Ecotourism is an important conservation intervention, which can compliment and augment other, more traditional interventions such as law enforcement, wildlife monitoring and education-outreach. Ecotourism has the unique potential to address multiple objectives if done well, including the creation of economic incentives for direct conservation action; provision of alternative, non-destructive livelihoods for local people; generation of sustainable finacing for protected area management and community natural resource management; and awareness and education for local people and visitors about the value and importance of nature. It is equally important to engage in the management of tourism in natural areas to ensure that tourism’s negative impacts—such as over visitation, poorly planned infrastructure and disturbance to wildlife—are adequately addressed and minimized.
Tourism is a top priority of the Myanmar government and is the country’s fastest growing sector of the economy. Ecotourism holds great opportunity to support the long-term protection of the country’s rich natural diversity and conserve its irreplaceable biodiversity. WCS has been working together with other organizations to assist the government to formulate a national ecotourism policy and management strategy, and lay the foundations for sustainable management of its natural capital for tourism with a focus on conservation and inclusion of local people.
The Ayeyawady Dolphin Protected Area is WCS’s first pilot ecotourism project in the country and is one of Myanmar’s newly selected ecotourism target areas as part of its new national ecotourism management strategy. The goal of the project is to support communities and the Department of Fisheries to protect the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, which has a minimum population of roughly 60 in the entire Ayeyawady River—one of three locations in the world where this spectacular species remains. The feasbility of using ecotourism to reduce threats to dolphins, which include illegal fishing (eletric fishing and gills nets) and disturbances by boat traffic, is being investigated with support from the EU. The project is working with local communities to create community conservation and ecotourism groups that reward fishermen for reduced illegal fishing activity with the benefits of ecotourism, as well as supporting community conservation efforts such as community patrols and monitoring of dolphins supported by tourism revenue. WCS is also in the process of investigating the potential and feasbility of using ecotourism as a tool for conservation in other landscapes, such as the Southern Forest Complex.