Promising partnership in Guatemala

Whalewatching continues to grow globally with new markets emerging. Guatemala is the latest country seeking to develop whale watch operations off its Pacific coast focusing on the annual migration of humpback whales that migrate through their waters December through June. The humpbacks are thought to be en route to/from their breeding and calving grounds off Costa Rica, and likely spend their summer months feeding near central California northward to BC, Canada.

Greg Kaufman, founder of Pacific Whale Foundation recently traveled to the small coastal community of Montericco, Guatemala — best known for its 20km- long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove wetlands — to speak with tour operators about whalewatching and learn first-hand their challenges and whale observations.

The department of tourism, INGUAT, reached out to Kaufman for advice on this new developing industry. They stressed the importance of wanting to take a scientific approach to cultivate sustainable tourism in the area. Kaufman shared his thoughts on regulation and responsible practices.

Located between Mexico and Honduras, Guatemala is a country of extreme biodiversity. With deserts to the east, mountains to the west, jungles in the north and volcanoes occupying any space in between, this Central American nation is renowned for its vast ecosystems. However, industrial exploitation is threatening to destroy the country’s environment and the wildlife that live in it.

Organizations such as ARCAS, a non-profit group of Guatemalan citizens dedicated to protect their natural heritage and wildlife, in Monterrico, work to protect the green turtle population. Environmentalists, such as Magali del Rey and Max Baldetty, have worked to protect the manatees in Rio Dulce and coral reefs off Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.

Kaufman plans to assist in the protection and regulation of the whales and help develop best whalewatch practices together with INGUAT (Guatemala National Tourism Authority) and CONAP (National Advisory for Protected Areas). The overarching goal of this cooperative partnership will be to  develop a foundation for sustainable and culturally sensitive whale eco-tours on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. Kaufman plans to present Guatemala’s proposed plans to the  International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) whalewatch subcommittee meetings in San Diego this May for review and endorsement. Kaufman is as an Invited Participant to the IWC’s Scientific Committee and is a whalewatch representative to the IWC Conservation Committee. Kaufman plans to return to Guatemala in the fall to run operator training programs and workshops.

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