SriLankan Airlines has announced the launch of Project BLUEprint in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), UK.
The airline and wildlife charity will work together to jointly develop a community-based responsible whale and dolphin watching industry off the coast of Sri Lanka and encourage responsible behaviour amongst local boat tour operators.
As well as raising awareness at a community level, SriLankan Airlines will be showing a film by Philip Hoare and Andrew Sutton, on board the flights to highlight the WDC partnership. The airline will raise money for the charity through the on-board sale of plush whales, with all profits going to WDC. The partnership will engage local stakeholders and wildlife tourism industries which will help to fund and promote project BLUEprint.
Sri Lanka is one of the best countries in the world in which to enjoy whale watching, with a variety of blue whales, sperm whales and 25 other cetacean species to be seen. However, these beautiful creatures are increasingly threatened and endangered by a combination of irresponsible, unregulated whale watching and ship strikes.
To combat this, project BLUEprint aims to raise awareness, provide training and scientific support to the burgeoning industry so that whales can continue to inhabit the waters and a responsible industry can benefit local people.
The initial focus of the project will be in Mirissa, in the south west of the island, currently the most popular whale watching destination in Sri Lanka. Once established, responsible whale watching will be rolled into two less-developed whale watching sites, Trincomalee in the north east and Kalpitiya in the north west, to safeguard the industry before there is any rapid increase of untrained vessel operators or a lack of community leadership which can manage the growing whale watching industry as a result of an expected influx of tourists wanting to see the whales.
Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, Mr Nisantha Wickremasinghe, comments: ‘We are proud to be associated with the WDC initiative and look forward to embarking upon this project together. Raising awareness and educating the local community about responsible whale watching is of utmost importance in ensuring sustainable tourism. We are keen to relay the eco-tourism messages to our passengers and will be showing a video about the partnership on all our flights.
‘The government of Sri Lanka has presented the legislation to parliament under the fauna and flora protection ordinance to enforce strict guidelines.’
Vanessa Williams-Grey, responsible whale watching programme manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says: ‘Sri Lanka has the potential to be one of the top destinations in the world for watching blue whales but achieving the coveted ‘gold standard’ requires the highest standards across the board. Currently, provision is patchy, but WDC believes that areas such as Mirissa will benefit from the development of community-based whale watching.
‘We have over two decades’ experience in training operators and encouraging responsible viewing practices and our philosophy is encapsulated in our BLUEprint for whale watching. We believe that a partnership between all stakeholders will lead to healthy whales, happy tourists and a thriving community-based whale watching industry in Sri Lanka.’
As well as the main aim of making the waters safer for blue whales and other cetaceans, the project also aims to assist with the revitalisation of coastal communities through engagement in responsible whale watching activities and partnership with local development agencies, local wildlife tourism industries and local fishermen.