Marine Pro­tected Ar­eas and Tourism

Áreas Mari­nas Prote­gi­das y Turismo

Patagon Journal - - CONTENTS - By Stephanie Ste­fan­ski

To pro­tect marine ecosys­tems, marine pro­tected ar­eas ( MPAs) must of­ten bal­ance the in­ter­ests and uses of mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers, from fish­eries and tourism in­dus­tries to re­search and con­ser­va­tion in­ter­ests. Suc­cess­ful man­age­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies re­quires stake­holder buy-in, vig­i­lant over­sight and en­force­ment, and com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion through­out the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process to en­sure reg­u­la­tions align with com­mu­nity will­ing­ness and abil­ity to fol­low those rules. Oth­er­wise, a marine pro­tec­tion area will be in name only.

Tourism stake­hold­ers, par­tic­u­larly whale and dol­phin watch­ing ex­cur­sions, are in­creas­ingly con­tribut­ing to lo­cal economies and have the most to gain from pro­tect­ing key habi­tats in MPAs, such as re­pro­duc­tive, calv­ing, and feed­ing grounds. The eco-tourism ac­tiv­i­ties, in turn, can also con­trib­ute to the pro­tec­tion of their marine en­vi­ron­ment. Many en­vi­ron­men­tal eco­nomic stud­ies demon­strate that vis­i­tors are will­ing to pay higher en­trance fees if they know th­ese fees will con­trib­ute to­ward the con­ser­va­tion of the site. Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties can also work to­gether to de­velop, im­ple­ment, and en­force guide­lines to en­sure the sus­tain­able use of an area, and to mit­i­gate the im­pact of tourism ac­tiv­i­ties on MPAs.

Through­out Latin Amer­ica, there are sev­eral ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful MPAs that sup­port marine con­ser­va­tion and lo­cal economies, and of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties sup­port­ing th­ese MPAs and their wildlife through col­lab­o­ra­tion and col­lec­tive ac­tion.

El Vizcaino Bio­sphere Re­serve

The El Vizcaino Bio­sphere Re­serve in Mex­ico in­cludes La­guna Ojo de Liebre, the first ever MPA des­ig­nated to pro­tect

marine mam­mals. Cre­ated in 1971, the pri­mary goal of the MPA was to pro­tect the mat­ing and calv­ing grounds of the gray whale. To­day, El Vizcaino is the largest MPA in Mex­ico and sup­ports a thriv­ing lo­cal tourism in­dus­try dur­ing the whale watch­ing months of De­cem­ber to April. The num­ber of an­nual vis­i­tors has in­creased from 10,000 in 1994 to more than 25,000 to­day. Th­ese vis­i­tors gen­er­ate over US$170,000 in eco­nomic value per year.

To en­sure the in­tegrity of this ac­tiv­ity, the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment only emits whale watch­ing per­mits to a lim­ited num­ber of lo­cally owned busi­nesses for ex­cur­sions across the two la­goons. The gov­ern­ment also adopted the whale-watch­ing guide­lines de­scribed in the In­ter­na­tional Whal­ing Com­mis­sion ( IWC) Hand­book for Whale Watch­ing and de­signed ad­di­tional guide­lines tai­lored to the breed­ing and nurs­ing ar­eas for gray whales. For ex­am­ple, only a lim­ited num­ber of boats may ap­proach a friendly whale at any given time.

Tourism ac­tiv­i­ties also sup­port the con­ser­va­tion of the area. Each vis­i­tor is charged a re­serve fee in ad­di­tion to the whale watch­ing cost, which is used to fi­nance the main­te­nance of the bio­sphere re­serve. Tourism ven­tures take on lead­er­ship roles in the com­mu­nity to pro­mote bet­ter lo­cal stan­dards for whale-watch­ing and to par­tic­i­pate in tourism coun­cils. Oth­ers pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion and pro­gram­ming on­board. In the San Ig­na­cio La­goon, an as­so­ci­a­tion of com­pa­nies im­pose an even stricter set of whale watch stan­dards through self-en­force­ment, such as only al­low­ing two, in­stead of four, ves­sels near a whale at any given time. They also elect a sher­iff to mon­i­tor and en­force th­ese guide­lines.

The fruits of th­ese ef­forts show. Re­searchers and op­er­a­tors agree that, over time, the gray whale pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ing. In ad­di­tion, tour op­er­a­tors be­lieve that the lo­cally im­ple­mented guide­lines, and the des­ig­na­tion of the area as a MPA and Bio­sphere Re­serve, have sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved the qual­ity and or­ga­ni­za­tion of whale watch­ing in the area.

Penín­sula Valdes

In Ar­gentina, com­mer­cial whale watch­ing be­gan in the 1970s, soon af­ter Mex­ico. Scuba div­ing tour op­er­a­tors in Penín­sula Valdes dis­cov­ered large con­cen­tra­tions of south­ern right whales dur­ing their mat­ing and calv­ing sea­son of June through De­cem­ber. Over the next 30 years, th­ese op­er­a­tors worked to­gether to es­tab­lish lo­cal guide­lines and to main­tain the pris­tine con­di­tions of the re­gion de­spite tourism de­vel­op­ment.

In 1999, Penín­sula Valdes was des­ig­nated a UNESCO World Her­itage Site for its im­por­tance as a breed­ing ground for var­i­ous

“Tourism stake­hold­ers have the most to gain from pro­tect­ing key habi­tats.”

marine mam­mals. The coastal wa­ters of Penín­sula Valdés are a fu­sion of warm Brazil­ian and cold Antarc­tic cur­rents, at­tract­ing a di­ver­sity of marine wildlife. Ele­phant seals, sea lions, and even pen­guins have breed­ing colonies through­out the Penín­sula. In the spring, dusky dol­phins and Mag­el­lanic pen­guins feed in the wa­ters off the Penín­sula. Killer whales ex­hibit unique hunt­ing strate­gies where they strand them­selves on the beaches to cap­ture un­sus­pect­ing sea lion and ele­phant seal pups.

This di­ver­sity of wildlife un­der­lies a grow­ing tourism in­dus­try. The to­tal num­ber of an­nual tourists has grown steadily to more than 300,000 over the last decade. The ma­jor­ity of the vis­i­tors are Ar­gen­tine nationals, demon­strat­ing the im­por­tance of this pro­tected area as a na­tional re­source for tourism and con­ser­va­tion.

Sim­i­lar to El Vizcaino, tourism ac­tiv­i­ties strive to sup­port the sus­tain­abil­ity of the site. All vis­i­tors pay an en­trance fee, which con­trib­ute to the main­te­nance costs of the Penín­sula. Only six whale watch­ing com­pa­nies are per­mit­ted to op­er­ate, and they are lim­ited to Puerto Pi­ramides within the Penín­sula Valdes. Th­ese six com­pa­nies work to­gether to mit­i­gate their im­pact on the whales by en­forc­ing lo­cal guide­lines and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other on the wa­ter. Each com­pany is only al­lowed to have one boat in the wa­ter at a time, with some rare ex­cep­tions.

The Puerto Pi­ramides com­mu­nity has also come to­gether to pre­vent the con­struc­tion of a pier, which would dis­turb the nat­u­ral vista. In­stead, they con­tinue the Patag­o­nian tech­nique of haul­ing whale watch­ing boats with trac­tors. Many op­er­a­tors are cer­ti­fied by the ISO and other agen­cies for the sus­tain­abil­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity of their prac­tices. Their on­board speeches and of­fice pam­phlets strive to in­still en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity in their vis­i­tors.

Th­ese two Latin Amer­i­can marine pro­tec­tion ar­eas are suc­cess­ful case stud­ies show­ing that col­lec­tive man­age­ment, and pulling the com­mu­nity to­gether to work to­ward the sus­tain­able use of marine and coastal ecosys­tems, can help en­force pro­tec­tion regimes in MPAs and ben­e­fit tourism at the same time.


A south­ern right whale at Puerto Pi­ramides, Ar­gentina. Una bal­lena franca aus­tral en Puerto Pi­ramides, Ar­gentina. STEPHANIE STE­FAN­SKI

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