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A Holistic Approach to Planning for Wildlife Tourism: A Case Study of Marine Turtle Tourism and Conservation in the Ningaloo Region, Western Australia

Waayers, David (2010) A Holistic Approach to Planning for Wildlife Tourism: A Case Study of Marine Turtle Tourism and Conservation in the Ningaloo Region, Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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      Abstract

      This thesis explored the practical issues of sustainable wildlife tourism by examining three fundamental aspects: stakeholder collaboration; the importance of collecting baseline data to inform decisions; and detecting tourism-related impacts on wildlife. These aspects were explored in detail through a case study of turtle tourism in the Ningaloo region in Western Australia and the development of the Ningaloo Turtle Program. Four interrelated studies were undertaken in the Ningaloo region to quantify the nature and extent of collaborative relationships amongst stakeholders, visitor-use and characteristics of turtle watchers, distribution and abundance of nesting female marine turtles and impacts on turtles from human-turtle interactions. The first study explored the collaboration of stakeholders through action research and by examining workshop dialogue and interactions between interest groups. The key findings from this study were that the selection and number of participating stakeholders within a stakeholder group were vital in collaboration. This study suggests there is often a trade-off between having too many representatives from each interest group and generating positive collaborative outcomes. This study showed that one representative from twelve interest groups was sufficient for generating a collaborative approach. The participants represented several key interest groups including four government representatives (Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Australian Defence Force, Fisheries WA and the Shire of Exmouth), two tourism industry representatives (Tourism WA and private tour operators), five non-government organisation representatives (World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Cape Conservation Group (CCG), Murdoch University, Pastoral Land Group, the Biayungu Aboriginal Cooperation (BAC)), and one stakeholder representing local residents/volunteers. The study also found that the preparation of an engagement strategy, that outlines stakeholder responsibilities and commitments and the employment of a convenor to facilitate workshops are important factors in initiating the collaborative process. The continuation of this process is dependent on long-term coordination by a professional consultant, who has the capacity to drive the planning processes and apply for funding, stakeholder’s commitment to the process and their capacity to transform collaboration into an ongoing learning process.
      The second study investigated marine turtle female nesting populations in the Ningaloo region. The study showed that the peak nesting season for all species in the Ningaloo Marine Park is between November and March. Based on a series on turtle population modelling calculations, the total female turtle population in the Ningaloo Marine Park (including Muiron Islands) was estimated to be up to 58,000 individuals. The predominant species of turtle nesting in the region are green turtles (< 35,000 female turtles), loggerhead turtles (< 20,000 female turtles) and hawksbill turtles (< 3,000 female turtles). These estimates for green turtles suggest that the Ningaloo nesting population makes up about a third of the North West Shelf Management Unit and the loggerhead turtle population was estimated to be one of the largest rookeries in Western Australia. However, hawksbill turtles nest occasionally on the Northwest Cape. This study also showed that green turtles predominantly nest in the northern parts of the Ningaloo coast, including the Jurabi Coastal Park where turtle watching occurs, whereas loggerhead turtles are more likely to be found in the southern areas. There are often large fluctuations in the annual nesting activity of turtles, particularly green turtles, primarily due to the inherent variation in their life cycle. This variation in nesting activity can have implications for the development and operations of turtle tourism.
      The third study identified key management areas for turtle tourism by comparing the spatial distribution of tourists and turtle tracks in the Ningaloo Marine Park. Management areas were then examined closely at a local-level. On-site studies included a visitor questionnaire to understand tourist characteristics, an on-ground track count survey to monitor turtle nesting activity and a tourist-turtle interaction behaviour study to quantify disturbances associated with tourist-turtle interactions. The visitor questionnaire showed that the majority of independent turtle watchers were novice international tourists with little experience or knowledge of interacting with turtles.
      The fourth study, which investigated the interactions between visitors and turtles, showed that a third of encounters resulted in a disturbance. These results are considerably higher than disturbances recorded at other locations where turtle tourism occurs. The interaction study showed that almost all disturbances stemmed from non-compliant behaviour of turtle watchers, particularly torch-use and closeness to turtles. These results indicate that despite visitors’ knowledge of the code of conduct, two thirds of groups continue to breach the code, emphasising the need for developing guided tours and better interpretation for turtle tourism. The development of the Jurabi Turtle Centre, which was built after the data in this thesis was collected, has provided, not only a focal point for turtle tourism in the Ningaloo region, but a facility for guiding and educating turtle watchers.
      The knowledge gained from these studies was used to develop a planning model (the Wildlife Tourism Optimisation Management Model (WTOMM), which was specifically designed for non-consumptive wildlife orientated recreation. This model was based on the structure of the Tourism Optimisation Management Model (TOMM) and concepts of Adaptive Management. WTOMM provides a framework for avoiding the inherent problems associated with developing and implementing sustainable turtle tourism. This model could also provide the foundation for managing other wildlife tourism situations.

      Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
      Murdoch Affiliation: School of Environmental Science
      Supervisor: Lee, Diane and Newsome, David
      URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/2965
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