuel consumption and costs as trained boat operators will save expenses on fuel by following ethical dolphin watching guidelines, which requires them to switch off their engines in the presence of dolphins.
• Higher income for trained operators, as ethical trips would be offered at a premium rate versus the 5$ it costs now to do a dolphin trip in Goa, which does not cover their rising expenses of running and maintaining their boat or provide for their lifestyle aspirations.
• Better sensitisation and increased awareness amongst the wider public about the focal species and conservation of its habitat measured through reduction of marine and beach litter as well as customer feedback.