After meeting with operators and discussing together what guidelines need to be followed in order to ensure better behaviour on the water, minimise the impact on whale sharks and heighten customer satisfaction, Stella delivered 5 training sessions across both Nosy Be and Nosy Komba to present the Code of Conduct, and encourage operators to follow the provided guidelines. The French versions have already been distributed but let us know if you have been forgotten and we will come find you. Already the changes are clearly visible out on the water, with longer encounters with whale sharks, happy clients and a much safer environment for both swimmers and sharks. With less people around, it also is more enjoyable for clients, who can spot and follow the shark more easily. Dr. Simon Pierce, the project co-supervisor, was in Nosy Be recently and he was very happy with the results. We are eagerly awaiting the translated, waterproof copies of the code of conduct to arrive to Nosy Be for the English and Italian speakers, however you can download them already by following these links for English and Italian versions.
So why do we need a code of conduct? Let’s start at the beginning.
Basic facts. Motor boat in the water use propellor engines, that are a risk to any living creature when they are running at any given speed. As a result, both marine creatures, such as whale sharks, and swimmers, are prone to substantial injury, and very possible death, if they come in contact with the propellor. Last year, on a few occasions, clients, guides and our very own team came very close to loosing their heads to engines when ascending from a dive while collecting data on whale sharks as there were more than one boat at a time around a whale shark, and boats moved freely between swimmers. In addition, whale sharks in the area, as well as dolphins and whales, show clear scars resulting from interactions with propellors. Actually, 40% of identified whale sharks in Nosy Be show scars that are very likely due to boat propellors. As the sharks in Nosy Be are all immature individuals too young to reproduce, it is crucial they reach to sexual maturity and survive until they reach a total length of 8.6m.
Another reason is to not bother the sharks. In order to study the impact of boats and swimmers on whale sharks, Pierce et al. 2010 studied avoidance behaviours, such as banking (when the shark shows its back to the swimmer in a defense mechanism), which were shown to be correlated with the number of boats around at the time of the encounter. More boats meant a higher incidence of avoidance behaviours, while these were shown to be less frequent when there were fewer boats around, and when swimmers were relaxed.
Another reason is to enhance customer satisfaction, and provide them with the best possible experience so they will recommend both the place and the operator in the future. Another study by Ziegler et al. 2012, in Mexico, showed that customer satisfaction was directly correlated with longer interactions with whale sharks and less people around, meaning better photography opportunities, less splashing around and a more relaxed whale shark.
Finally, no screaming between operators can only be a good thing, hence why we strongly push for one boat per shark, to reduce a) the risk of propellor accidents to both sharks and humans b) the shark feeling threatened and changing its behaviour c) clients feeling they didn’t see the shark properly or not for long enough and d) tension and chaos between operators. Mostly, adopting the code of conduct will only smoothen interactions while at sea, providing clients a life-changing operators while adopting a respectful approach with both sharks and other operators, even if it means waiting a little bit longer.
The operators that have attended the training sessions and/or discussed the code of conduct with our team are:
-Love Bubble Social Diving
-Scuba Nosy Be
-Nosy Komba Plongée
With the Code of Conduct we hope that operators, clients and whale sharks can safely interact with each other, and give a good impression of Nosy Be and its incredible marine wildlife! Any questions feel free to email us on here.