Planned Kenyan whale shark 'enclosure' infuriates conservationists

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Planned Kenyan whale shark 'enclosure' infuriates conservationists

April 01, 2013 - 17:54
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Enclosure would house two whale sharks, allowing visitors to dive or snorkel with them. Proposed scheme deemed 'flawed and misguided'

Whale Shark (unrelated file photo). Kenyan whale shark 'enclosure' gets slammed

A plan to capture whale sharks in Kenya so tourists can dive with them has infuriated conservationists. German dive instructor Volker Bassen, who runs a whale shark trust, wants to suspend 2,000 ft long nets off Kenya's Indian Ocean beaches. The enclosure would house two whale sharks, with visitors each paying £65 each to snorkel or dive with them.

However, group of conservationists and wildlife charities, including Britain’s Born Free Foundation Britain, called Mr Bassen's plans "flawed and deeply misguided" and have urged authorities in Kenya to stop it. Opponents deny Mr Bassen's claims that whale sharks were increasingly endangered in East African waters, where their liver oil is used to seal fishing boats against rot.

"The conservation arguments for this project do not add up."

—David Obura, Kenyan coordinator for regional coastal research organization Cordio East Africa.

"The conservation arguments for this project do not add up," said David Obura, Kenyan coordinator for regional coastal research organization Cordio East Africa.” You cannot tell me that such a sensitive species which is known to migrate more than 1,800 miles in a year, and dive down to 3,200ft, can be happily confined to a shallow netted pond in the sea, with no possible escape from tourist stress, no ability to feed naturally, nor seek out the natural conditions that suit it at different times of the year, nor socialize," he added.

Situated south of Mombassa near the popular tourist beaches at Diani, the enclosure would double as a marine rescue and rehabilitation centre. "This is not some hoodlum misthought project, my opponents are misinformed," stated Mr Bassen."We have been working on this for more than five years, it's a million-dollar investment and we have the support of some of Kenya's leading conservationists."

In 2006, research by Bassen’s East African Whale Shark Trust discovered 58 whale sharks off Kenya in a two-week period. However, the same study this year identified only five of the sharks in a month of searching.

A portion of the proceeds would pay for local fishermen to process cashew nut shells into oil to be used to caulk their boats.” These beautiful animals are disappearing from our seas because of the demand for their liver oil. We must find an alternative," Mr Bassen said. Final approval for the scheme is pending from Kenya's National Environmental Management Authority.

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