Whale sharks: Does TripAdvisor help protect them?
For quite some time the online platform "TripAdvisor" has been used in order to control and attenuate human influence on whale sharks in the Maldives. Learn more in our blog article.
A keystone of the protection of whale sharks is educational and publicity work. The best conservation strategies won’t help as long as the local communities are not aware of the needs of the whale sharks and the importance of their protection. The phrase “we can only protect what we know and value” applies. This is the reason why the whale shark project in the Maldives has started projects for environmental education to sensitize especially the young generation for the marine flora and fauna and their protection. Therefore, visits of local schools and field trips to the marine protective area and communal cleaning actions to collect waste from the shore and coastlines are organized.
To involve the local inhabitants in the species conservation project, smartphone apps have been designed where sightings of whale sharks can be entered directly into a central data base. The researchers hope that the app helps to collect better and more detailed information about population density and motion patterns of the animals.
To regulate and attenuate the human influence on whale sharks in the Maldives, the project started to use TripAdvisor. Specifically designed code of conducts which explain the correct behaviour when spotting a whale shark, are uploaded on sites that show tour operators promoting whale shark sighting tours. The aim is to make tourists aware of the species appropriate behaviour when a whale shark is in sight and also the environment in general. The comments on TripAdvisor are used by researchers to evaluate the relationship between tourism and nature conservation to work towards a balanced ratio. An even relation will support the protection of whale sharks and also offer an unforgettable experience for visitors.
The contribution of the locals towards the protection of whale sharks is still very little. Therefore, potential barriers of engagement in nature protection will be put in focus in future research projects. Publicity work and volunteering in the Maldives are supposed to counter this trend.
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