Model for a Marine Protected Area designed for sustainable Whale Watching Tourism off the oceanic Island of La Gomera (Canary Islands)
La Gomera (Canary Islands, Spain) is home to an extraordinarily high cetacean species diversity. However, the protection status of cetaceans in the Canary Islands is limited and mainly determined through the SAC provision of the European Union Habitats Directive, which refers to two species in relation to practical conservation. All other cetaceans are included in the Canary Islands Catalogue of Protected Species, but it remains unclear what that protection entails. At the same time, anthropogenic threats ranging from, habitat degradation, ship strikes and disturbance through whale watching tourism are increasing steadily. In 2008, more than 600,000 tourists went to see cetaceans in the Canaries, while most of this tourism branch is centred on the island of Tenerife where a "Marine Park for Cetaceans" has been established. But again it remains unclear to what extent such a park contributes to marine conservation in the area. Here, a Marine Protected Area is proposed and laid out for La Gomera, Tenerife's neighbouring island, where cetacean tourism is still at a low level. This MPA is especially designed for the long-term development of whale watching tourism and other uses in a sustainable way. Such a new MPA at La Gomera could provide a useful comparative model that might inform management practices in Tenerife and other high volume areas. "Sustainable" thereby means to achieve a long standing equilibrium between the development of whale watching tourism and the maintenance of healthy cetacean populations and their marine environment. The proposed management measures are based upon the experience of many years of best practice established through the close collaboration between an NGO and local whale watching operators. Although specially designed for the waters off La Gomera, this model can serve as a blueprint for other areas as well.