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Connecting visitors to the environment: a study of travel networks in the Ningaloo Marine Park, north-western Australia

Smallwood, C.B., Beckley, L.E. and Moore, S.A. (2009) Connecting visitors to the environment: a study of travel networks in the Ningaloo Marine Park, north-western Australia. In: AMSA2009 46th Annual Conference for the Australian Marine Sciences Conference, 5 - 9 July, Adelaide, Australia.


Understanding how visitors to marine protected areas connect with, and use, the natural environment is critical to their successful management. Visitors are attracted to particular natural resources (i.e. sheltered beaches, spectacular coral viewing and fishing opportunities) and access them via nodes of coastal infrastructure and travel networks. Defining the travel networks of visitors is one objective of a project mapping human use in the Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP). The NMP encompasses a diverse fringing coral reef system extending ~ 300 km along the coast of north-western Australia. Over 12-months, face-to-face interviews were conducted with > 1 200 recreational participants to collect information about their movements to, and within, the NMP. All data were geo-referenced and entered into a Geographic Information System. Three types of networks were defined: (1) travel from accommodation to (or within) the NMP for shore and boat-based recreation, (2) travel from beach access points for shore recreation and (3) travel from a launch site for boat-based recreation. For shore-based recreation, visitors travelled a median of 6.8 km from accommodation but only walked 0.1 km from their beach access point. In contrast, for boat-based recreation, interviewees travelled a median of 1.8 km to their launch site but motored 4.6 km to their recreation site. The results highlight strong clustering at coastal access points with rapid distance decay. There are several implications for planning and management of the NMP which are derived from the disjunct, node-focused nature of visitor use. For example, any provision of coastal access will have dramatic effects in terms of concentrating visitor use in that locale which can lead to overcrowding and habitat degradation. This is especially pertinent for sanctuary zones. A clear understanding of both marine and terrestrial travel networks can thus allow managers to focus their attention and resources in appropriate areas.

Item Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Conference Website:
Notes: Oral presentation
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