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Effects of swim-with-dolphin tourism on the behaviour of spinner dolphins, at Samadai Reef in the Egyptian Red Sea

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  • Ahmed M. Shawky, Technical Office of the Minister of the Environment
  • ,
  • Fredrik Christiansen
  • Rupert Ormond, Marine Conservation International, Heriot-Watt University, King Abdulaziz University

Spinner dolphins, Stenella longirostris, are the primary target for marine mammal tourism in Egypt. The present study investigated the short-term effects of tourist presence on the behaviour of spinner dolphins at Sha'ab Samadai (Samadai Reef), in the southern Egyptian Red Sea. The reef has a large central lagoon where a population of spinner dolphin regularly rest from mid-morning to mid-afternoon; visitors are permitted to snorkel in the southern part of the lagoon, but not in the northern closed zone that the dolphins mainly use. Dolphin behaviour was monitored both on days when tourist boats were present and on days when they were absent. In the presence of tourists the proportion of time that the dolphins spent resting was reduced by two-thirds, whereas the times spent milling, travelling, and showing avoidance behaviour all increased. Furthermore, upon using Markov chain modelling to investigate the effect of tourist presence on the transition probabilities between dolphin activity states, significant changes were found in 10 of the 25 possible behavioural transitions, including increased probabilities of transitioning from resting to milling or travelling, from milling to travelling or avoiding, and from travelling to avoiding. These findings raise concerns that despite the management measures in place, tourist activities affect the dolphins’ behaviour to a greater extent than was previously apparent, with potential long-term negative effects on their energy budget. The study led to proposals for amending the zoning of the site and for strengthening the regulations for tourist vessels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Pages (from-to)1373-1384
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

    Research areas

  • coral, lagoon, mammals, marine protected areas, ocean, protected species, recreation, rural development

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