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Managing tourism in MPAs

An article mentioning some of the characteristics of tourism within MPAs with two related references for further information.
© Anne Cadoret

Marine Protected Areas are “clearly defined geographical areas, recognized, dedicated and managed through legal or other effective means to ensure the long-term conservation of nature and associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (IUCN, 2008). 

They are mostly located in coastal areas, which are attractive from a tourism point of view. They have become tourist destinations, attracting more and more visitors.

Although tourism is not incompatible with biodiversity conservation, its development is becoming a major issue as soon as the pressure on ecosystems intensifies. Managers of MPAs have the task of responding to this challenge by implementing biodiversity conservation measures. Several initiatives are emerging at the local level, notably with the implementation of sustainable tourism. Nevertheless, even if MPAs are levers for the implementation of alternatives to aggressive tourism for ecosystems and local populations, it is clear that these initiatives are still marginal.

Among the measures put in place to reduce or avoid environmental degradation, sustainable tourism initiatives are being developed.  One example is the support provided by MPA managers for development projects, such as in the wetland area of the Tyre Coastal Nature Reserve in Lebanon, where European funds supported the construction of wooden paths crossing the dunes to prevent them from being trampled and to allow the many tourists to access a popular beach in the summer season (Photo 1).

Photo 1: Development of paths in the wetland area of the reserve Tyre Coastal Nature Reserve, Lebanon. 

© Cadoret, 2018.

Another example: the Port-Cros National Park in France is developing partnerships with tourist operators who respect biodiversity by giving them the “Esprit Parc” label. In other MPAs, training in sustainable tourism is organised for local populations, such as in Isla del Rosario where in the 2000s, the Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo National Park (Colombia) offered training for eco-guides and community business creation. These initiatives benefit the local population, the environment and the good life together.

Very often, the forms of sustainable tourism that are developing in MPAs coexist with mass beach tourism practices. This is the case for the island of Rosario (Colombia), as well as for the island of Zakynthos (Greece), where a national park is located, which is trying to define a carrying capacity and is working on setting up compromises with the numerous tourist operators to respect the rules of turtle conservation and their nesting areas (Photo 2).

Photo 2: Sectorisation of the beach, management of summer visitors (Zakhintos National Park, Greece)

© Cadoret, 2017. 
Building compromises between biodiversity conservation objectives and economic objectives based on seaside tourism

The negotiation processes with the multiplicity of actors playing a role in tourism development take several years and are sometimes conflictual when conservation interests clash with short-term economic interests. But what is more damaging for the environment is that control of tourism development escapes partly or totally from local stakeholders, and therefore from MPA managers: tourist flows are linked to supply and demand developed by Tour Operators from abroad or by decision-makers outside the MPA.  The lack of coherence at all scalar levels (local, provincial, international) between public tourism policies and public environmental policies is an important challenge to be met in order to achieve integrated management that will make it possible to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

© Anne Cadoret
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