Whale sharks in Teluk Cenderawasih: potential generator for ecoutourism industryAs the largest marine park in Indonesia, Teluk Cenderawasih National Park in West Papua boasts globally significant biodiversity, coral reef habitats, and populations of threatened marine species. One of the marine mega fauna that reside the area is Whale Sharks, the largest fish on earth. Here, these giant fish can be easily approached and observed.
The consistent encounters of the giant fish in this large marine area of The Bird’s Head Seascape have recently become associated with the presence of fishing platform called Bagan that is made from Bamboo and has a variety of nets hanging from it that capture anchovies.
These characteristics could be optimal for developing a high quality ecotourism industry, Dr. Brent Steward, a senior research biologist from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, San Diego, USA said in his recently published report on whale sharks monitoring workshop in Teluk Cenderawasih. He gave technical assistance during the workshop and monitoring training on whale sharks which was organized by WWF-Indonesia in a collaboration with Teluk Cendrawasih National Park Authority and Papua-Pro (ecotourism operator) on 2-7 May 211.
In his report, Steward also mentioned that Whale Sharks appear to become easily conditioned by behaviors of the resident fisherman by tapping or beating on the surface of the water. They began to approach the bagans closely and are hand-fed discards of these fishes and often remain swimming near the bagans for several hours or more. During these times, the whale sharks can be closely approached and observed by swimmers and free-divers and by divers on SCUBA with little effort, in relatively calm conditions, and for relatively long periods of time, in contrast to most other areas where whale sharks aggregate briefly.
The HUBBS scientist also suggests the importance of developing and implementing adaptive whale-shark interaction guidelines to ensure that those activities do not have adverse affects on the whale sharks. To facilitate the development of these guidelines and training programs and to aid in management and sustainability of whale shark interaction programs in Cendrawasih Bay National Park he recommends prompt development of a Monitoring and Research Program (MRP) that could be compatibly incorporated into ecotourism activities and industries. The MRP should also evaluate the potential effects (positive and negative) of hand feeding of whale sharks at the bagan.
Read the full report by Dr.Brent Steward…