Stick to the Code
For many an eco-adventurer, swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is the hot bucket list item of the moment. Here’s why…
1) Sometimes it’s good to feel small. Weighing in at 12 tons and reaching up to 60 feet in length or more, the whale shark is the largest fish in the sea. No need to worry, however: you’re definitely not on the menu. Despite their enormous mouths and thousands of teeth, whale sharks eat only microorganisms.
2) It’s wet and warm – whale sharks prefer temperate, tropical waters. They are pelagic, living in the open sea but not in the greatest depths of the ocean. You can choose to swim with these epic water beasts in the welcoming waters off Mexico, Honduras, Philippines and Madagascar.
3) You can keep up – with an average swim speed of 3MPH and already accustomed swimming alongside humans, these gentle giants are very docile creatures. Whale sharks are filter feeders and swim close to the surface, scooping up plankton and any other tiny sea-dwellers they can get into their colossal mouths.
4) Shock and awe – like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two whale sharks are alike. In fact, each has its own distinctive pattern of pale-yellow spots and stripes.
All that said, it’s critical to swim in our lane. Enter Stella Diamant, a keen adventurer, wildlife photographer and biologist by training who has become a whale-shark champion. Belgian native Stella founded the Madagascar Whale Shark Project (MWSP) in 2018, setting up an educational program for local children, recruiting Malagasy staff and implementing a code of conduct in Nosy Be. To date, Stella and the MWSP team have identified more than 300 different whale sharks while guiding eco-adventurers from around the world through a whale shark swimming experience that is safe for human and shark alike.
What threatens the biggest shark in the world? Sadly, plastic pollution, boat collisions, bycatch, targeted illegal fisheries and climate change. Sightings of the majestic animal have been declining since 2005 off Mozambique, where a study was being done. No data is available about the population decline or increase in Madagascar, yet Stella and the dedicated team at MWSO are working to change all that in the future.
In response, the country’s conservation efforts and responsible tourism practices are steadily improving. It is critical to choose a responsible operator who promotes a safe and respectful swimming with whale shark experience. Thankfully, the Madagascar Whale Shark Project has made it easier to choose wisely and swim smart.
Designed to ensure better cohabitation between humans and whale sharks, the CODE OF CONDUCT advise boats and swimmers how to help protect whale sharks and their sustainable future. Diamant explains, “Adopting a code of conduct for swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is about minimizing significant risks for sharks and humans while maximizing the guest experience. Our respectful approach to engaging with whale sharks promotes a relaxed atmosphere between operators and provides clients with a life-changing experience.”
This American Revel Traveler has made a $25 donation to the MWSP and encourages your support to help gather more data, educate and inspire others to launch their own conservation efforts. We’ve got something for all speeds –
Name and adopt a whale shark with a one-time contribution to the Madagascar Whale Shark Project. This includes naming rights, for life. You’ll receive monthly updates each season about your shark, as well as regular newsletter and a certificate by mail. For options please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUST DO IT
Whale shark season is Nosy Be runs from September to December; the best time to see them is in October and November (along with humpback whales). Join Stella and her team for a day in the water to swim with whale sharks. For private trips with Stella and her team, please email at email@example.com.
STATE OF SUSTAINABLE GRACE
The Galapagos archipelago is an awe-inspiring, one-of-a-kind destination. No other place on Earth offers travelers the opportunity to get so close to such a wide variety of wildlife, sea life, and gorgeous landscapes.
Since the islands were first discovered in 1535, a large number of species have been introduced by humans – often before we understood the impact they would have on the natural ecosystem. Some were deliberately brought to the islands for agricultural and aesthetic purposes (such as chickens, cows, dogs, ornamental plants), while others were introduced unintentionally, including rats and various insects and pathogens. Today there are estimated to be almost 1,500 introduced species in the Galapagos Islands.
Quasar Expeditions – a UK-based luxury adventure outfit – is doing something about it.
While a trip to the Galapagos is certainly not just about the boat you take, that vessel can either detract from or enhance the experience of your adventure—which is why picking the right one is so important. Quasar Expeditions offers luxury cruises through the Galapagos Islands on their newly renovated yachts, the M/V Evolution and the M/Y Grace (formerly owned by Grace Kelly).
Sleeping just 18 guests, the uber-chic M/Y Grace comes complete with 360-degree decks and panoramic windows. The cruises operate on seven-night itineraries, allowing guests to get up close and personal with the islands’ amazing scenery and animals through snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. Not stopping at sexy and sophisticated, Quasar is inspired by the sensitive ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands and proudly operates with an impressive commitment to responsible tourism.
The Galapagos National Park system consists of approximately 95% of the 13 volcanic islands and associated islets west of Ecuador. Together they are home to one of the most evolutionarily significant environments in the world – one conservationists are working hard to protect. It’s a process that’s vital for the longevity of hundreds of exceptional species and one that’s managed together with the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS).
The company also supports the Galapagos Scouts, a group dedicated to the children of the Galapagos, providing them with the resources needed for conservation education, and it has begun working with scientists and activists in stopping the tragic sport of shark finning.
One of Quasar’s key partners on the ground is Godfrey Merlen, a local biologist committed to the conservation of wildlife on the islands. Originally from the UK, he moved to the Galapagos more than 45 years ago to work as a volunteer researcher. Since then, he’s worked for the National Park Service and other conservation agencies to positively and dramatically affect the state of flora and fauna throughout the islands – including aiding in the creation of the Galapagos Whale Sanctuary, working to develop the Special Law for the Galapagos and fighting illegal fishing in the Galapagos. These days, Merlen is working with the Galapagos National Park to control, limit and eliminate the risk of any further invasive species entering the islands. Efforts range from scanning every visitor’s bag on arrival and departure from the islands, to capturing and removing existing invasive mammals and plants.
Most recently renovated in 2017, the Grace and Evolution now include the latest technology in water treatment plants to protect the waters of Galapagos. “White” waters like shower and sink runoff go to a treatment plant that removes residues and large particles. In addition, all amenities onboard are biodegradable and non-toxic.
Quasar’s two yachts are also both single-use plastic free. They don’t use plastic straws and don’t serve any food or sweets in single-use wrappers. Drinking water comes from a desalinization plant that then purifies the water and adds minerals to make it drinkable. Guests are given their own stainless steel water bottles to refill daily at the water purifiers for their excursions.
Organic waste from the yachts is separated from non-organic by Quasar staff daily. The non-organic waste is partially recycled in Puerto Ayora’s recycling plant and the rest is stored to be returned to the mainland on one of the rubbish ships.
Quasar is currently compensating for 50% of the carbon emissions of its two ships with a reforestation effort in the Amazon of Brazil.
For more information visit https://www.quasarex.com/galapagos
All due respect to wine, but water is truly the elixir of life. Yet 663 million people on this planet drink dirty water. It’s a number so large most of us would feel nearly paralyzed by its enormity. Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Every day, charity: water helps some of the 800 million people who lack access to clean water by implementing freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters.
In case you’re imagining a few dozen scrappy projects scattered here and there, take note: since its founding, New York’s charity: water has funded more than 28,000 water projects, impacting 8.2 million people. True, it’s a (literal) drop in the bucket compared to the 663 million who lack clean water, but it’s an awe-inspiring achievement nonetheless, and proof that the organization’s model is working.
One of those 8.2 million beneficiaries of charity: water’s efforts is Jean Bosco of Rwanda, who was 15 years old in 2008 when photographer Esther Havens met and photographed him in his home village of Murinja, later sharing his story on the nonprofit’s website. At the time, the shy and sturdy teen traveled to the same brown, murky pond four or five times a day to fill a 5-gallon Jerry Can his family relied on to supply their water.
Thanks to a partnership between charity: water, Living Water International and the Rwandan government, Murinja received a well that supplied fresh, parasite-free water to the community’s residents and for crucial services such as the treatment of the sick at a village clinic. When Havens returned to find Jean Bosco seven years after she first met him, she found him married with an infant daughter, living in his own home next-door to his parents and thriving.
Fortunately, charity: water CEO Scott Harrison doesn’t give up easily. After a decade working as a New York City nightclub promoter in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Harrison hit an emotional and spiritual wall – think, an existential hangover. He turned his life upside-down and spent the next two years in Africa, where he was confronted head-on by the problem of dirty water.
In addition to the problem, Harrison also witnessed the potential benefits of solving it: improved health, more vibrant local economies, the empowerment of women and greater access to education for children, many of whom were spending the majority of each day fetching water for their families.
Upon returning to NYC, he was determined to do something to eliminate the water crisis in his lifetime. In 2006, charity: water was born. The nonprofit uses 100% of all public donations to fund water projects – and offers photo documentation and GPS coordinates to prove where every dollar goes. By partnering with organizations with years of experience under their belts, charity: water is able to help build sustainable, community-owned water projects around the world. Cool luxury collaborations include teaming up with Pure Cycles, a team of fixed-gear and single-speed bike builders in Los Angeles.
For nearly 10 years, Burbank-based Pure Cycles has been designing, developing, and delivering some of the coolest bikes on the market. From race bikes to road bikes to simply rad bikes, Pure Cycles is always cooking up new places and ways to ride. Pure Cycles has created a custom line of bicycles, The Uniform and The Yankee, and for each bike sold, Pure Cycles donates $100 to charity: water. To date Pure Cycles also has donated more than $10,000 in support of charity: water and its awe-inspiring mission.
Today, the team of more than 30 at charity: water aims to operate in a manner that’s as transparent as the water it brings to struggling communities. Results include a coveted A-Rating with CharityWatch.org and an expanding community of generous world-changers – not to mention the clean water the organization brings to those who need it most. “For me, charity is practical,” Scott Harrison says. “It’s sometimes easy, more often inconvenient, but always necessary. It’s the ability to use one’s position of influence, relative wealth and power to affect lives for the better. Charity is singular and achievable.”
Produced By Corry Cook
Sources and Photos: charity. water; Pure Cycles