Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism For Shark Conservation

When many people hear the words “shark” and “tourism” in the same sentence, the first thing they think of is how to avoid them. Unfortunately these people are missing the opportunity to witness and learn about one of nature’s truly astounding creatures. While shark attacks are real and many movies and media outlets capitalize on this fear (see Discovery Shark Week), there are common sense ways to avoid danger and have a great experience while contributing to shark conservation efforts.

The Real Predator

According to the conservation group Oceana, an average of 4 people per year were killed by sharks and only 3 fatal attacks in the US from 2006 – 2010 (out of 179 total). Beachgoers are more than 3 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark attack. Compare that to the more than 25 million sharks killed by humans each year, and it becomes clear who is more dangerous.

Sharks, as top predators, are critically important to the health of the ocean. One of the biggest issues why many shark species are endangered is due to the international trade in shark fins, used as a delicacy in shark fin soup, consumed primarily in Asia. According to Shark Advocates International, they are also valued for their meat, hides, teeth, and livers. Due to the facts that sharks grow slowly, take a long time to reproduce, and give birth to small numbers of offspring, these fish are especially susceptible to human threats.

Tourism As A Conservation Tool

One strategy to help protect and research sharks that is gaining popularity is ecotourism. A recent study of sharks around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island estimated the value of a hammerhead shark to tourism at US $1.6 million each, compared to just under $200 it could bring if sold. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science had an even more dramatic difference, estimating a lifetime value of nearly US $2 million dollars for a reef shark in Palau vs. only $108 for sale in a fish market. Governments are starting to take notice of this economic value; countries including Australia, Palau, and the Cook Islands have recently created large new marine protected areas to protect sharks and other ocean life.

While diving to see sharks has its abstract value, many tour operators and volunteer organizations are taking advantage of shark tourism to directly benefit conservation. SEEtheWILD partner Sea Turtle Restoration Project has a unique trip for divers to the Cocos Island where people can help to tag hammerheads as part of a research program. In Belize, Earthwatch Institute has a volunteer program to study shark populations and the value of marine protected areas.

Another way that travelers can support shark research is by participating in the Whale Shark Photo ID Library. Anyone with underwater photos of whale sharks can upload them to this website for identification, helping to build this important resource for conservation efforts. Finally, some shark trips generate donations for conservation efforts, including this whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres (Mexico).

Playing it Safe

For those who get sweaty at the mention of sharks, there are many ways to keep yourself safe when in the water with sharks. The easiest way to do that is to swim with the least threatening of sharks, the whale sharks. Though these giant fish can be 40 feet long and weigh 20 tons, they don’t have teeth and are not aggressive to humans. Also, by remaining calm around sharks and keeping your distance, you can minimize the risk of being around these fascinating creatures. If you are diving or snorkeling in areas where sharks live, ask your guide about what to expect and what species to look out for.

Three Ecotourism Hot Spots in Malaysia: Dolphins, Marine Turtles, Elephants

This article was first published by our friends at WHL Group, who have agreed to its republication here. View original article on The Travel Word
By Oshin Chin

Malaysia is a hard-to-rival ecotourism destination. And now, through a combination of charismatic animal species and government programs to protect them, several areas of Malaysia have found a way to regulate and harness tourism as a positive force for animal conservation. Whether it’s dolphins, monkeys, turtles or elephants you’re hoping to encounter (and maybe even help), Malaysia is the place to be.

The Irrawaddy Dolphins of Sarawak

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, is well regarded as a hot spot for Irrawaddy dolphins (known to locals as pesut). The Irrawaddy dolphins’ unusual features are its blunt, rounded head with a flexible neck, an indistinct and almost non-existent beak, a small triangular dorsal fin with a blunt tip and its long broad flippers. Irrawaddy dolphins usually swim in groups of two to six, but in Santubong and Buntal, larger groups of more than 30 have been sighted.

Since the Irrawaddy dolphin is a protected species in Sarawak, the local government has created dolphin-watching programs to control tourism and limit the number of visitors. Unfortunately, Irrawaddy dolphins are still facing great risk of extinction due to human encroachment. The biggest threat of all is entanglement in fishing nets. Dolphin-watching season runs from April to November, but due to unpredictable weather, sightings are not frequent. It is therefore best to combine a dolphin watching tour with a mangrove cruise that offers the opportunity to see a wide range of rare wildlife such as Borneo’s famed proboscis monkey.

The Marine Turtles of Talang-Satang National Park

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang, comprises four islands on the southeast coast of Sarawak. These four “Turtle Islands” are responsible for 95 percent of all the turtle landings in Sarawak. Talang-Satang National Park covers approximately 48,000 acres, including beautiful shallow reef areas surrounding the four islands. The park also includes a wildlife sanctuary, important nesting sites and fish-breeding areas, as well as rare species of hard and soft corals. Most importantly, though, it provides shelter and resting ground for sea turtles.

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-living creatures with many reaching more than 100 years of age. Marine turtles will only start breeding at between 30 and 50 years of age and the females usually produce eggs only once every four or five years. They also do not lay eggs on just any beach. They will migrate back to their beach of birth, which sometimes can be more than 3,000 kilometres away. Their ability to find their way back to that particular beach, deftly navigating across an ocean world of deadly predators, is considered to be one of the greatest exploits in the animal kingdom.

The peak nesting season for turtles is from April to September. Due to the decline in turtle populations and deliberate poaching of turtles’ eggs, meat and shells, Sarawak Forestry has created a conservation program involving the local communities. As part of the project, turtle eggs are removed from the nests and placed in guarded hatcheries from which young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

In addition, some are tagged with radio tracking devices to learn more about their ecology and life cycle. Pulau Satang Besar, the largest of the four Turtle Islands, is open to visitors, but conservation takes top priority over tourism. In fact, parts of the island and surrounding sea are off-limit to visitors.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is situated in Pahang, 160 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur City. To get there, take the Karak Highway toward Lancang. Before reaching the elephant sanctuary, you pass through the Che’ Wong Orang Asli (aborigines) settlement, the last tribe of its kind in Malaysia.

Gandah Elephant Sanctuary was set up in 1989 and is managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia. Its main objective is to continue locating, subduing and then relocating wild elephants to a bigger and safer jungle reserve when their natural habitat is being encroached upon by human development. It is estimated that only 1,200 wild Asian elephants are left in Malaysia, and Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is the only conservation centre that provides safe sanctuary for these elephants rescued from all over the Malaysian Peninsula.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary also looks after orphaned elephants to ensure their continued survival. At present the sanctuary houses a number of elephants brought in from Thailand, India and Myanmar. These elephants are trained and used in the process of translocating wild elephants found in problem areas throughout Malaysia. The sanctuary strives to promote public awareness of the elephants’ plight in Malaysia and to educate the public on the importance of habitat and environmental preservation. Visitors are welcomed to join the elephant activities throughout the year and take part in one-of-a-kind adventures.

About the Author: Oshin Chin

Of Chinese descent and married to a Malay from Sarawak, Oshin and her husband have been living the nomadic life for ten years. They’ve resided in Australia, Holland, Malaysia, and currently call Brunei home. Oshin joined MegaBorneo four months ago where she works on media and PR. She’s always staying active with swimming, running, cycling, trekking, marathons, duathlons, and netball.

Accessible Ecotourism: Brazil Eco-Adventures for Everyone

Ecotourism for people in wheelchairs? You may wonder what that looks like, how it’s done. You’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that in many destinations there are efforts in place to improve tourism infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities. Brazil is one such example.

Accessible Tourism
Travel and Tourism is recognized as the largest service sector industry, and as such it is imperative that people of all ages and abilities are allowed access to its activities. Accessible Tourism is a movement that has evolved to represent this important concept, as well as to represent a group which is too often denied desired travel experiences due to inaccessibility and a lack of knowledge at many destinations worldwide. Groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) promote extended travel opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing partnerships, networks, educational material and certifications/guidelines pertaining to the accessibility of service sector facilities and operations.

Accessible Tourism recognizes the universal right to participate in tourism by having access to “independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing,” and notes its wide-spread benefits. “Accessible tourism benefits everyone. More individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel; the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both inhabitants and visitors.” (ENAT, 2011)

Virtual Accessible Tourism Project
Thankfully, these days one can find many accommodations and operators in Brazil that have adapted their facilities to receive individuals with decreased or limited mobility. Recently the Brazilian company Acessivel – Turismo Adaptado (Accessible – Adapted Tourism) has developed a new project featuring an online tour guide for travelers with reduced mobility.

This unique guide, only in Portuguese yet, is posted online through and will soon become a website with information about Brazilian accessible tourism destinations. The aim of this guide is to enable people with disability and reduced mobility to travel throughout Brazil. Adriana Braun, who uses a wheelchair herself, is responsible for coordinating this project.

Accessible path Brazil

In 2001, Adriana was the first person in a wheelchair to travel to the Fernando de Noronha islands, a popular ecotourism destination in Brazil. Adriana realized that with a little guidance and specific training for local guides and service sector employees, accommodations could improve their offerings so that people in wheelchairs may travel more. Thus began her instrumental work in accessible ecotourism. For Adriana, ecotourism and responsible travel experiences represent an excellent tool for rehabilitation to people in wheelchairs.

wheelchairs on the beach in Brazil

Accessible Ecotourism in Brazil

Fortunately there are many ecotourism destinations in Brazil that can be visited by people in wheelchairs, yet there is one that deserves special mention: the beach settlement of Itacaré, in the region of Bahia on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Itacaré is revered as one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Bahia. It is synonymous with beautiful beaches and relatively few people, protected Atlantic forests, pristine rivers, amazing waterfalls, and a very lively town during the summer. Nowadays this small town of Bahia is very popular with visitors, and especially surfers, who are attracted to the local beaches and their famously rough waves.

If you are a traveler in a wheelchair and want to visit Itacaré, you can be assured that there are many opportunities for accessible tourism and recreation in the area. Many local service operators have met with trained ecotourism guides and consultants in order to enable them to better cater to the needs of travelers with special needs. Because of this, it is possible for people in wheelchairs to go hiking in the local forests, to visit the beautiful beaches, to walk in the mangroves, to visit stunning waterfalls, and even to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting.

Isla Palenque Boutique Resort Designed with a Sense of Place

The Resort at Isla Palenque is a private island resort located in Panama’s sparkling Gulf of Chiriqui. The resort has recently been recognized for its creative planning, innovative foresight and original thinking in the areas of sustainable design and development. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has presented Isla Palenque with the 2010 ASLA Professional Award, recognizing the resort’s development process outlined in its master plan as a model for sustainable and responsible development for others to follow.

The minds behind The Resort at Isla Palenque have outlined an impressive vision for what is possible through collaboration that develops a model for sustainable island planning, while challenging existing governmental regulations and redefining regional development and conservation standards. The project also sets a benchmark for how ecotourism can promote a virtuous circle whereby tourism revenues provide a local incentive to protect what tourists are coming to see, but extends the principle beyond nature and ecology to incorporate all characteristics that contribute to sense of place, such as historic structures, living and traditional culture, landscapes, cuisine, arts and artisans, as well as local flora and fauna.

The resort is slated to open in 2012.

Award-Winning Eco-Resort Master Plan

The master plan for The Resort at Isla Palenque focuses on preserving and sustaining the land, wildlife and local culture, while emphasizing style and luxury in a unique, natural setting.

Some key highlights of the award-winning master plan include:

  • The project preserves 85% of the island’s 434 acres into a nature sanctuary that consists of fragile forests, lagoons and mangroves. Panamanian law requires 15% of all zoned land to be designated for park and open space purposes. The proposed plan exceeds this requirement by more than 2300%.
  • It explores methods of agrotourism through elements such as an organic production orchard, an edible forest garden and the scattered plantings of fruit trees, all designed to decrease imports.
  • It develops water and energy management plans that reduce dependency on non-renewable resources, with the goal of having 95% of the planned development’s energy needs generated by on-site solar and wind power.
  • The architectural heritage of Panama is highlighted through the site planning of residential casitas, designed as a cluster of small buildings, imitating the form of nearby villages.
  • Upon complete build-out, a greenway will circumnavigate the island, buffering views, and more than six miles of nature trails will extend into the island’s interior, where bird-watching towers, interpretative trails and play areas created from natural materials found on the island will be found.
  • A fleet of smaller, electric cars would serve as the island’s primary mode of transportation. Typical roadway widths will be reduced by 50%, decreasing site disturbance, emissions, construction cost and infrastructure needs.
  • It fosters socially-conscious educational development to three user groups: local citizens, island guests and international academic institutions.

Environmentally-Focused Resort Design

The Resort at Isla Palenque is the result of a partnership between Amble Resorts and Design Workshop, international landscape architecture and planning firm. Amble Resorts and Design Workshop share the award with the rest of the development team, including architects 4240, environmental advisers Panama Environmental Services, and engineering firm East Bay Group (Learn more about the development team).

The resort’s design embodies a stylish, contemporary interpretation of traditional local architecture that respects local customs and celebrates the incomparable natural setting. Making intelligent use of the terrain and the beauty of the island itself, most of the resort buildings are placed in the few areas that were previously cleared for farming.

“The idea behind the master plan has always been to retain natural resources while accommodating low-density development; synthesizing aspects of sustainability, conservation, and ecotourism for a result that will really create unprecedented character” – Richard Shaw, FASLA, a Principal and Partner at Design Workshop


“We want to create sustainability that is not only good for the land, but good for the people that will live on it.” – Ben Loomis, President, Amble Resorts

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Finding a Balance between Conservation and Development

Tourism has become one of the most important industries in the world with significant growth potential. Mexico attracts most tourists in all of Latin America, and with over 20 millions visitors each year, it is among the top ten tourist destinations worldwide.

Tourism is one of the leading industries in the country, and the Mexican Caribbean relies largely on tourism. Pressure imposed on the environment by the drastic and constant increase of tourism in the Riviera Maya and Cancún – as well as the lack of sustainable planning and management in many of Mexico’s towns and cities over the past forty years – has led to an environmental crisis and the industry is urgently required to seek greater harmony between economic needs and environmental sustainability.

The industry is endangering the same natural resources that tourism relies on to attract visitors. To build large hotel and resort complexes, forests and mangroves have been cut down at an alarming rate, leading to coastal erosion. Inadequate waste and water treatment are polluting the cenotes, or underground rivers. These are just a few of the negative impacts irresponsible tourism development has had in the Mexican Caribbean.

In recent years, there has been a new trend in increased environmental consciousness, and many tourism businesses and developments companies, with the help of local and international NGOs, are working to reduce the impacts of new constructions. The government has also set aside protected areas, one of which is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Roo, south of the Riviera Maya.

Unique Natural Treasure – UNESCO World Heritage Site

One of the most important protected areas in the Mexican Caribbean, the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an (Mayan for “Gift from the Sky”) is a place with an incomparable natural beauty and immense richness in flora and fauna. For these unique characteristics in biodiversity and its cultural treasures Sian Ka’an was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1987.

On January 20th 1986, Sian Ka’an was established as one of the first Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and also is part of the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, which tries to find compromising ways of low human activity while securing the long term conservation of the area.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve spans for an area covering 652,000 hectares, making it the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Including the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Sian Ka’an is the most important coastal protected area in Mexico.

The Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an has gained significant importance as a destination for ecotourism and sustainable livelihood development projects for local communities. It is known for its biodiversity and various ecosystems, consisting of a mosaic of inland water canals, mangroves, marshes, and tropical lowland forests containing ancient Mayan sites.

There is also an abundance of wildlife including manatees, four species of marine turtles, as well as howler and spider monkey, crocodiles, the rare Jabiru Stork, and some of the most elusive large mammals in the region including jaguar, puma, ocelot and tapir. By 2008, over 370 bird species had been identified, from tiny little birds to giant birds the size of a small person.

Visit Sian Ka’an – a Small Local Tourism Project

Recognizing the tremendous value of Sian Ka’an’s natural, historic and cultural resources, as well as the needs to conserve and foster these resources for future generation, Aldo Ancona has launched the small and responsible ecotourism project Visit Sian Ka’an. A locally-owned tour company, Visit Sian Ka’an offers ecological boat tours within the lagoons and coastal wetlands of Sian Ka’an. The tours are designed for travelers who are seeking to experience the nature in a respectful manner and are interested in learning about various wildlife, Mayan history, cultural heritage and local conservation efforts.

Visit Sian Ka’an’s tour guides are natives from the area. Equipped with a lifetime of experience, these local guides are professionally trained to showcase local history and culture. Committed to offering the most intriguing and informative tour, they have a sincere respect and passion for the cultural treasures and natural wonders that make Sian Ka’an the amazing place that it is.

At Visit Sian Ka’an, we are proud to have established our projects inline with the principles of biosphere reserves – to enhance people’s livelihoods and to ensure environmental sustainability. Our strong commitment to sustainable livelihoods and to the rich biodiversity of these fragile ecosystems is part of our business culture.

Visit Sian Ka’an tours only take very small groups of 2 up to 6 people. This contributes to two important factors: the exclusivity that enhances each guest’s experience, and the guarantee that the environmental impact of the tours is minimized and the unique coastal wetlands remain viable for our future generations.

More About Visit Sian Ka’an

Visit Sian Ka’an is committed to protecting the local area and its fragile ecosystem, through a business model based on sustainable tourism – minimizing the environmental impact of tours. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, and remains the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.

Chumbe Island: Marine Ecotourism at its Best

This article was originally published by Lights of Africa, an 8-month media expedition throughout Southern and Eastern Africa. The expedition is led by TIES Travel Ambassador Mikael Castro, and his father Haroldo Castro, an award-winning video producer, photographer and journalist.

Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Chumbe Island, a half-mile-long coral rag island just eight miles south of Zanzibar’s infamous Stone Town, has become a celebrated ecotourism success story in the Zanzibar archipelago. Its history is a narrative best told directly by Sibylle Riedmiller, a German conservationist who came to Chumbe looking for a coral reef to protect in the late 80s. After years of complex negotiations among several actors, Sibylle’s determination persevered and in 1994 Chumbe Island Coral Park (CHICOP) became Tanzania’s first marine protected area gazetted by the Zanzibar Government.

Geared-up with snorkels and fins and floating just a couple hundred yards off shore parallel the island, we witnessed first-hand the motive behind creating a Chumbe’s marine reserve. “There is a blue-spotted sting ray over here” called out Karlyn Langjahr, Chumbe’s project manager. A few minutes later, Khamis, former fisherman and now guide and park ranger, pointed out a hawksbill turtle swimming our way, followed by a huge grouper fish.

What is most amazing about Chumbe, besides the 400 species of fish that can be seen in this reef, is the amount and the diversity of the corals reef. Neither of us, in our years of snorkeling and diving (from the Caribbean to the Philippines), have seen such an amazing coral garden.

While she has won nearly every international and local award in sustainable tourism (from the World Legacy Award to Tourism for Tomorrow Award), Sibylle remains focused marine conservation and environmental education rather than ecotourism. The revenue from tourism on Chumbe merely provides the means for the conservation of the Coral Reef Sanctuary and Forest Reserve along with the extensive list of educational initiatives. Chumbe’s staff, numbering near 40 – a pretty good staff-to-guest ratio with a capacity for some 15 overnight guests – includes trained park rangers who serve as guides.

Nearly all staff members are native to Tanzania, most from Zanzibar’s main island. The park rangers, many former fishermen from neighboring villages, have been trained in park management and monitoring techniques for reef and forest. Along with local and international researchers supported by CHICOP, they have collected data indicating that fish size and marine diversity have increased in the coral park while illegal fishing incidents have significantly decreased.

After our candle-lit dinner on the beach, we went in search of the Chumbe’s night life. Saidck Magwiza, who began as waiter in 2000 and after years of training became an assistant manager, took us to the rag forest of the island to find the world’s largest land crab. These crabs can reach up to a foot and a half in diameter.

As we retreat to our bungalow for the night we are reminded why Chumbe received such high marks in ecotourism. Each of the seven eco-bungalows was constructed using local materials as self-sustaining units with their own rainwater catchment, composting toilets, grey water filtration, and photovoltaic panels for electricity. The room temperature is regulated by a fan that runs on solar energy and a thatched-wall lowered by a coconut fiber rope, providing a bedside view of the Indian Ocean.

Chumbe Island Coral Park

Chumbe Island Coral Park is a not for profit private company, founded in 1994 to manage the conservation and environmental education programmes within the conservation area on Chumbe Island, on behalf of the Government of Zanzibar. These activities are funded through sustainable ecotourism operated on the island since 1998. The island only uses sustainable technologies such as solar power, compost toilets, rain water harvesting etc. in order to have as little as possible impact on the surrounding environment.

Mikael Castro, TIES Travel Ambassador

Mikael Castro is TIES Travel Ambassador (2009-2011). Having worked with TIES in several capacities, Mikael is now on a six-month expedition throughout Southern and Eastern Africa, documenting ecotourism initiatives as well as various stakeholder perspectives of ecotourism as a tool for bio-cultural conservation. You will be able to follow Mikael’s adventures in Africa at: