On Tuesday 18thSeptember VESS launched our guidelines for interacting with dugongs at an event held at the Mahitahi Handicraft market house on the seafront. The event was attended by the Director of Tourism, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tour operators, hoteliers, sporting clubs, NGOs and members of the public who have an interest in conserving dugongs.
Guests at the launching
Encounters with dugongs are an amazing experience. It is not common to have an interaction with a wild animal where the animal seems to be just as curious about you as you of it and appears to be comfortable in your company. It is an experience that captivates residents and visitors alike. Tourism can be a positive force for conservation but it can also have significant impacts. The chance of a dugong encounter is a draw card for Vanuatu. But if dugongs have unpleasant encounters with people they will not want to be close to people and will swim away. Our aim with these guidelines is to make every encounter a dugong has with a person a positive experience for the dugong. We hope that this will ensure we, and our visitors, can continue to have amazing experiences with dugongs for many years into the future.
People reading the guidelines during the launch
The guidelines have been developed under the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, a global project covering eight developing countries, including Vanuatu. VESS is implementing the project in Vanuatu in partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation and the Vanuatu Fisheries Department.
There were many people involved in creating these guidelines. Alex Comino our Australian Volunteer, DEPC, Fisheries and the Department of Tourism have all contributed. The guidelines are intended not just for those people wanting and hoping to see a dugong, but for anyone who is in or on the water in dugong habitat, from sailors and boat drivers, to surfers, swimmers and divers. The guidelines are designed to be practical and not overly restrictive so that they are easy for all to adhere to. There is also a code of conduct for tourism operators including tour operators and people with properties on the coast. As hosts and guides for visitors to our island nation there is an added responsibility for the members of the tourism industry to ensure our visitors know what to do to keep our dugongs happy and healthy. The guidelines are available to view and download here.