A deep dive: Marine tourism goes beyond dolphin-watching to provide wholesome experience

Community initiatives for island cleanup and waste disposal like in the case of Seaside Finolhu resort in Maldives educate the local community as well.

Watching marine life is not only relaxing, but has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. And today you can do so at a variety of avenues that promise immersive and innovative underwater experiences. Take, for instance, the aquarium-gazing experience during a yoga class at The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai. The open-air marine habitat is the focal point of Atlantis. Surrounded by over 65,000 marine animals across 250 species, including stingrays, sharks and seahorses, the aquarium annually organises an underwater yoga class, which serves as a holistic experience to soothe the mind, body and soul.

Similarly, Kas in Turkey is a hidden gem known for its more than 30 underwater archaeological sites of historical value, including reefs, sunken cities, amphorae fields and Lycian rock tombs. You can dive down to visit ancient and modern wrecks, as well as the Dakota plane wreck.

There are many other new places that have opened too. The world’s first ‘underwater hotel’, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, opened in 2018. The world’s largest underwater restaurant (100-seater) opened in 2019 in Norway and is called Under (meaning ‘wonder’ in Norwegian). Here, guests can dine with marine life as it swims by massive windows. The same year, the Ngaro underwater sculpture trail in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands combined art and nature to highlight the plight of the reef and the ocean.

Robot dolphins, however, could be the future of marine entertainment. The Guardian posted about the cruelty-free £20-million worth ‘animal’ (the cost of one robot) and said it could be an alternative to keeping cetaceans in captivity and could be rolled out in Chinese aquariums. “The marine park industry has had falling revenues for over a decade due to ethical concerns and the cost of live animals, yet the public hunger to learn and experience marine animals is still as strong as ever,” said Roger Holzberg, the California-based designer of the life-size robot dolphins, in an interview to The Guardian.

Marine tourism has gone beyond whale- and dolphin-watching, making conservationists and biologists work hand-in-hand to create fun and educational experiences. WWF India, for instance, is working on sustainable marine tourism in Goa and Netrani, a small island located in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Karnataka. In Goa, it has developed guidelines for dolphin-watching, trained operators on how to conduct responsible dolphin-watching tours and held meetings to understand the issues and potential solutions faced by marine tourism operators. If conservation goals are to be achieved through sustainable marine tourism initiatives, the inclusion of local communities that use marine resources or live alongside specific marine ecosystems is vital, feels Coralie D’Lima, senior programme coordinator, Marine Conservation Programme, WWF India. “All the dimensions of sustainability should be considered, including ecological, social, economic and managerial. Local capacity should be built to ensure that the industry does not grow out of proportion and operates within the limits of sustainability,” says D’Lima.

Then in Hithadhoo Island, Maldives, the initiative of reducing plastic waste is being carried out in partnership with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans, which helps to mitigate the amount of plastic in ocean debris. All plastic goes through a segregation process whereby each piece is separated based on which type of plastic it is (PET, HDPE or PP). It is then transferred to the Parley headquarters in Male to be shipped to the Adidas factory in Taiwan, where it is redesigned into functional items such as shoes and clothes.

Community initiatives for island cleanup and waste disposal like in the case of Seaside Finolhu resort in Maldives educate the local community as well. The resort relies heavily on the ocean as a source of food, water, oxygen and entertainment. Conservation initiatives here are supervised by marine biologists. “We focus on public education and wildlife sightings around the island, which we then submit to larger organisations for worldwide data collection. A weekly presentation about the current status of the island and oceans teaches guests about the ongoing conservation projects,” shares senior diving instructor Tom Zimmer, who has worked as a marine biologist at the resort.

The money generated through sustainable marine tourism supports local livelihoods and prevents local communities from overfishing or otherwise impacting marine species and their environment. “Underwater experiences can go a long way to generate awareness on marine conservation. If the tourism experience has an interpretation component, awareness on conservation issues may be effectively generated,” says D’Lima of WWF.

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