Friday, 21 February 2014

Letter to the Editor: Ensure Tour Operators Practice Ethical Firefly-Watching Methods


A Tourism Malaysia advertisement currently aired over most radio stations makes a commendable attempt at promoting nature tourism, including firefly-watching in Kuala Selangor. Although Green Living encourages low-impact sustainable ecotourism as a means of cultivating a love of nature and the environment, we have serious concerns about the practices utilised by some tour operators involved in firefly-watching excursions.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) members have complained that some local firefly-watching tour operators use flashlights and other artificial means to mimic the mating signals of congregating firefly populations in order to lure fireflies out towards the tourists in the boats. This disrupts the mating, feeding and resting patterns of the fireflies, and causes them to fly out into areas beyond their safe zones. The exhausted firelies, after circling around the boats and tourists in their futile search for a mate, then fall into the water and are eaten by fishes.

While insects are part of the normal food chain for fish and other animals, the fact that the fireflies are lured out to premature deaths, often before they have had the opportunity to mate and breed, means that firefly populations in such places will be depleted more quickly than they can recover.

Such unethical practices by tour operators directly contribute to the gradual extinction of fireflies. Congregating firefly zones in Malaysia, including in Kuala Selangor, Cherating and Kg. Dew, Taiping, are already under threat from large-scale plantations, aquaculture ponds, flood mitigation and river widening activities, illegal sand mining, clearing of river reserves, use of pesticides and poor waste management methods.

Most visitors who have been to these same firefly habitats 10-20 years ago can attest to the fact that firefly populations have dwindled drastically. Over the years, MNS has worked with local authorities, tour operators and local communities to educate and empower them in order that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to protect firefly habitats and populations.

Although it is a disappointment to know that unethical firefly-watching practices are still being carried out, it is not unforeseen as many tour operators prioritise short-term gains over durable and sustainable solutions. As non-governmental organisations have no enforcement powers, we urge the local authorities to inspect the way local tour operators conduct firefly-watching activities.

Consumers and tourists must also play their part in ensuring the survival of threatened species, including congregating fireflies such as the Pteroptyx tener. Consumers should conduct due diligence on tourist destinations and tour operators before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community.

Basic firefly-watching etiquette include the following:
1. Do not shine your torch at or use flash photography on the fireflies. This will disrupt theirmating communications.
2. Enjoy the boat ride and avoid talking loudly, making unnecessary noise or smoking.
3. Enjoy the light show. Avoid catching the fireflies or disturbing the trees.
4. Please bring your litter out with you. Do not throw anything into the river.

Tourists and consumers must exercise their right to protest unethical practices by tour operators and hit them where it hurts the most -- their wallets. If at any point during the boat ride the tour operator simulates firefly mating signals using flashlights, please speak up and insist that they cease doing so immediately. State that you will report their unethical and harmful practices to environmental organisations, state tourism authorities and travel websites. Write unfavourable reviews in travel forums to bring their unethical practices to light.

It is our duty, as consumers, not to invest in cruelty, species extinction and environmental destruction. Responsible tourism begins with you and me.


(As at 21.2.2014, this letter has already been published in The Sun and the New Straits Times and Traxx FM has requested to use the Firefly Watching Etiquette tips in their radio PSAs.)


Ellen Whyte said...

I'm appalled that you still have to write letters like this in the 21st century. Don't people have any common sense???

~CovertOperations78~ said...

I wish they did, Ellen, but it's clear not many do. I am not appalled at the fact that many of the local folk can't tell that they are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, but I am appalled at the fact that people who should know better -- purported academicians and politicians and so-called leaders of environmental organisations -- praise some of these tour operators for being "clever" at mimicking the mating signals of the fireflies. Apparently it is worse in some other countries. I hear that in the Philippines, some of these boat operators use speedboats (and not row boats) and crash into trees to make the fireflies "rain down" on tourists.