Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day! One of our staff shares about some of the ways our trips explore our beautiful oceans while contributing to its conservation.
This year, COVID-19 has had unprecedented effects on so many facets of our lives. There have been a few bright spots, most notably the fact that the environment has had a break from many usual human pressures. While it is still too early to have any conclusive scientific evidence, there have been reports of monk seals hanging out in Hawaii’s bays that are usually overrun by tourists and scientists in Alaska have observed whales communicating more due to reduced boat noise. The decrease in greenhouse gas emissions is undoubtedly a positive aspect as well.
On the other hand, travel restrictions and country closures have negatively impacted some positive human-environment interactions. For starters, tourism contributes to conservation in many ways. Instead of taking from the marine environment by finning sharks or overfishing, many locals choose careers that lead groups to swim with sharks or to observe sea turtle cleaning stations. Tourism dollars are often the primary funding source for local conservation NGOs. Some more gloomy reports illuminate another dark side of the shutdown—since conservationists have been abiding by shelter-in-place regulations, vulnerable species like manta rays are being poached at higher rates since they are not being protected by conservationists in the field.
There is good and bad in every situation and I hope we can take the lessons we’ve learned and move forward in a proactive way. One of my favorite quotes by John Sawhill is “in the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” I think this is a beautiful sentiment—at the very least, a silver lining of this pandemic should be a greater appreciation for the environment that we need to survive.
WT has always approached travel differently. We take you to off-the-beaten-path destinations that avoid many of the pressures of over-tourism. Witnessing the beauty of certain places around the world has inspired many of our travelers to donate to local conservation initiatives, and WT supports many of these efforts as well.
In Indonesia, for example, we support Bye Bye Plastic Bags and encourage all our travelers to Indonesia to do the same. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest impacts humans have had on our oceans. Two sisters from Bali started this organization with a team of young people around the world to highlight the issues of plastic pollution and came up with innovative solutions to tackle the problem. While you will see almost no other travelers at our snorkel spots in Raja Ampat, you will sometimes see the human impact that plastic has had.
On our Snorkeling Expedition to Cenderawasih Bay, we have the remarkable opportunity to witness an age-old human-wildlife interaction. Local fishermen have always viewed the bay’s whale shark population as good luck, and will share their baitfish with the largest fish in the sea. WT supports Conservation International’s whale shark tagging program that allows us to better understand these graceful and mysterious giants.
On our Swimming with Humpback Whales adventure, we provide travelers with an in-depth overview of appropriate conduct for swimming with humpback whales. Witnessing these amazing creatures is such an honor, and it is these incredible personal interactions that really allows humanity a glimpse into their world and thus a greater respect for their conservation.
While we cannot venture out and support on-the-ground conservation efforts right now, I hope you can support them by dreaming up a future trip during this year’s World Oceans Day!
—Text by WT Pacific Specialist Sydney Dillon.