The WIDECAST network is widely known for its pioneering talent in sea turtle eco-tourism. The most mature programs are featured at Must-See Sites!, and several other programs are in various stages of professional development. As national commitments to sustainable use of the sea turtle resource increasingly turn to non-consumptive options to generate income, encourage small business skills in rural areas, and meaningfully involve communities in the pursuit of conservation objectives, networking allows us to use a growing cadre of experienced Turtle Watch professionals to mentor new initiatives throughout the region. Each program is tailored to local strengths, economic and conservation priorities, species present, developed amenities, etc.
Training often takes the form of peer-exchanges, where a conservation organization, community group, local government, or national agency seeks to incorporate community-based tourism skills into a larger development initiative and contacts WIDECAST for advice. In response, we arrange for members of the enquiring organization or agency to visit an established program, typically spending 1-2 weeks embedded with experienced staff in order to learn first-hand the best practices associated with group organization and governance, staff training (including tourism and presentation skills, sea turtle biology, time management, conflict resolution, etc.), program development and evaluation, marketing, fees and accounting, and so on.
When sufficient funding is available, training can involve the development of professional short-courses taught by WIDECAST experts. A recent example is that of Dominica, where a national action plan prioritized the development of a Sea Turtle Conservation and Tourism Initiative designed to “enhance the standard of living for persons living in communities near major sea turtle nesting beaches, while at the same time offering greater protection to nesting turtles and their young.” A partnership with Nature Seekers resulted in the development of Basic and Advanced courses, publication of a community tourism handbook and other assets, and a national Tour Guide Certification Course taught by the Dominica State College.
Training and mentoring opportunities are ongoing, as needs arise.
Cautionary Note: Turtle Watch programs are not suitable for all locations, all communities, all tourism audiences, all sea turtle species, all beaches, and so on. These specialized programs are difficult to organize, market, and maintain. They require a supportive regulatory framework, a professionally trained and motivated staff, and a significant commitment on the part of the organizations involved. They do not automatically contribute to conservation objectives and they can even be counter-productive at some sites. Please consult with national and regional experts before planning a sea turtle eco-tourism initiative.
Want to Know More?
Denman, R. 2001. Guidelines for Community-Based Ecotourism Development. WWF International, Gland, Switzerland. 26 pp.
Godfrey, M.H. and D. Ouissem. 2001. Guest Editorial: Developing Sea Turtle Ecotourism in French Guiana – Perils and Practicalities. Marine Turtle Newsletter 91:1-4.
Jacobson, S.K. and F. Robles. 1992. PROFILE: Ecotourism, Sustainable Development, and Conservation Education: Development of a Tour Guide Training Program in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Environmental Management 16(6):701-713.
RARE. 2004. Grenada Ecotourism and Enterprise Development Assessment: Assessing the Potential for Small-Scale Tourism Development in Grenada and Carriacou. Prepared with support from USAID and The Nature Conservancy. St. George’s, Grenada. 60 pp.
Ross, S. and G. Wall. 1999. Ecotourism: Towards Congruence between Theory and Practice. Tourism Management 20:123-132.
Troëng, S. and C. Drews. 2004. Money Talks: Economic Aspects of Marine Turtle Use and Conservation. WWF-International, Gland, Switzerland. 62 pp. (en Español)
UNEP-CMS. 2006. Wildlife Watching and Tourism: A Study on the Benefits and Risks of a Fast Growing Tourism Activity and its Impacts on Species UNEP Convention on Migratory Species Secretariat. Bonn, Germany. 68 pp.