The Blue Flag Mediterranean week: Caring for the sea that unites us

Cross Mediterranean countries Blue Flag Beach cleanups week under the international "clean seas" to start between 3-10 July.

13 countries around the Mediterranean are involved in an international campaign for protecting the marine environment "The Blue Flag Mediterranean week".

In the first week of July, beach clean ups will be organized in order to raise awareness in the public for protecting the shore and the marine environment. The initiative started from the idea that environment have no boundaries and the litter that thrown in one side of the Mediterranean will easily reach the other side. The organizations joined the clean up under the slogan "Caring for the sea that unite us"

Stay up to date and check your social networks #BlueFlagMedWeek

25 years of whale watching in Iceland

A couple of months ago, WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) was delighted to host a packed event commemorating 25 years of whale watching in Iceland. The event was held at the Whales of Iceland exhibition in Reykjavik’s Old Harbour area, where, surrounded by lifesize models of the 23 species of whale and dolphin found in Iceland’s waters, guests from Iceland’s whale watching, research, conservation and tourism communities were welcomed by Ásbjörn Björgvinsson, long-time friend of WDC and the man who had the vision and the belief to help pioneering the concept of whale watching in Icelandic waters, back in the 1990s.  Ásbjörn recalled the ridicule that greeted him and others when the idea was first mooted, but those early discussions and occasional trips led to a seminal workshop in 1995, organized by WDC, that led to the explosive growth in whale watching that has continued to this day.

Erich Hoyt, WDC Research Fellow and head of WDC’s Homes for Whales campaign, who helped leading that early workshop, then took the floor.  Erich reminded the audience that the high quality of whale watching in Iceland over the past couple of decades has delivered many benefits, including research and education about Icelandic whales that reaches, currently 272,000 people a year, according to IceWhale, Iceland’s whale watching association. Erich reported that, since 2010, Icelandic whale watching is believed to have grown faster than anywhere else in the world, a rate of 20% average annual growth rate. An astonishing 1 in 5 tourists to Iceland now go whale watching. Several areas of Iceland, including Husavik, Grundarfjordur and Akureyri in the North and Reykjavik’s Old Harbour have literally been transformed by whale watching and associated businesses. But with success, of course, comes responsibility.  Erich outlined the challenges for the future and introduced the concept of securing marine protected areas or reserves to protect “the stars of the show” that the whales have clearly become, in the hearts and minds of a growing number of Icelanders.

Erich’s talk was followed by a lively panel discussion, led by Ásbjörn.  Experts included Rannveig Grétarsdóttir of Elding/Whale Watching Akureyri;  Magnús Kr. Guðmundsson  of Special Tours, representing the whale watch community; Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson of Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association; and University of Iceland researchers, Marianne Rasmussen and Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir.  Erich’s suggestion for a “Great Barrier Reef” approach to branding tourism, protecting the whales and their habitats, and linking land and sea was endorsed and amplified by everyone on the panel.

The evening was rounded off by the presentation, by Landvernd’s Salome Hallfreðsdóttir, of Blue Flag awards to four qualifying whale watch companies: Ambassador, Elding, Special Tours and Whale Safari. This was, quite literally, a flagship event marking the first operators to be accredited under this scheme anywhere in the world!

The evening celebration brought together friends and colleagues working for whales and their conservation across Iceland and beyond. Best of all, the evening delivered firm support for ongoing collaborations to push forward the ideas and initiatives discussed during the evening.  There was passion in the room - we all got the feeling that a touchpaper has been lit – our job now is to keep up the momentum!

Our thanks and appreciation to our hosts at the Whales of Iceland exhibition and to all our guests for being part of this wonderful, energetic movement.

Research on the endangered Humpback Dolphin by South African Blue Flag boat Dream Catcher

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The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) is classified as endangered, but recent evidence suggests that they may even be critically endangered.  This specie inhabits waters that are shallow and as a result often interacts with humans and their activities in the coastal zone, for example coastal development, pollution, high speed water craft etc. The recent establishment of a collaboration between humpback dolphin researchers all along the coast of South Africa has resulted in the first comparative analysis of photo ID’s across the entire range of this specie in South Africa. Initial results show that this species is in need of much more monitoring and that the numbers are much lower than originally thought. The Sustainable Tourism Boat Operator Dream Catcher, collects photo ID’s, group sizes, behavioral data, water salinity and temperature while out on trips and have recently started a dedicated research project on these dolphins.  The boat operator has already identified 28 individuals in the operating area showing the prominence of this area for this particular species.

 

Blue Flag awards in South Africa

The annual Blue Flag Awards celebrated the sustained partnerships that WESSA has built with key municipalities as well as committed private entities around the country. These Municipalities and private entities have recognised the value of Blue Flag not only to environmental management and education, but also to tourism, economic development and job creation.

A job with teeth – South Africa’s Blue Flag National Operator shares his extraordinary control visit on a shark cage diving boat.

A job with teeth – South Africa’s Blue Flag National Operator shares his extraordinary control visit on a shark cage diving boat.

For testing the feasibility of Blue Flag’s new criteria for sustainable boating tourism operators, Vincent Shacks, Blue Flag National Operator in South Africa visited a shark cage diving tour operator in False Bay. Although the encounter with the Great White Sharks was the highlight of his tour, the professional insights he gained into the industry were of equal value for him.