Belen Alcorta and Sebastian Silva are directors of the ecotourism company Pacifico Adventures. As specialists in tourism and as marine biologists, they talk about their work on the coast of Piura, which involves plenty of whale watching, as well as the conservation of coastal marine species.
How did Pacifico Adventures start and how long has it been in existence?
Belen: We came to Piura because we had known the sea here since we were children, and realised it had potential; we knew there was a lot more to discover.
Sebastian: I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist since I was a boy, and when I came to the north I realised that this was the perfect place to be one. Belen studied ecotourism and together we founded Pacifico Adventures as a project in which we would combine our professions by linking tourism with marine biology. We moved to Los Organos ten years ago to develop this project.
Tell us about your team and what they do.
Sebastian: We have a multi-discipline team of marine biologists, tourism professionals and local fishermen. One important group who collaborate with us consists of students working on their theses. So far three theses have been approved with the maximum possible marks.
How do you combine your ecotourism offers with your research into coastal marine species?
Sebastian: That is the idea that gave rise to our project: conservation and scientific research, with tourism providing the finance. Our slogan is: “Tourism for conservation”. The boats enable us to collect the data that then form the basis for our scientific research.
Belen: As far as we’re concerned these elements form a closed circle. The natural attractions bring tourists and tourism generates the funds for research and preservation. There is a lot to learn about our ocean; but that is the point of our tours: a unique experience that educates and motivates.
This zone is very special in terms of biodiversity. What are its characteristics and what type of pressures are there on its resources?
Sebastian: It is the confluence of several currents, principally the warm equatorial current and the cold Peruvian current. This is known as an ecotone: a special life zone that it is important to preserve, as it is the transition between two ecosystems that also has its own characteristics. On the coast of Los Organos alone we have found twelve species of cetaceans out of the thirty identified in Peruvian waters. This ocean is probably one of the most productive on the planet and this zone in particular is very important.
There is a lot of pressure from fishing on many of the commercially important resources. Also, there is little scientific research being done, so planning conservation measures is difficult. Tourism is always positive, as it generates income for local people, and this shows that there are other forms of making use of marine resources. Previously, turtles were hunted for food; hunting was very common in this area. That has now changed, people who used to hunt them now see an economic benefit in tourism, and that looking after the-se species attracts visitors who spend money.
A number of scientific papers have been published about the humpback whales. How important is this species to our coast?
Sebastian: We have published five papers in different international scientific journals; one of the most important is the magazine Plus One. We have been able to disseminate knowledge of the species, to the point of suggesting something not previously known: northern Peru is the southern limit of their breeding grounds. Thanks to these studies we have provided new information that has increased our knowledge of this species.
Belen: Because of its attraction for visitors, the humpback whale has become an umbrella species. It captures people’s imagination and this generates an interest in preserving it, which also benefits the preservation of other species in the same habitat. It is also important as a tourism resource, because the sighting season occurs in what used to be the low season in the north. Finally, it is an emblem for conservation in the zone. Previously it was valuable for hunting; now it is valued for its tourism potential.
The principal product is in fact whale watching. What is whale watching?
Sebastian: First it is important to know when to see them. Our periodic observations show that whales can be seen from the first half of July to early Nov-ember; almost four months. To guarantee sightings we have a team of watchers on high ground with binoculars, who can see the whales and where they are swimming. They give this information to our boats, which thus know which way to head. Different types of tourist come to us; Peruvians and foreigners, those who come just for the whales and those for whom whale watching is a complement to their beach holiday. A lot of tourists come back again and again, because it is an unbeatable experience.
Belen: Now we have to work on regulating the activity. We were the first and have set the standard by using international guidelines. More boats are being used for this activity and we have shared our experience and the way of doing things with other people; but this will continue to grow, and to pre-vent a negative impact it is essential to carry out a load capacity study.
In addition to whale watching and sport fishing, what other ecotourism activities are there in the north?
Belen: Well, as well as the whales we have a snorkelling with turtles tour; a coastal excursion involving artisanal fishing followed by preparation of a cebiche on board the boat; a sunset tour with champagne on board and sport fishing, during the summer months when there is no wind. In additional to what we offer you can also visit the mangrove swamps, which are an important and interesting attraction; you can also learn to surf or kitesurf, two very common activities in the area. Scuba diving is another option, as is bird watching in Cerros de Amotape National Park.
Nature is an important attraction in this zone, what does it need to become an ecotourism destination?
Belen: The zone has a very high potential as a destination for seekers of nature. Local and regional governments should place a higher value on what they have and understand that its resources make the zone uniquely attractive; but to increase tourism they need to work on land use regulations, solid waste management and infrastructure. At this moment, a management plan is essential, which should include load capacity studies.
Sebastian: A tourism development plan to prevent any negative impacts of this activity in the zone.
What new projects are you planning?
Sebastian: We want to get into bird watching, not just sea birds but the species that live in the dry forest. This is a very interesting product for a very specialised public.
Belen: Another project we would like to start is to incorporate the Moche Route and link it to our products, with a long-term vision of the north as a single entity from La Libertad to Tumbes.
Editor’s note: This article previously appeared in Ultimate Journeys Peru
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