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PENANG, 17 November 2023 – The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) recently organised a workshop together with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC) Malaysia and the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CEMACS).

The workshop was jointly-organized to Raise Awareness of Coastal and Marine Protection and Conservation Issues and its Importance to the Blue Economy, took place from October 31 to November 2, 2023, at JEN Hotel in George Town, Penang.

The opening ceremony of the workshop was graced by the presence of distinguished individuals, including the Director of IORA, Ms. Zelda Vrolick; Senior Director of MOTAC, Dr. Yasmeen Yasim; and Director of CEMACS USM, Professor Dato’ Dr. Aileen Tan Shau Hwai.

Being international in nature, the workshop has brought together over 60 government officials, researchers, and scientists from various fields, all focused on the critical domains of tourism, marine science, and the Blue Economy.

During the opening address, it was emphasized that there is a need for a holistic approach to post-pandemic tourism recovery. The link between tourism, marine and coastal ecosystems, and the broader concept of the Blue Economy is undeniable. The workshop highlighted the growing threats posed by direct human impacts and climate change on the health of marine and coastal ecosystems. Experts suggest that integrating a sustainable Blue Economy approach into coastal and marine tourism development holds immense potential for making impactful investments, while ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth that balances the protection of ecosystems and livelihoods.

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Aileen Tan in her speech has highlighted that marine and coastal environments are increasingly susceptible to the ravages of climate change, extreme weather events, pollution, and human activities. The workshop then is an embodiment of the collective commitment to addressing these challenges. “With a focus on monitoring, research, and collaborative action, we seek to safeguard marine life, protect coastal communities, and ensure the health of our planet. This workshop is not merely a congregation of like-minded individuals but a launch pad for collective action. Everyone here aspires to forge practical solutions and set a course towards a more sustainable and resilient future,” she highlighted in her speech.

The workshop is a joint effort between representatives from 11 IORA member states and dialogue partners which include Comoros, France, Iran, Madagascar, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. It features six keynote speakers, each an expert in the relevant fields, hailing from Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

This workshop is also partially supported by IORA through its Special Fund under Project A3.1 of the IORA Core Group on Tourism (CGT) Work Plan 2022-2027. Additionally, the event aligns seamlessly with Malaysia's National Tourism Policy (2020-2030), which prioritises positioning Malaysia as a premier ecotourism destination, by promoting responsible tourism practices in ecologically fragile areas, such as along its coastal regions and marine parks.

Tourism has long been a significant contributor to the global economy. In particular, coastal areas have played a pivotal role, accounting for nearly 80% of all tourist activities. Recognizing the importance of these regions, the IORA workshop aims to serve as a platform for member states to exchange research findings, ideas and best practices. Moreover, it intends to formulate practical recommendations to bolster policy, legal and institutional frameworks for coastal and marine resource conservation and the sustainable development of coastal and marine tourism.

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The workshop represents a significant step towards a sustainable future for coastal and marine protection, ensuring a harmonious relationship between tourism and the environment, and securing the well-being of the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean Rim region.

The success of the workshop was also made possible by the sponsors of the event, namely, the Penang State EXCO Office for Tourism and Creative Economy, Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau, Malaysia Airlines and Malaysia Airports.

Text & Photo: Dr. Annette Jaya Ram (CEMACS)/Editing: Mazlan Hanafi Basharudin

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