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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wilderness cruising faces change

Two of the world’s most pristine cruising regions have this week been subject to significant changes. AUSTRALIA’S Kimberley and Ecuador’s Galapagos are in the midst of transformations that may have an impact on cruise tourism. Yesterday’s heritage-listing of WA’s West Kimberley region (TD 30 Aug) has been hailed as a breakthrough for domestic tourism, but it is not yet known how it will effect activities of passenger ships.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the ruling would protect almost 20 million hectares of land including extensive stretches of the coast. But environment groups have questioned why the site of a huge gas development at James Price Point has been largely excluded. Meanwhile, in the Galapagos National Park, new rules are set to ban cruise ships from visiting most islands more than once in a 14-day period. Effective from 01 Feb 2012, the regulations directly involve 50 cruise companies that operate in the Galapagos.

But tour operators hope the restrictions will improve passengers’ experience as they may often be on board the only ship at some ecologically sensitive sites. The new rules will also open up wildlife-rich areas such as Tagus Cove, which was closed several years ago to vessels with more than 40 pax. Snorkelling, kayaking and boat rides will also be regulated, with activities assigned to specific sites and times to avoid overlapping by cruise lines.

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