Sustainable Marine Tourism
Although the development of marine tourism can create a powerful economic incentive for conservation, the industry itself can itself sometimes lead to detrimental impacts if improperly managed. Both whale sharks and manta rays are major draws for international visitors, and the numbers of dive operators and boats in the Tofo Beach area is rapidly increasing.
The best-known dive site in Inhambane Province is Manta Reef, a world-class location for manta ray encounters.
Manta ray sighting rates are consistently high on the reef because of the presence of cleaning stations: small patches where fish associate with soft coral colonies. Mantas visit these areas regularly to have dead skin, parasites and wounds cleaned or removed by several species of small fish. Though there are several other cleaning stations on reefs in the vicinity, Manta Reef is the most frequently dived as it is the overlap site for Tofo Beach-based dive operators and those based south of Inhambane city.
These cleaning stations are critical habitats, and require protection from both fishing and unrestricted dive practices. While conscientious divers appear to have minimal impacts on manta behaviour, the rays are easily disturbed by people not following simple guidelines. We work directly with local dive operators and at a regional level through AMAR, the Mozambican diving association, to ensure best-practice conduct by all parties.
Whale shark tourism is also expanding in popularity locally. Again, when swimmers adhere to basic guidelines there appear to be minimal impacts on shark behaviour. We are currently conducting research on the impacts of swimmer behaviour on whale sharks, and how effectively the introduction of a code of conduct on interaction mitigates any potential disruption. We are also working to educate dive operators and customers on how to maximise the enjoyment of swimmers while avoiding any negative responses by sharks.