Ecological and socio-economic impacts of dive and snorkel tourism in St. Lucia, West Indies [PhD Thesis]

Abstract

Coral reefs provide many services and are a valuable resource, particularly for tourism, yet they are suffering significant degradation and pollution worldwide. To manage reef tourism effectively a greater understanding is needed of reef ecological processes and the impacts that tourist activities have on them. This study explores the impact of divers and snorkelers on the reefs of St. Lucia, West Indies, and how the reef environment affects tourists' perceptions and experiences of them. Observations of divers and snorkelers revealed that their impact on the reefs followed certain patterns and could be predicted from individuals', site and dive characteristics. Camera use, night diving and shore diving were correlated with higher levels of diver damage. Briefings by dive leaders alone did not reduce tourist contacts with the reef but intervention did. Interviews with tourists revealed that many chose to visit St. Lucia because of its marine protected area. Certain site attributes, especially marine life, affected tourists' experiences and overall enjoyment of reefs. Tourists were not always able to correctly ascertain abundance of marine life or sediment pollution but they were sensitive to, and disliked seeing damaged coral, poor underwater visibility, garbage and other tourists damaging the reef. Some tourists found sites to be noisy and over-crowded both with people and boats. Many tourists wanted more information on local marine life and said they would be willing to pay more to visit sites within St. Lucia's marine protected area than was currently being asked. Such funds could enable better protection and management of St. Lucia's reefs. Management recommendations include, among others, that all visitors be supervised on their dive and snorkel trips, that reef use be more evenly distributed throughout the island and that restrictions be placed on the number of people allowed to use sites over a given period. This thesis demonstrates how countries could use visitors to fund a greater proportion of their reef management costs, and that various management strategies could contain and reduce tourism damage to reefs, whilst simultaneously accommodating an expansion in the reef-tourism industry.

Citation

Barker, N.L.H. Ecological and socio-economic impacts of dive and snorkel tourism in St. Lucia, West Indies. (2003) 232 pp. [PhD Thesis, University of York.]

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