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  Four Corners 23 Oct 07
Dolphins a $24million Asset for New Zealand

Recent Ministry of Tourism figures reveal that New Zealand's dolphins earned more than $24million for the country last year, and their true economic value could be much higher.

According to data sourced by WWF-New Zealand from the Ministry of Tourism, dolphin swimming and watching tours directly brought in an estimated $24,600,000 to the New Zealand economy in the year ending December 2006.

The Ministry’s International Visitors Survey found 103,000 people reported taking part in dolphin watching or swimming in 2006.

WWF says the figures show dolphins are extraordinarily important to the nation’s economy and adds a whole new dimension to the reasoning for implementing really effective protection measures for Hector’s dolphins, the species the South Island dolphin tour industry centres on.

This can be done now under the government’s draft Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin Threat Management Plan, which is currently open to public consultation, provided it includes a national ban on set nets which are the biggest threat to the animal’s survival and adequately restricts trawling throughout the dolphins’ range.

The findings also highlight how carefully managed wildlife tourism activities can be an economic and conservation asset. Two dolphin tour operators have pledged their support to WWF’s 24,500 signature e-petition calling for the tightest controls within the plan, and for the government to go further in committing to the future survival of the species they rely on.

Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand Executive Director, said: “Obviously, Hector’s dolphins are in fact priceless. They are amazing creatures, and live only in New Zealand. But their economic value is another reason to protect them. The figures from the Ministry are clearly for all dolphins, not just Hector’s dolphins, and underline the fact that one of the reasons people visit New Zealand is to experience our globally significant marine wildlife - approximately half of which, like Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, is unique to our oceans. It makes sense on all levels to protect these animals.”

The number of international visitors buying a dolphin watching or swimming trip has doubled in the last ten years.

Paul Bingham, Managing Director of Black Cat Cruises, believes it is likely that the direct economic contribution of dolphins to the New Zealand tourism industry is higher than the Ministry’s estimate. He cites the fact that if you include ‘Scenic Cruises’ from the International Visitors Survey, where dolphins are frequently the main attraction, the figure would be a lot higher.

“It’s probably only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Visitors are asked to select what activities they did whilst on holiday, which includes either scenic cruises, whalewatching or dolphin watching swimming, amongst many others. Most people select ‘scenic cruise’ even though the viewing of dolphins was a key highlight. If you use even a small percentage of those who selected the ‘scenic cruise option’, the figure would be many, many times higher. In addition the survey is aimed at international visitors only and does not measure Kiwis holidaying at home. Kiwis spend as much as international customers.

“We are supporting the petition because our community is very dependent on visitors – in fact half of Akaroa’s population are employed in tourism related jobs.”

As a result of these latest statistics, WWF-New Zealand is urging the public to show their support for total protection of dolphins. "The future of these dolphins lie truly in the hands of today’s decision makers. Without immediate total protection, we risk losing these enigmatic dolphins forever. We can see these dolphins unwittingly play a huge role in supporting New Zealand’s economy, that should tell decision makers that they are worth more alive than dead."

"In this last week of consultation, WWF is asking people to show their support for total protection by signing up to our online petition at stoptheirextinction.org.nz."

Related articles on dolphins, whales, other cetaceans and large fishes.
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