Conservation experts oppose whale shark tourism project

Sunday April 7 2013

Matuga MP Hassan Mwanyoha (centre) has opposed a whale shark tourism and conservation project expected to bring fortune to the South Coast in Kwale County. Photo/FILE

Matuga MP Hassan Mwanyoha (centre) has opposed a whale shark tourism and conservation project expected to bring fortune to the South Coast in Kwale County. Photo/FILE NATION

By NATION CORRESPONDENT, KWALE

A whale shark tourism and conservation project expected to bring fortune to the South Coast in Kwale County is facing opposition from conservationists.

The proposed project by Seaquarium Ltd to capture wild whale sharks for public display had offered hope for a community that depends on dwindling fish stocks.

Benefits are huge

Waa Kitivo Marine Conservancy chairman Mwatsofio Tsofio and Nyari Kikadini Beach Management Unit chairman Khamis Mwamrezi say the planned whale shark enclosure benefits are huge with proceeds from the investment to be shared with residents.

“We are assured of more revenue from visitors that will support local eco-tourism ventures,” Mr Mwamrezi said.

But Matuga MP Hassan Mwanyoha raised the red flag, saying, although the project was ‘noble’, it would only get political support if the investor outlined the formula for sharing proceeds with all stakeholders.

“Our worry is that the investor should not benefit more than the community,” he said.

East African Wildlife Trust director Volker Bassen said the project was a vision 2030 private-public initiative similar to one in Japan, where some three million tourists visit whale shark sanctuaries yearly.

He said part of the proceeds from the profits earned would pay for local fishermen to process cashew nut shells into oil. “We want to reduce whale shark mortality because of the high demand for their liver oil,” Mr Bassen said.

However, conservationist are up in arms against the project, saying, there was no evidence that whale sharks are hunted or there numbers declining.

Coastal Oceans Research in Development in the Indian Ocean coordinator David Obura said: “These arguments for the project do not add up and the concerns of Seaquarium are not valid.”
Not exploit wildlife

Born Free Foundation Conservation manager Aaron Nicholas said environmental regulator, Nema, should stop the project on grounds that Kenya is earning enough from wildlife tourism.

“We hope this project will go no further and that Kenya will retain its pre-eminent position in Africa as a country that does not exploit its wildlife,” he said.