CMS and Whale Watching

As an environmental treaty under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats.  A number of migratory marine species are the subject of boat-based wildlife watching activities, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, manatees, seals, sharks, rays and turtles as well as several species of migratory birds, such as albatrosses, petrels, gulls, terns, penguins and falcons.

CMS first worked on this subject when the 2006 brochure Wildlife Watching and Tourism – a study on the benefits and risks of a fast-growing tourism activity and its impacts on species-  was developed.  Tourism is also a theme covered by several species instruments and action plans.  The study clearly shows the importance of planning, visitor management and zoning – a challenge especially in the marine environment.

Following adoption of Resolution 11.29 on Sustainable Boat-Based Marine Wildlife Watching in 2014, CMS undertook a review existing agreed guidelines, existing good practice and underpinning scientific evidence of the issues of concern, and based on this review developed guidelines on marine boat-based wildlife watching for sirenians, pinnipeds, elasmobranchs, seabirds and marine turtles.  These were endorsed in 2017 through Resolution 11.29 (Rev.COP12), and can be accessed here

The aim of the Guidelines is to assist CMS Parties interested in adopting appropriate measures to ensure the sustainability of any boat-based wildlife-watching activities in their area of jurisdiction.  

These Guidelines address boat-based wildlife watching only and do not include measures to reduce the impact of in-water interaction activities such as ‘swim-with’ or ‘dive-with’ which might occur at the same time.  When such activities occur concurrently, measures adopted by the Parties should ensure the safety of marine wildlife and human participants.  In time for consideration by the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (2020), CMS will, subject to the availability of resources, develop general guidelines concerning regulation of recreational in-water interactions with aquatic mammals and recommend codes of conduct for operators that can be adapted with more specific provisions case by case.  


The Government of the Principality of Monaco were recognized as Champion Plus for their generous support and commitment towards marine species conservation for the period 2018 – 2020. The translations of this Handbook have been funded with the contribution granted to CMS by Monaco under theMigratory Species Champion Programme.


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