Conservation of the spinner dolphin in the Egyptian Red Sea
The spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) is among the cetacean species most vulnerable to disturbance and sub-lethal effects of dolphin watching. This industry brings tourists in contact with wild populations and can therefore be conceptualised as a complex coupled social-ecological system. The understanding of system functioning and the design of effective schemes for its sustainable management require the investigation of both the ecological and social system components, and their interactions. In the Egyptian Red Sea, a growing dolphin watching industry is currently targeting the spinner dolphin in its resting areas. Behaviour and ecology of the species were analysed at two resting areas exposed to tourism (Samadai and Satayah reefs) and one without tourism (Qubbat’Isa). At all sites, dolphin schools displayed the traditional circadian ecology. School behaviour patterns while in the reef changed as the day progressed and in response to tourism activities. In tourism sites, rest appeared delayed compared to control. The Satayah population of 292 (SE=36.9) long-term resident individuals rarely interacted with the dolphins from Samadai in the study site. No interchange was recorded between Qubbat’Isa and the other two resting areas, thus suggesting that the species is organised in (semi) isolated populations regularly occurring in a given resting area. The populations under investigation displayed consistent responses to anthropogenic pressures. Groups were more often loose and active in presence of tourism disturbance in the morning and midday. In the afternoon, pressures caused Satayah groups to be more often tight and less often active, and had no effects on Samadai groups. The control conditions in the two impacted sites differed from control conditions at the control site, and from spinner dolphin behaviour under control conditions in other locations (e.g. Hawai’i). The investigation of stakeholders’ attitudes, experiences and beliefs revealed a strong sense of stewardship towards these natural resources in the community of users, a promising sign for possible community-based schemes. However, rooted social conflicts, fragmentation and uneven power relationships were also pervasive in the case. Results from Samadai and Satayah indicated that both systems are reaching their carrying capacity. The results of this study suggest that the Satayah population is under serious threat and management interventions should be urgently implemented to safeguard the local populations. It is recommended that the dolphin tourism system be reformed with micro-scale (e.g. creation of cooperatives) and meso and macro scale intervention (e.g. legal reforms, regional certification schemes) to enable conservation to persist. Given the critical conditions at Satayah reef, immediate action should be taken to suspend or drastically reform swim-with dolphin operations on site. Continued research on ecological aspects, as well as behavioural and biological impacts is recommended for the design of adaptive management schemes. A determined effort to involve the social sciences to unravel features and relationships of local actors will enable and encourage decision makers to act on the biological results. This study reasserts the importance to adopt a precautionary principle in the management of dolphin watching operations and emphasises the necessity to implement integrated multi-level and multi-scale management schemes for their sustainability.
Advisor: Slooten, Elisabeth; Higham, James; Harraway, John
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Zoology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Stenella longirostris; Tourism impact; Dolphin watching; Science-based management; Behaviour; Capture-recapture; Generalised linear mixed models; Egypt; Red Sea; Resting area
Research Type: Thesis