Seasonal restrictions proposed to limit impact of tourism on Abrolhos Islands wildlife

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An Australian Sea lion.
Camera IconAn Australian Sea lion. Credit: Supplied

Growing interest in the tourism potential at the Abrolhos Islands has led the State Government to flag plans for seasonal restrictions to 23 islands deemed “value-rich” for conservation.

Tucked among the plan’s proposals, which include a raft of measures to improve tourism access, is consideration for restricting access during seabird breeding and sea lion pupping periods.

The draft management plan released late last month notes visitation to the islands is “highly seasonal”, with most tourists visiting between February and May.

“Most seabirds that breed in the park have eggs and chicks between September and February ... these closures will fall outside the peak periods for visitation,” the authors state.

Ecologist Chris Surman, who has been studying wildlife at the Abrolhos for more than 30 years, said the restrictions were an important step in ensuring the security of the islands’ biodiversity.

“The islands represent the most significant seabird colony in the eastern Indian Ocean,” Dr Surman said.

“They make nests which are at serious risk of being trampled when people visit.”

Sea Birds visit the Abrolhos Islands.
Camera IconSea Birds visit the Abrolhos Islands. Credit: Supplied

Of the 23 islands marked for seasonal restrictions, seven are also included on the list of islands with high tourism potential: West Wallabi, Leo, Morley, Wooded, White Bank, Pelsaert, and Gun islands.

However, tourism operators in the region have expressed concern the restrictions will limit their ability to offer wildlife experience packages. Tourism operator Jay Cox said he understood why the Government was considering the restrictions, but he believed registered tourism providers should not be included in the restrictions.

“Our experience out there shows people want to visit and see the birds nesting or the sea lion pups,” he said. “Surely guided tours with registered operators would mitigate the risks?”

He said the rationale for banning visitor access was “understandable” but questioned why experienced operators would not be able to do tours in a sustainable way.

He believes the measures could hurt tourism operators’ ability to pre-arrange tours as sea lions have a unique pupping season which occurs every 18 months.

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