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CHILE: Dolphin Research Ecotours- Presentation

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  • Pablo Lobo
    MARINE EARTH`S DOLPHIN RESEARCH ECOTOURS PRESENTATION - Support to marine mammal science and conservation of endangered resident dolphins in Chile while
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2003
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      mammal science and conservation of endangered resident dolphins in Chile
      while providing unique and in-depth learning experiences to visitors.

      Dear fellow members,

      Greetings from Chile!

      Sorry for cross-postings and please forgive the extension of this

      I wish to share our work on behalf of Marine Earth Expeditions in Chile,
      a small- scale operator based in Santiago Chile, and hopefully share ideas
      and goals with those interested.

      Though MARINE EARTH has provided a fair range of specialized programs with
      emphasis on wildlife observations for the past 3 years, our main goal is to
      specialize in programs that incorporate real-life science activities and
      true support to
      conservation initiatives while offering unique learning experiences to our
      guests. Among others, these include direct support through visitors active
      participation with scientists in data collecting and monitoring activities
      and through revenue share to be destined to support further and much needed
      efforts by field specialists and non-profit organizations.

      Through my collaboration and close relations with field scientists dedicated
      to marine mammal studies and protection of critical biological zones, I have
      witnessed first-hand the difficulties in performing and maintaining studies
      in remote areas and the many obstacles confronted that often undermine these
      valuable efforts. Unfortunately, support to sustainable development and
      conservation in most of its forms, especially in countries like Chile, is
      not only scarce (though widely utilized as green-washing propaganda) but
      many times strongly opposed by influential networks that virtually control
      the Chilean
      economy, its natural resources and decision making processes. The situation
      obviously leads to infinite abuses of power, irregularities and
      misinformation (just too long to list here), that truncate many of these
      efforts with direct costs to the environment and to many communities that
      may see some new perspectives in activities such as Ecotourism.

      Chile is not an isolated case and surely many have witnessed similar
      situations multiplying throughout the years and throughout the world,
      together with the loss of many opportunities and ideas together with the
      grief and impotence of seeing wonderful and vital places disappear and or
      change forever.

      However and on a more positive side, I've also witnessed the potential
      benefits of withholding sound and permanently updated scientific knowledge
      as a major tool for enforcing conservation and educational initiatives, its
      use in developing sustainable
      and mitigation techniques and the enriching experience of sharing of this
      knowledge by specialists. Furthermore, to participate in data collecting in
      some cases can be one of the most rewarding and unforgettable experiences
      ever, especially for the great majority who's "regular lives" inhibit a
      closer and deeper
      contact with nature.

      With marine mammals as our main interest, we wish to invite you to
      participate or read about our first science tours called "Dolphin Research
      Ecotours", a project that merges science and Ecotourism with the
      participation of field specialists, tour leaders and visitors in real-life
      projects in marine mammal science and conservation in Chile.

      Our first research ecotours are centered in non-invasive data collecting and
      monitoring of the only "resident" bottlenose dolphin population recorded in
      Chilean waters and one of the few known with this characteristic remaining
      in the world. Registered by scientists as "POD-R", they are a highly
      vulnerable and seriously endangered group of only about 30 dolphins that
      inhabit (year round) the waters near Isla Choros located at the southern end
      of the
      Atacama Desert, (+/- 600 kms north of Santiago).

      Isla Choros is part of an uninhabited island chain a four islands in which
      three, (Isla Choros, Isla Damas and Isla Chañaral) form part of the
      "Humboldt Penguin National Reserve". However, the "Reserve" status applies
      only to terrestrial areas and leaves water portions -and wildlife in the
      water- virtually unprotected. Unfortunately, the fourth island and the
      closest to shore, Isla Gaviota, is excluded from the Reserve and is
      currently under intense pressure from investment groups pressuring to build
      massive 5-star resort facilities with irreversible impacts to
      the surrounding habitat together with the displacement of the local
      community that has gradually developed local ecotour operations. (See more
      below) (The waters off Isla Gaviota are also the main bentonic resource and
      main income for artisan fishermen).

      Rich in wildlife and stunning beauty, the area remains as one of the finest
      examples of the rich marine ecosystems nourished by the cold waters of the
      Humboldt current and offers a wide range of wildlife watching opportunities
      if proper non-invasive techniques are respected. Various endangered species
      live on the islands, including major Humboldt Penguin colonies, large sea
      lion populations, sea otters and nesting sights for many migratory and
      resident bird species among others.

      Furthermore, the waters near the islands account for an uncommonly high
      cetacean diversity, with 16 distinct species recorded to present within an
      area of only 32kms by 15 kms. - This may well be one of the highest
      diversities known for cetaceans for such a reduced area, and further
      research efforts may surely add more names to the list.

      Our "Dolphin Research Ecotours" are the result of many years of thoughts and
      collaboration with the Centre for Marine Mammals Research LEVIATHAN (CMMR
      Leviathan), a Chilean NGO conformed by cetacean biologists and volunteers
      that has monitored the dolphins since 1991 and authored the most significant
      scientific publications related to POD-R and other cetacean species around
      the islands.
      Initiatives also included the first proposal in Chile to declare the area's
      waters as a
      Marine Protected Area (MPA) in ´2000. (Un-believably, Chile lacks Marine
      Protected Areas) The proposal was based on 10 years of field studies and
      included norms for dolphin watching operations, permanent monitoring
      activities and priority for the local community to conduct local dolphin
      watching operations.

      In designing our research tours, scientists are first consulted for priority
      scientific and conservation objectives, which are then evaluated together
      and selected in terms of permitting visitors participation, their potential
      contributions, and in terms of making them enjoyable, educational and
      appealing to a more general public. Once selected, Marine Earth co-ordinates
      and incorporates the activities into viable ecotour programs, including all
      arrangements details, side activities, confort, guides, etc.

      During these programs, visitors will have rare opportunities to learn deeply
      about the dolphins, and they will learn new skills in research methods and
      applications while guided by cetacean biologists in various data collecting
      activities and
      monitoring of the dolphins. Several boat trips will be taken where visitors
      will participate in Photo-Identification and DVideo-ID*, bioacoustic
      surveys, cetacean species registrations, environmental impacts by tourism
      and evaluation of dolphin watching and mitigation techniques applied by the
      local fishermen that absorb the local tourist demand and that have received
      basic training in the past by CMMR Leviathan. All the data obtained will
      update and widen the knowledge available today thus enforcing many
      protection initiatives in the area, and visitors will have the opportunity
      to continue collaborating even after the tours are completed.

      POD-R´s "resident" nature allows infinite opportunities for in-depth
      studies, which has permitted the generation of numerous and extensive
      publications, and has become an invaluable resource for community-based
      dolphin watching and Ecotourism. The stable distribution of the dolphins off
      Isla Choros since 1995 has turned the dolphins in the main tourist
      attraction bringing many benefits and perspectives to the local fishermen
      and families who now depend directly on their presence and well-being.

      However, the growing demand and unregulated activities are also placing the
      dolphins under intense pressure that with each summer season that passes
      places stronger doubts on its future sustainability. Summer seasons are
      characterized by constant chasings of the dolphins, even with the presence
      of newborns, and sometimes with 10 or more boats at a time as the animals
      separate and flee. The effects have become obvious even for regular tourists
      that notice that with each year that passes they see less dolphins and from
      greater distances.

      Furthermore, an even major crisis is near by pressures by influential
      investment groups (allied with government and local authorities) to build
      large 5-Star resort facilities on the fragile including exclusive rights to
      the dolphins and the islands, the use of large boats, marinas, and networks
      of roads around the most sensitive parts of the islands. The construction
      project, that includes more than 600 rooms capacity is being publicized as
      an "ecotour" facility (and claiming inflated
      population numbers for the local dolphins) will only multiply impacts to the
      local dolphin pod, that already show alarming stress signals, and to the
      habitat. Scientists are fearing the final collapse of the dolphins and
      devastating consequences to many other vulnerable species present, plus the
      inevitable collapse of the activity and the final displacement of local
      fishermen in hands of these groups.

      Though only on a voluntary basis, the local fishermen of Punta Choros play a
      key role in the protection of the dolphins and the surrounding islands as
      they absorb the local tourist demand and now depend on the dolphins
      permanence and well-being as a source of income. Their present distribution
      at Isla Choros occurs only since 1995, after the dolphins fled from pirate
      fishermen that assaulted the pod Isla Chañaral, 32kms north where they lived
      virtually undisturbed for decades. The tragic events left at least 9
      individuals missing, corresponding to 25% of the population at the time. (A
      alarming percentage in terms of population numbers).

      Their new distribution (at Isla Choros, in front of Punta Choros fishing
      village) soon received wide coverage from the media that subsequently
      triggered a sudden and explosive tourist demand. With the local fishermen
      conducting basic dolphin watching trips, the shift from hunting and eating
      dolphins to dolphin watching and tourism is quite remarkable and should be
      highly encouraged, especially if we consider that less than a decade ago
      local villagers regarded dolphins as just larger fish "with a hole in their
      heads" with red meat viable for domestic consumption. (Stranded or by-caught
      dolphins and porpoises commonly lead to barbecues, affecting not only
      cetacean populations but with evident health risks from transmittable

      As mentioned earlier, dolphin watching operations at the present are of
      major concern due to the associated impacts caused by informal tourism, lack
      of knowledge and
      absence of regulations. However, the potential benefits of community-based
      watching can still be very significant in the future, especially if they're
      not displaced by large investors and if conducted properly.

      The potential benefits were proven so during the "Turismo Seguro" workshops
      conducted by CMMR Leviathan until ´2001, that included basic training in
      sustainable dolphin watching, recognition of signs of impacts, impact
      mitigation and basic dolphin biology. They were implemented and tested with
      the local fishermen aboard their boats,
      including during 2 successive summer seasons (2000 & 2001), proving to lower
      stress signals and introducing major improvements to the overall quality of
      the tours, including improvements in the dolphins attitude towards the
      presence of boats and the first dolphin births in four after the first year
      of implementing the new techniques.

      Though our programs will not solve all the problems, they have been
      developed considering various necessities, direct support and seed funding
      for many actions and studies that have been halted the last years from
      scarce funding and support. In this manner, visitors participation is of the
      highest value by contributing to update and broaden the knowledge available
      today and providing scientists with the most
      essential tool for enforcing a wide range of protection initiatives in the
      area. -At times these tours may even be the only means to place specialists
      in the field.-

      In addition, the local fishermen are also an integral part of
      the programs, including their participation in data collecting, various
      of interaction, evaluations, discussions and the contracting of various
      services. Their participation is essential as mentioned above and as they
      are facing the probable loss of a golden opportunity in consolidating
      community-based Ecotourism not only for themselves, but that can serve as a
      model for other poor and isolated regions along Chile's long coastline.

      This is part of the first stage of plans to incorporate other regions under
      study, being the first experience to merge real-life science and Ecotourism
      in Chile. The programs shall evolve in time in accordance to scientific
      objectives and changes in conservation priorities and may incorporate other
      subjects of study as well. It's a longer and more costly process, but we
      believe the potential benefits for all parties involved are greatly worth
      the effort and clearly reflect the spirit, background and inspiration in
      which Marine Earth was
      founded a 3 years ago.

      I would be eager to hear advice from like-minded people and maybe develop
      working relationships and alliances in the near future with individuals,
      organizations, companies and/or representatives with similar views and/or

      For more information please visit our website at www.marineearth.cl or
      contact us directly, and please return for many updates that will be made

      Best regards, and looking forward to your kind reply and comments,

      Pablo Lobo
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