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World Oceans Day: Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet

Whiskered, blubbery and descended from elephants, dugongs—or sea cows as they’re commonly known—are said to have lured fishermen lost at sea. The sea mammals that gave rise to creation and other stories are at risk, just like other migratory marine mammals including sperm whales, green turtles, coconut crabs that inhabit the waters of the Pacific. The very survival of these species—threatened by rising and warming seas, extreme weather events, overfishing and the ingestion of plastics—requires a regional conservation approach. Not only is it the best hope for marine life but for the people of the Pacific Island nations that are also heavily dependent on tourism as a source of income.

Sustainable Travel International CEO Louise Twining-Ward, who lived in the South Pacific for eight years, recently attended Blue Days, a conference focused on improving marine ecotourism in the region. The meeting, hosted by the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) and the French Polynesian Government, was attended by marine scientists, government representatives, whale watch operators and other marine tourism business owners determined to conserve resources and create economic opportunities throughout the region through responsible travel and tourism.

For Sustainable Travel International, the meeting was an opportunity to introduce the South Pacific Destination Alliance. Just like landscape-scale conservation, the point of a regional approach is to consider issues holistically from an environmental, social and economic perspective. “Landscape, or in this case regional-level planning, is critical to the survival of species like the dugong, which can travel hundreds of miles in just a few days in search of warm water and sea-grass pastures,” says Twining-Ward.

“The ocean is at the heart of all that is at stake environmentally, and marine ecotourism may be the best opportunity we have to bridge the gap between economic opportunity and species protection.”
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