Bentz, J., Dearden, P., Calado, H., 2013. Strategies for marine wildlife tourism in small islands – the case of the Azores

Small islands typically exhibit characteristics like isolation, smallness, limited natural and human resources, which limit their capacity to embrace development. Marine wildlife tourism (MWT) can combine the apparently conflicting goals of development and conservation. It has a potential to provide significant benefits to local communities and ecosystems, when it is carefully managed. The Azorean islands have a great potential for MWT, given highly diverse marine ecosystems and various types of resident and migrating cetaceans. Several MWT activities are taking place though lacking effective management. Whale watching and other MWT activities such as scuba diving have an increasingly important role within the tourism sector, as the Azores offer good conditions for watching oceanic species close to the shoreline. Recently shark-watching demonstrated potential for a new MWT activity. Managing these new emerging activities is required. There is no island or regional-wide strategy for MWT in the Azores, assessing its potentials and impacts and making recommendations on how it can be developed in a sustainable manner. The goal of this project is to contribute to the sustainable development of small island economies through developing guidelines that will ensure MWT as a mechanism to conserve nature while supplementing local livelihoods. A specific objective is to develop a conceptual model of MWT for small islands that can be integrated in regional planning instruments and apply the model to a specific case study, in order to recommend the optimal development strategies and necessary management interventions for MWT development in the Azores. As a first approach, experts and stakeholders of the whale watching industry were interviewed in order to develop an understanding about their interests and perceived problems of the activity in the Azores. The results showed various management gaps. The opinions of the interviewees differed especially upon the management of the activity and its current sustainability. It proved the necessity for further research to assess the effectiveness of management policies using an integrated approach that incorporates both social and biological aspects of this and other MWT industries. The authors suggest multidisciplinary, participatory approach for effective co-management, providing a holistic view of the problem and forming the basis for adaptive management and thus the long-term sustainability for the activity.

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