DILI 24 september 2020 (TATOLI) – The Assosiasaun Turizmu Maritima Timor-Leste (or ATM-TL), Timor-Leste’s national marine tourism association, announced today the establishment of an industry certification scheme, to support global ‘best practice’ whale-watching – and promote ‘responsible whale tour operators’.
National whale-watching Guidelines for Timor-Leste were launched earlier this year, adopting global standards – Government regulations are yet to be passed.
Some of the world’s best whale-watching, local whale tourism operators in Timor-Leste have committed to ‘world-class’ whale-watching standards to protect the country’s globally-significant populations of whales, dolphins and dugongs.
The 2020 ‘whale tourism season’ will begin in Timor-Leste, The ‘Responsible Whale Tour Operator’ certification will enable tourists to easily identify tour operators who are committed to the national Guidelines and global ‘best practice’ whale-watching.
Dr. José Ramos-Horta, Patron of the ATM-TL and Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former President of Timor-Leste, praised the ATM-TL and the commitment of local whale tourism operators said This is a tremendous industry initiative by local tourism operators.
“It sends a very clear message to the rest of the world that Timor-Leste really does care about the protection of its extraordinary marine wildlife – particularly the magnificent whales and dolphins which live in, and visit our waters,” Mr. Horta said.
He added, This important industry certification will enable tourists to feel comfortable and have full confidence in the knowledge that their chosen tour operator will be following the national whale-watching Guidelines and following ‘world-class’ standards for whale tourism.
Local whale tour operators and marine conservation organisations in Timor-Leste have welcomed and enthusiastically embraced the scheme.
“It’s absolutely thrilling to witness established operators here in Timor-Leste willing to voluntarily commit to responsible whale-watching and swim-with whale practices. Having the opportunity to actively support and positively contribute to initiatives which aim to protect and better understand cetaceans seen in Timorese waters is also something we value highly,” said Robert Crean (Compass Diving).
According to Kate Barker a Dreamers Dive Academy, since they came to Timor-Leste they have been in awe of its incredibly and even more with the beautiful cetaceans that can be seen in the water.
“Of course, this wonderful nature brings a unique opportunity to develop tourism – yet it is imperative that the well-being of these gentle creatures absolutely remain the first priority for local operators,” said Kate Barker (Dreamers Dive Academy).
Likewise, Brigit Hermann, Blue Ventures said “We support this initiative and congratulate the local dive operators in voluntarily committing to sustainable whale watching standards. This is a crucial milestone for this industry and will generate local interest in responsible and sustainable whale tourism moving forward,”
Timor-Leste is a recognized ‘global hotspot’ for whales and dolphins, with over 20 species recorded in its waters, including migratory and endangered species, such as Pygmy Blue Whales and Sperm Whales.
With annual migrations – often very close to shore – it also provides some of the best and most accessible, whale-watching in the world.
For the small nation of Timor-Leste, the whale watching industry has been growing rapidly over the past few years, with a great deal of international and domestic interest – both, from tourists and tour operators/guides.
Local tour operator, Marti Walton (Beloi Beach Hotel & Dive Resort) emphasized the importance of getting the balance ‘right’ in whale tourism.
“Sustainability and commerce often balance on a ‘knife’s edge’. In Timor-Leste, with the whale-watching industry just beginning, we have a unique opportunity now to model our whale-watching industry on tried and tested international standards. Standards which ensure no detrimental impacts on whales, while simultaneously offering an unparalleled experience for whale-watchers. And we’re in a great position here in Timor-Leste to really “get this balance right” said Mr Walton.
Under the ‘Responsible Whale Tour Operator’ certification, operators not only agree to comply with the new national whale watching Guidelines, but also agree to provide vital information to support the baseline monitoring of whales, dolphins and dugong populations and also, tourism information to assist with planning and supporting the whale tourism industry.
Volker Katzung, local tour operator with Atauro Dive Resort said information collection was vital for developing a sustainable the industry, and was best done collaboratively and through partnerships.
“Information is essential to underpin a sustainable whale tourism industry. We also know that the best whale-watching industries around the world are those where local tour operators, whale experts, local communities and government work closely together – in the interests of the industry, the country and most importantly, the protection of whales. Everyone has a role in growing this sector,” said Mr Katzung
Professor Karen Edyvane, local whale expert and President of the ATM-TL said Timor-Leste’s waters were not only globally-significant for whales and dolphins but also hold great untapped economic potential.
“With support and investment, Timor-Leste has major potential to become a world-class, whale-watching destination – with whale tourism making a potential significant contribution to the national economy. And through initiatives like the ‘Responsible Whale Tour Operator’ certification – local tour operators are clearly showing an extraordinary commitment to building both a well-managed and also ethical and sustainable, world-class industry,” said Professor Edyvane.
Through the ATM-TL, local whale tour operators and Blue Ventures, worked closely with the Government of Timor-Leste and development partners – particularly experts from the International Whaling Commission, Conservation International and the Australian Government-funded Market Development Facility – to develop the voluntary, whale tourism industry certification program.