Striking a balance between fishing, tourism and dolphin conservation at Chilika Lagoon, India

D'Lima, D.F. Coralie (2014) Striking a balance between fishing, tourism and dolphin conservation at Chilika Lagoon, India. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The conservation of natural resources and wild species is often a "wicked" problem, with multiple interacting elements, non-linear relationships between elements, constant irreversible change, a lack of controls, and no clear resolution. These characteristics necessitate interdisciplinary approaches to generate acceptable solutions, drawing on several traditional disciplines and local knowledge.

I used an interdisciplinary approach to study the interface between Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevisrostris) and impoverished human communities that share common space and resources at Chilika Lagoon, India. Chilika, a brackish water lagoon located in the state of Odisha on the east coast of India, spans an area of between 906 and 1,165 km², depending on the season. The lagoon has been a Ramsar site since 1982, because of its high avifaunal and fish diversity. Its high productivity supports fishing communities living in approximately 150 villages around the lagoon. The lagoon also supports a population of resident Irrawaddy dolphins, which is likely Critically Endangered and declining. This study was conducted in the Outer Channel of the lagoon, which corresponds to the area of highest dolphin density and is used by a large number of both fishers and dolphin-watching tourist operators.

The specific aims of my thesis were to investigate:

a. The nature and drivers of fisher attitudes and perceptions towards Irrawaddy dolphins;

b. The fine-scale behavioural adaptations of the dolphins to fishing gear, and hence to the presence of fishers;

c. The social sustainability of the dolphin-watching tourism industry;

d. The value of the dolphin-watching tourism industry using economic substitution, and the extent to which local and regional stakeholders depend on dolphin-watching tourism in the lagoon.

I investigated the attitudes and perceptions of fishers towards the dolphins and the drivers of these perceptions. I surveyed fishers across 30 fishing communities located around the study area. To validate the drivers of fisher perceptions, I: (1) observed dolphin foraging behaviour at "stake nets", and (2) compared catch per unit effort (CPUE) and catch income of fishers from stake nets in the presence and absence of foraging dolphins. I found that the fishers' attitudes were mostly positive towards dolphins, and that most fishers, particularly traditional fishers believed that dolphins augmented their fish catch. Foraging dolphins were observed spending about half their time at stake nets. Although foraging dolphins were not associated with a higher overall fish catch at stake nets, they were associated with a significantly higher catch income and CPUE of mullet (Liza sp.), a locally preferred food fish species. These results indicate that positive perceptions of fishers towards dolphins were likely because fishers associated the dolphins with higher fish catches and income.

To further understand the adaptations of the dolphins to the presence of fishers, I studied the fine-scale behaviour of dolphins at "stake nets"; the most commonly used fishing gear within my study area. I conducted boat-based surveys of dolphin behaviour both at stake nets and in open waters. I found that dolphin mothers with offspring and lone immature individuals barrierforaged at stake nets most frequently, showing evidence that critical dolphin life stages are likely to be reliant on nets and hence fishers. Stake nets date back about 25 years, indicating that the dolphins of Chilika exhibit behavioural plasticity, and have learned to exploit these nets within one generation.

I used tourist visitation numbers, satisfaction, preferences, perceptions and tourist specialisation as indicators of the social sustainability of dolphin-watching tourism at Chilika. My approach included participant observation, a survey instrument to ascertain information from dolphinwatching tourists conducted on tourists and secondary data on tourist visitation numbers. My results suggest that dolphin-watching tourism at Chilika Lagoon is socially unsustainable. The rate in increase of tourists in the study site is beginning to decline. Tourists are mostly novices and were dissatisfied with their dolphin-watching experience. Satisfaction levels were positively influenced by boat-driver encounter management and the number of dolphins sighted. Tourist preferences and perceptions pointed out useful insights, but also reflected the demands of a novice tourist demographic. Participant observation and tourist perceptions highlighted the important issues in the way in which the industry is conducted and managed.

To understand the value of the dolphin-watching industry at Chilika, and the extent to which local and regional stakeholders depended on the industry, I used economic substitution between dolphin-watching tourism and neighbouring tourist attractions in the destination of Odisha. The valuation of wildlife tourism is often used to justify wildlife conservation through the potential of such tourism to support human livelihoods. This value is crucially dependent on the degree to which a target species can be economically "substituted" by other local attractions, so that tourist expenditures that are "attributable" to the target species can be established. Previous wildlife tourism evaluations have not considered the effect of economic substitution across multiple spatially connected tourist attractions within a destination region, and their resultant impact on the accurate economic value of the industry. I addressed this gap by estimating economic substitution between dolphin-watching tourism at Chilika and other tourist attractions in a destination. Using surveys and government visitation numbers, I found that dolphinwatching at Chilika Lagoon was "partially substituted" by neighbouring attractions in the destination of Odisha (India). The total number of days attributable to dolphin-watching was 0.34 locally, -0.13 at neighbouring sites, and 0.21 in the destination as a whole. Hence the total expenditure attributable to dolphin-watching was approximately US$1.4 million locally, US$-0.4 million at neighbouring sites and US$1 million in the destination as a whole. If dolphins are extirpated, local stakeholders and the destination stand to lose, but neighbouring tourism stakeholders are likely to gain. Understanding local and destination-level substitution of wildlife tourism is necessary to estimate, (1) the true value of wildlife tourism and (2) which stakeholders to target through management interventions.

This multidisciplinary approach enabled me to focus on the interface between Irrawaddy dolphins and human communities at Chilika Lagoon, and gain a better understanding of how to inform the conservation and management of the dolphins in a seascape dominated by humans.

My thesis has led to the following conservation recommendations:

a. Efforts to conserve the Irrawaddy dolphins should, where possible, use positive local perceptions and cultural values to build a constituency for conservation.

b. Critical life stages of Irrawaddy dolphins are likely reliant on barrier-foraging at stake nets and hence on fishers. Excluding fishers from Chilika or banning the stake net fishery may have negative consequences for the dolphins.

c. Dolphin-watching tourism at Chilika Lagoon is socially unsustainable. A social-ecological approach to management that integrates dolphin-watching tourism and dolphin conservation should be a priority.

d. Dolphin-watching tourism is an important industry for local and regional livelihoods, and can be used to justify wildlife conservation to managers and policy makers. The local and regional value of dolphin-watching tourism using economic substitution can potentially be used in conservation planning.

Taken together, the findings of my thesis can be used to identify areas of conservation opportunity both for Irrawaddy dolphins at Chilika and for wildlife management in human dominated landscapes more generically.

Item ID: 46578
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: attitudes; Chilika Lagoon; conservation; dolphin behavior; dolphin conservation; dolphins; ecotourism; fish catch; fisher livelihoods; fisher perceptions; fishers; fishing; human–wildlife-interactions; India; Irrawaddy Dolphin; marine ecotourism; Orcaella brevirostris
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 3: D'Lima, Dominique, Marsh, Helene, Hamann, Mark, Sinha, Anindya, and Arthur, Rohan (2014) Positive interactions between Irrawaddy dolphins and artisanal fishers in the Chilika Lagoon of Eastern India are driven by ecology, socioeconomics, and culture. Ambio, 43 (5). pp. 614-624.

Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2016 00:22
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 35%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0608 Zoology > 060801 Animal Behaviour @ 30%
14 ECONOMICS > 1499 Other Economics > 149902 Ecological Economics @ 35%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960604 Environmental Management Systems @ 35%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960609 Sustainability Indicators @ 30%
91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9199 Other Economic Framework > 919902 Ecological Economics @ 35%
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