21 December 2016

Cheaper, faster tool may be used to assess risks posed to dolphin populations by dolphin-watching tourism

Many studies have supported the threats imposed by boat-based tourism on whale and dolphins, especially amidst poorly-enforced or lacking regulations. Tourist boats highly impact cetacean behavior, both in short- and long term aspects. Thus, there is a need to understand the ecological effects of boat-based tourism on cetaceans along with economic sustainability of the industry. Since long-term study of ecological indicators may take 15 years or more to detect, it is impractical and costly. A group of researchers then proposes a cheaper and faster approach on this issue.

To complement ecological data, they used human dimension data (which is more readily available) with insights from Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework to rapidly assess the ecological impact of dolphin-watching tourism to dolphin populations across six developing Asian countries: Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Putting the framework within the context of dolphin-watching  tourism, they identified different indicators: the driver (development potential of dolphin-watching industry) that build pressure (number of tour boats, driving behavior, engine noise, etc.) on the environment, affecting the state (local IUCN status of species), leading to impact (change in population dynamics and habitat use) on ecosystems, hence the need for response (Code of Practice, cap on daily boat trips, alternative livelihoods, etc.).

Since impact can only be measured through large historical data, the indicators of the other four components and relationships among them where used to obtain a proxy, risk, i.e. the risk of a dolphin-watching industry harming, displacing or causing local extinction to a target dolphin population. A relative value of 0 to 5 was assigned for each D-P-S-R indicator: zero risk (0), very low risk (1), low risk (2), medium risk (3), high risk (4) and very high risk (5). Based on the values of pressure, state, and response, they obtained an overall risk indicator of local extinction.

They found high risk to dolphins in India and Indonesia, intermediate risk to Cambodia, and suspected low risk (pending more ecological data) to Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia populations.

Aside from alleviating the main contributing component to the overall risk factor, the study suggests “The introduction of and compliance to a Code of Practice would significantly reduce the pressure on the local dolphin populations.”

The international research team includes scientists from Indonesia (Putu Liza Mustika), Australia (Riccardo Welters, Gerard Edward Ryan - Cambodia, Coralie D’Lima - India), Philippines (Patricia Sorongon-Yap), Thailand (Suwat Jutapruet), and Malaysia (Cindy Peter). 

This paper is now published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.