In Koh Kong Province, Cambodia, local communities rely heavily on the natural environment for their livelihoods and income. Balancing the pressure to alleviate poverty with the need to sustainably manage natural resources is no simple task and requires a systemic response that integrates the economic, social and environmental context. Developing responsible dolphin watching tours is one way to benefit local communities while also promoting conservation.
Under its Transboundary Dolphin Conservation project along the coastline of the Thai-Cambodian border, IUCN is working with its partners the Koh Kong Fishery Administration Cantonment (FiA), the Department of Environment (DoE) and relevant stakeholders in Koh Kong Province to address major threats to dolphin populations in the area.
Through comprehensive networking activities and collaboration with local and provincial stakeholders, IUCN is promoting conservation of nature through its integration with social development goals. Such actions include the creation of local dolphin conservation networks and working groups, first response training for stranded dolphins, conducting joint patrols and the development of responsible dolphin watching as a sustainable livelihood.
The project targets the development of ecotourism in Koh Kong, using the Irrawaddy and Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins as flagship species, to create alternative economic opportunities for local communities. Globally, dolphin and whale watching is one of the fastest growing ecotourism industries and can be used as a driver for conservation of dolphins and important coastal areas, which provide essential habitat and resources to humans and other species alike.
Through multiple workshops and pilot tours, IUCN in collaboration with local administrations and the community has developed best practice guidelines for tour operators for responsible and sustainable dolphin watching. Active participation of the community in developing these guidelines facilitates learning and the exchange of knowledge across stakeholders and ensures that the guidelines represent the community’s attitudes and values. It is vital that the community supports and voluntarily self-enforces these guidelines if they are to be an effective and sustainable measure.
“There is great potential for building ecotourism in the Koh Kong region. Koh Kong is less ‘touristy’ than other Cambodian provinces and ecotourism programmes have the potential to make a substantial difference to the lives of local people,” said Diana Withnall, a university student from Australia. “A lot of tourists would be attracted to Koh Kong's undisturbed, undeveloped beaches and an opportunity to see more of the real Cambodia,” she continued.
Dolphin Watching Guidelines
In March 2016, IUCN organized a workshop on sustainable dolphin watching in Koh Kong to finalize the guidelines. Local communities demonstrated their understanding of the guidelines and discussed their implementation. “Based on many years of experience, the minimum distance between the boats and groups of dolphins should be around 30 metres in order to minimize disturbance to the dolphins,” said Sin Daro, a local fisherman.
The guidelines aim to act as a premise to develop, establish and promote a profitable and sustainable dolphin watching industry, which also encompasses the protection of important dolphin foraging areas and habitats. Their implementation is based on a precautionary approach which aims to minimize the disturbance that dolphin watching can have on dolphins. For the sustainability of dolphin watching as an ecotourism activity, proactive management of potential negative impacts is crucial.