CIE Spotlight: Quantifying wildlife-watching ecotourism intensity on an endangered marine vertebrate

Gail S. and Graeme H.

Gail S. and Graeme H.

TitleQuantifying wildlife-watching ecotourism intensity on an endangered marine vertebrate

Authors: Schofield, G.; Scott, R.; Katselidis, K. A.; Mazaris, A. D.; Hays, G. C.

Source: ANIMAL CONSERVATION, 18 (6):517-528, DEC 2015

Brief summary of the paper: Here, we show how seasonal changes in animal density drive strategic shifts in the activities of wildlife-watching operators. These shifts result in high viewing intensity when animal densities are low, highlighting the need for modifications to existing wildlife-watching guidelines.

We used the endangered loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta as a model species that exhibits staggered departure from an important breeding area (Zakynthos, Greece, Mediterranean) over a 2-month period (July to August) when tourism is at a peak, to investigate changes in wildlife-watching strategies, zoning effectiveness and voluntary guideline compliance over time.

We used a combination of direct land-based observations, global positioning system tracking (of wildlife-watching vessels and turtles) and models. The modelled number of turtles present in the breeding area decreased from > 200 in July to < 50 in August, while the intensity of turtle-viewing increased from a mean 1.5 to 6.1 wildlife-watching vessels per turtle-viewing event (i.e. concurrent and consecutive vessels observing a single turtle) over the same period, respectively.

During this period, the wildlife-watching strategy changed and compliance to guidelines reduced (exacerbated by recreational vessels). However, wildlife-watching activity was limited to a highly restricted 0.95-km2 nearshore area, overlapping with just 9.5% of the core habitat area used by turtles.

Our results have broad implications (whale watching etc.) by showing the importance of taking the number of animals available for viewing into consideration when assessing wildlife-watching activity and when designing viewing guidelines, particularly for populations where numbers noticeably fluctuate.