The State Government today announced the allocation of 14 commercial licences for whale shark interaction tours in Western Australia’s world-renowned Ningaloo Marine Park.
Environment Minister David Templeman said swimming with WA’s whale sharks was an iconic tourism attraction that drew people from all around the world.
“For many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it is essential that any interaction with these special creatures is managed sustainably to protect this magnificent species,” Mr Templeman said.
The Minister said the licences were regulated and granted by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). These new licences were granted in preparation of the expiry of the current licences in December 2008.
“The new licences will be effective from January 1, 2009 and are valid for a period of up to five years, with the possibility of renewal for a further period of five years.”
Mr Templeman said the new licences were allocated after a publicly advertised call for expressions of interest on August 1, 2007. Applications closed on September 11, 2007. Applicants were required to address and were assessed against sustainability criteria related to natural environment performance, social environment performance and economic environment performance.
“A total of 22 applications were received for the 15 available licences,” the Minister said.
“As a result of the extensive selection process, it was determined that only 14 applications met the required standards.
“As a result, one licence will remain vacant for three years, when the situation will be reviewed.
“The licences entail specific conditions governing the tours and operators will be independently audited every year to ensure that the standards are maintained and moving towards world’s best practice.”
Mr Templeman said that another feature of the licensing process was the requirement for all operators to install GPS based electronic log books, which would allow them to input interaction information with automatic track capacity, enabling data to be transmitted back to a central database.
“This will allow accurate and timely collection of data - an important management tool for DEC to learn and understand more about whale sharks and the marine environment of the park,” he said.
“It is intended that the use of this sort of technology will be expanded across the State to assist in conservation management.
“Similar units are successfully used to manage the interaction tours in Shark Bay Marine Park after research identified unacceptable impacts from tourism activities on the world famous dolphins of Monkey Mia.”
Tourism Minister Sheila McHale supported the decision to grant only 14 licences to ensure that the quality of operations was of the highest standard.
“Whale shark interaction tours are one of the world’s great wildlife tourism attractions,” Ms McHale said.
“Tourism WA was directly involved in the assessment process and is committed to ensuring sustainable tourism experiences.
“Tourism WA will work with the operators and DEC to continue to improve the experience and market it to the world.”
Environment Minister's office - 9220 5050
Tourism Minister's office - 9213 6900