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Socio-economic impacts of sanctuary zone changes in Ningaloo Marine Park

Northcote, J. and Macbeth, J. (2008) Socio-economic impacts of sanctuary zone changes in Ningaloo Marine Park. CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Gold Coast, Queensland.

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In mid-2005 the project team was commissioned with the task of gathering baseline data to assess potential socio-economic impacts from the expansion of sanctuary zones in Ningaloo Marine Park on visitors and residents in the Northern Gascoyne and to make a preliminary assessment of any short-term impacts.

Sanctuary zones are areas where commercial and recreational fishing are not permitted. With offshore recreational fishing (referred to as ‘boat fishing’ in this report) and, to a lesser extent, extractive-based diving, being popular activities undertaken by residents and also visitors to the Northern Gascoyne region of Western Australia, it was the task of the project team to gather baseline data on human usage of the Marine Park against which later studies might be assessed. The sanctuary zones were gazetted at the end of November 2004, with legislation enforcing restrictions on recreational fishing within the zones introduced in September 2005. It emerged during the course of the study that at least some visitors were under the false impression that sanctuary zone restrictions were already in force in December 2004. This obviously places a question mark over the degree to which ‘baseline’ data collected prior to September 2005 could be considered a pristine, pre-change measure of human usage, with sanctuary zone extension impacts perhaps already commencing before the beginning of the project period. For this reason, the project team incorporated various retrospective data-gathering methods to determine a baseline measure.

During the course of the project, it was also realised that data sources were relatively poor for the Ningaloo region, and that a significant part of the problem seemed to be a lack of awareness and commitment to robust social and economic monitoring by key agencies. Therefore, an additional objective, devised later in the project, was to propose a set of recommendations for policy makers in order to prioritise the need for robust social and economic monitoring beyond (and complementary to) external research initiatives such as the CSIRO Ningaloo Cluster Project which is now underway.

The report seeks to cater to two types of readers—those who are interested in the particular changes that resulted from the sanctuary zone changes to the Ningaloo Marine Park, and those that are interested in the challenges of tourism monitoring and socio-economic impact assessments in protected areas and regional destinations more generally. A key principle put forward in the report is that to understand the effects of any one factor on visitation in a region (in this case, sanctuary zone changes), the effects of all other relevant variables affecting visitation to the region also need to be comprehensively understood, if only for the purpose of ruling out confounding factors. Like most regional tourism destinations in Australia, a range of theories (one might call them ‘myths’) circulate regarding the key factors underlying visitation patterns in the Northern Gascoyne, and it was perhaps coincidental that radical shifts were occurring with some of these factors, such as rising fuel prices and changes in the international and domestic tourism markets, at the same time as the new Ningaloo Marine Park Management Plan came into effect. Disentangling the potential impacts from these different factors was an important task for the project team. Consequently, within the limitations of the available data sets, the report offers a cursory understanding of tourism patterns in the Northern Gascoyne that will be of use to various stakeholders interested in matters above and beyond sanctuary zones and impact assessments.

Item Type: Report
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: CRC for Sustainable Tourism
Copyright: © CRC for Sustainable Tourism Pty Ltd 2008
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