08 November 2005

UK: Marine code for wildlife watchers

Dolphin, whale and seal watchers are to be subject to a new code of conduct to ensure that they do not harm the animals and environment they have come to see.

A growing number of Scottish boat operators are cashing in on eco-tourism and seeking out the creatures as well as otters, sharks and seabirds.

Scotland has about six million seabirds nesting on the coast in summer, while it has more seals than anywhere else in Europe. In addition some 21 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been recorded and there are a growing number of basking sharks being spotted.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) yesterday launched a public consultation exercise on a draft code to prevent disturbance of wildlife while promoting it as a tourist attraction.

It is the first time a national code has been drawn up to bring together advice from local projects - such as that protecting the Moray Firth dolphins - and applies to people on the coast, those using motorboats, sailing boats, kayaks and others diving and snorkelling.

John Markland, the SNH chairman, said: "Wildlife watching is an increasingly popular public activity and one which we are keen to promote, but it is obviously important that people don't disturb or harass the animals in the process."

The code warns the presence of boats can make the animals move more and be less inclined to feed, rest and nurse their young. It advises watchers to approach them slowly and cautiously and to take extra care when animals are feeding, resting, breeding or with their young. It says animals should not be surrounded, chased or fed and mothers and young should not be separated.

Boat operators are advised not to go above six knots near wildlife and to approach groups of animals slightly from behind and at an oblique angle.

It recommends boats should stay at least 50 metres from dolphins and porpoises, 100 metres from whales and basking sharks and 200-400 metres from rare species, mothers and calves, or from animals that are feeding.

A distance of 50 metres should also be kept from feeding or resting birds and 200 metres from colonies of ground-nesting birds such as terns. Watchers should also stay near animals for no more than 15-30 minutes.

Figures from the Tourism and Environment Forum for 2002 show that there were more than 280 businesses and sites involved in wildlife tourism in Scotland, employing 3,000 people - up 50 per cent since 1997. Visitors coming to watch wildlife spent over £85 million.

A final version of the code will be published in autumn 2006.

Source: news.scotsman.com


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