FHTA, 29 June 2023 – Last week saw the commemoration of World Hydrography Day 2023, a global event dedicated to raising awareness about the crucial field of hydrography and its role in supporting the sustainable use of our oceans.
With the theme “Hydrography – underpinning the digital twin of the ocean,” this occasion invites us to explore the potential benefits of this applied science in various sectors, including tourism.
I was honoured to join in the discussions and contribute a little to the prospective relationship and collaboration between the Fiji Hydrology Department and the tourism industry.
If you weren’t aware, hydrography is the science of studying and mapping water bodies such as oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers, and holds immense importance for a multitude of sectors.
One such sector is tourism, which we all know plays a significant role in our economy by attracting visitors from around the world to its stunning coastlines and vibrant marine life.
To ensure the long-term sustainability of this industry and the preservation of Fiji’s natural beauty, it is vital to understand the value of hydrography and its connection to tourism. Its significance extends to supporting sustainable tourism, ensuring the long-term viability of the tourism industry while safeguarding the natural environment.
Hydrography helps support sustainable tourism for a whole host of reasons – which is becoming a mainstream demand from global travellers who want to see the natural beauty of the countries they visit, and also by the countries themselves who want to ensure their natural environments are not denigrated.
In short, taking care to impose and even demand that sustainability be at the heart of everything a nation does to protect its natural resources ensures at the very least, that those resources will be around for many more generations to enjoy.
The importance of hydrography in the context of sustainable tourism cannot be understated and some key aspects include:
Enhancing Safety – Imagine you’re out at sea, exploring beautiful coastal and marine areas. But wait, you’re not familiar with these waters, and there might be hidden dangers beneath the surface! That’s where hydrography comes to the rescue by helping create accurate nautical charts that show you important stuff like how deep the water is, what’s lurking underwater, and any potential hazards that could pose a risk. These charts are like your trusty guide, giving you detailed information to navigate safely and confidently through unfamiliar waters – for your boat captain and his crew anyway.
Whether you’re a tourist on a leisurely boat ride or a skilled seafarer; having access to reliable navigation charts is crucial. They help you avoid dangerous areas, like hidden rocks or shallow depths that could damage your vessel. Plus, they give you a heads-up on any underwater features you should be aware of, like reefs or sandbars because we wouldn’t want anyone to accidentally run aground (which happens more often than it should). After all, this does not simply create inconvenience. It also impacts the area damaged, as well as the marine life destroyed that may take years and years to recover.
Environmental Preservation – Did you know that hydrography plays a really valuable and very under-estimated role in protecting our marine environment? It helps us take care of our oceans by doing surveys and collecting data. This data helps us figure out which areas are at sensitive levels and need extra conservation efforts. Once we know which areas need protection, we can put in place sustainable practices. These practices are all about making sure that tourism activities, marine transportation and even planned development, don’t harm the marine environment.
Data can also determine areas at more risk to flooding, erosion and river bank collapse with information on river systems – a completely different aspect to understanding risks to towns and cities that are prone to flooding that we tend to ignore at a national cost.
Coastal Zone Management – Hydrographic surveys are like treasure hunts in the ocean! They give us super important information to help us take care of our coastal areas, like figuring out how erosion happens, where sediment builds up, and how tides move. This knowledge is like a secret map that guides us in planning our tourist spots and, most importantly, protecting Fiji’s delicate coastlines from any harm caused by tourism activities. Not enough responsibility is taken and insufficient understanding of how this awareness could protect existing coastal developments and even improve the design of future infrastructure developments is in place.
Understanding why your entire beach has disappeared and how likely it is to eventually build back up again, whether reinforced seawalls will endure the new weather patterns of increasing frequencies of coastal inundation, rising sea levels and more intense storms, or even planning how long your new coastal roads will last – depends on the information these surveys can provide.
Marine Protected Areas – Hydrography is critically important for creating and taking care of special zones in the ocean called marine protected areas (MPAs). These MPAs are like safe havens for marine life where we can preserve biodiversity, protect endangered species, and keep the whole ocean ecosystem in balance as much as we possibly can. Having these in place provides communities with more bountiful marine-based food options in the long term, allows visitors to enjoy Fiji’s diverse dive offerings, and supports the sensitive balancing of marine ecosystems that retain the ocean’s health. This balancing is yet another key to effectively reducing rising sea temperatures.
But how do we even know where to establish these areas? Well, that’s where hydrography comes in! It helps us identify spots in the ocean that are ecologically important. By studying the waters, mapping out the different features, and proposing accurate boundaries for these MPAs.
And once these MPAs are set up, it’s equally important to monitor and protect them.|
That’s where tourism can play a bigger role! Authorities and organizations can work together with communities and visitors to keep an eye on these protected areas.
Tourism operators and their guests can help report any illegal fishing or damaging activities they might witness. Education and awareness can support the importance of the MPAs and how to enjoy them responsibly without causing harm.
Marine Spatial Data Infrastructures – simply a fancy way of saying that they can build systems to organize and share information about the ocean smartly and efficiently. These infrastructures make it easy for everyone involved to share data about the ocean and use it to plan out sustainable tourism projects and make smarter decisions. Imagine having all the important information about the ocean at your fingertips, like where the best spots for tourism are, where we need to be careful to protect the environment, and how to make sure our activities don’t harm the delicate balance of marine life. Or even to ensure we simply don’t waste money on grand island projects that will not last past the last garlanding and cake-cutting ceremonies.
Renewable Energies – Hydrographic data can also assist us in finding the best spots to set up renewable energy projects along Fiji’s coastal areas – something that Fiji could and should be doing a lot more of. By using available data, we can better harness renewable energy sources like wind or solar power that could create greener energy options and also provide more accessible energy for maritime islands and rural areas instead of only relying more on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels.
Think about it this way: when we use renewable energy, we don’t produce as much pollution, and that means our air stays cleaner and our oceans stay healthier. This means a healthier environment for our local populations and communities while attracting more visitors to our shores! People love coming to Fiji because of its natural beauty, and by using renewable energy, we can better preserve that beauty and make sure it stays breathtaking for years to come.
So, to fully leverage the key aspects mentioned and the benefits of hydrography for the tourism industry, it is important to foster a strong relationship between the Fiji Hydrology Department and the tourism stakeholders, through the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association.
This collaboration will facilitate the exchange of expertise, data sharing, creating wider awareness, training and perhaps joint projects; further supporting efforts for a more resilient and sustainable tourism sector.
We are looking forward to working together to enhance safety, contribute to environmental preservation, support improved coastal zone management practices, establish marine protected areas, develop marine spatial data infrastructures, and promote renewable energies.
Shared information and awareness can ensure that public-sector-supported data collection is used more productively by the private sector for the further development of the economy.
Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 29 June 2023)