Murdoch student aims to boost dolphin tourism in Bunbury

January 8, 2018

Boosting tourism: Close-up encounters with dolphins at Koombana Bay, Bunbury. (Credit: Dolphin Discovery Centre)

Swimming with dolphins and other encounters with these enchanting mammals are the subject of research by a Murdoch honours student that aims to boost tourism in Bunbury.

Jessica Patroni will survey visitors to the Dolphin Discovery Centre in January to gain insight into their experiences, which include close up encounters with the Koombana Bay dolphins.

“There’s a lot of research available on the environmental impacts of ecotourism activities but not much social data about visitor satisfaction, and that’s why we’re carrying out this survey,” said Ms Patroni, who is completing her Honours in Environmental Management and Sustainability.

The activities at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, which include swimming with the charismatic creatures and meeting them in the shallows in front of the centre, have been deemed by many tourists as once-in-a-lifetime “bucket-list” experiences, according to TripAdvisor.

Some visitors have been lucky enough to witness dolphins feeding on octopus, which was the subject of Murdoch University research released earlier this year.

General Manager of the Dolphin Discovery Centre, David Kerr, who happens to be an early graduate of Murdoch’s Environmental Science course, said it was about striking a balance to allow for public enjoyment of wildlife that had minimal impact on the dolphins’ way of life.

“As the wild dolphin experience in Koombana Bay is our key tourism attraction, the information gained will also help ensure we deliver an experience that meets visitor and community expectations while ensuring the sustainability of the local dolphin population,” said Mr Kerr.

The visitor satisfaction survey also includes questions that will reveal attitudes towards the ongoing revitalisation of the Bunbury waterfront surrounding the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

The recently opened redevelopment of Koombana Beach and programmed expansion of the Dolphin Discovery Centre by the South West Development Commission and the City of Bunbury marks the first stage of the State Government’s overarching Transforming Bunbury’s Waterfront project.

The project will include a new steel-ribbed bridge, which resembles the hull of a shipwreck and lights up at night to create an impressive entry into Bunbury. A pedestrian promenade along the beach, an amphitheatre, a playground, landscaped and shaded areas and a revamped visitor kiosk will also feature.

In addition to collaborations with the Dolphin Discovery Centre and City of Bunbury, Ms Patroni’s research would not have been possible without support from Murdoch’s Harry Butler Institute.

Ms Patroni has already had two industry-focused articles published in international scientific journals ahead of the surveying – one of which is co-authored by Mr Kerr.

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