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Go Green funding contributes to studies on the impact of tourism on marine wildlife

Go Green funding contributes to studies on the impact of tourism on marine wildlife

By Natasha Jacha

Non-profit scientific research institution, the Namibian Dolphin Project has proven invaluable to ensure dolphins and whales flourish along the country’s shores through dedicated research plus community team work and education.

Partly funded by the Nedbank Go Green Fund, the Dolphin Project was started in 2008 as a non-profit research and conservation organization, intent on filling the sprawling gaps in knowledge concerning dolphins and whales.

Project leader, Dr Simon Elwen described the fund as providing core support that has helped uncover valuable information on marine animals along the coast.

“Go Green funding has contributed to studies on the impact of tourism on marine wildlife, assessments on the importance of the marine protection areas for marine mammals and analysis on large-scale construction activities in Walvis Bay.”

According to Dr Elwen the first grant in 2009 and 2010 helped scientists undertake the first population estimates on the two types of inshore dolphin’s , the Heaviside dolphin and the Bottlenose dolphin.

The study looked at distribution, seasonality and the effects of human impact on the marine mammals’ behaviour, notably the large marine tourism industry which operates in the Walvis Bay and adjacent area.

The work confirmed the unique and very small population of Bottlenose dolphins, counting around 100 individuals. “They are among the smallest population of any mammal in the country,” Dr Elwin said.

Their diminutive population size exposes the dolphins to a host of natural and man-made threats including interactions with fisheries, coastal degradation, marine tourism and harmful algae blooms.

Not only are the Bottlenose dolphins of Namibia the smallest population of any mammal in southern Africa, but there is nowhere else on the southern African coast where this species can be viewed from the shore, as they can from beaches near Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

Over the past decade, the project has formed close ties with the local community, including the marine tourism industry, and has played a pivotal role in helping the sector implement eco-friendly practices.

“Some of our work has involved looking at how dolphins use the environment and how they react to the presence of boats, which has allowed the industry to better self-regulate their behaviors to ensure minimum disturbance of the animals,” he said.

The Go Green Fund supported analyses of how dolphins use the bay helped the project identify key resting areas along the Long Beach coastline, many of which are treated as sanctuary spaces where tourism activities are off-limits.

According to Dr Elwen scientific studies have benefitted the tourism industry by boosting knowledge and understanding of key wildlife and environmental attractions, adding value to the offering for tourists.

“Scientific research is essential to protect the resources that tourism and its associated jobs, rely on,” he emphasised.

The second round of funding went for a towed hydrophane array, used in a collaborative project with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to survey dolphins and whales in the Namibian Islands Marine Protected Area  (NIMPA) near Lüderitz.

The technology allowed the scientists to conduct both acoustic and visual surveys in an area renowned for its challenging climatic and oceanic conditions.

“The work revealed the high density of dolphins and a variety of whales living year-round in the NIMPA, highlighting the area’s biological importance at a regional scale,” Dr Elwen said.

A third grant allowed the project to build on the baseline data collected in 2008 to 2012, and to investigate the impact of the large-scale port expansion at Walvis Bay.

The study found that these environmental disturbances resulted in a “reduced use of parts of the bay by Bottlenose dolphins, but that overall numbers in the population have remained constant.”

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