November 15, 2016
Study aims to answer question of how much tourism is too much
By LORI WYNN
Coastal Review Online
data could be plugged into a computer to show exactly how much human
presence and interaction the delicate ecology of a popular coastal area
could handle before being severely affected.
Would it help with managing national seashores or state parks along the coast?
According to Pat Kenney, superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore, yes.
“One of the things – and I’ve been in this business for a long time –
that we’re always trying to figure out is: Where is that line, or that
sweet spot so to say, that the resources can be preserved for future
generations while allowing this level of public use?” Kenney said.
“That is very difficult to determine, but any sort of tools that help us with that would be useful.”
New research out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill seeks
to do just that – help find the “sweet spot” in sustaining ecotourism.
The research is taking place at the school’s Center for Galapagos
Studies in the Galapagos Islands, where tourism is booming and the
residential population is growing as people flock to the island for
higher wages in the ecotourism economy.
The islands are a province of Ecuador more than 600 miles from the
mainland. Officials in Ecuador were looking for scenarios of change
reflecting the number of tourists and residents the islands could
accommodate before they start to lose their luster, according to a
press release about the study.
Ecuadorian government and the Galapagos National Park are asking the
exact right questions,” said Dr. Stephen Walsh, geography professor at
UNC-CH and director of the Center for Galapagos Studies. “No one wants
a boom-and-bust situation. We want wise, managed growth within the
concept of sustainability.”
And while the research is focused on the Galapagos, it can be applied to other locations, Walsh said.
“(Models) could be developed to examine the conflicts between resource
conservation and economic development and the impact of tourism, nearby
residents, transportation and visitation on the ecological
sustainability of special places in North Carolina,” he said.
Such research could be helpful in managing places like the national seashores along the state’s coast.
“Yes, this is the type of information we would find useful,” Kenney
with Cape Lookout National Seashore said. “The National Park Service
has a preservation mandate first and foremost, and obviously our
mission also calls for the use of public enjoyment.
“However, that being said, our main mandate is the preservation of
these places for future generations. So any sort of information that
would look at managing human use relative to preservation would be
Kenney noted there are challenges in managing land for public use.
“There’s the political challenges of putting limitations on public use
– it’s always a challenge because parks become economic engines for
local communities,” he said. “People want to be able to access their
parks. So, having good information that can show correlations between
too much use resulting in degradation of resources would be important.
Having good science to support decisions is really important.”
Dave Hallac, Outer Banks Group superintendent, agreed.
“I would anticipate that that type of science is, yes, something that
the park service is very interested in,” he said. “But it’s also
something we have been studying and working on I think for many, many
Hallac, who oversees Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers
National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, explained
that the park service does a lot of research on parks’ carrying
capacity, which takes into account things like the visitor experience,
the effects on natural and cultural resources and what it takes to manage the park and the flow of visitors.
He used the beach driving regulations for Cape Hatteras National Seashore as an example.
“We actually built a carrying capacity element into our Off Road
Vehicle Managament Plan … it’s called vehicle carrying capacity and
it’s the maximum number of vehicles allowed on a route at one time
(equal to) the length of the route divided by 20 feet,” Hallac said.
“Now whether or not that’s the right statistic – maybe it should be 30
feet or 50 feet or 10 feet – those are the types of things we seek more
information on, where we have an incredible opportunity to collect more
Hallac said the park service has traditionally done a good job of
collecting data on natural and cultural resources but could use more
information about visitors.
“We have a lot of information about the productivity of shorebirds and
sea turtles, but we don’t have a lot of information – we don’t collect
as much data – on the visitors that come to the park and what their
preferences are and what their attitudes and perceptions of the types
of experiences that they desire,” Hallac said. “So I think we seek to
gain a lot more of that information.”
The research from Walsh’s study could also be a tool for how natural
areas are promoted, said Carol Lohr, executive director of the Carteret
County Tourism Development Authority.
“The Cape Lookout National Seashore and the horses on Shackleford Banks
are … probably the top areas of interest that people – once they’re
here – come to see,” Lohr said, noting that protecting the area’s
natural resources is important so that visitors have such areas to
“I think we are so blessed to have not only the Cape Lookout National
Seashore that includes Shackleford Banks and Portsmouth Island, but
also the Croatan National Forest, along with Fort Macon State Park, the
Rachel Carson Reserve – all that have been basically set aside for
recreational use,” Lohr said. “And I think all the administrative
branches of all of these areas are looking closely at visitation and
Walsh’s research could be another tool for local government and land management agencies, she said.
“It appears to be a great resource that we could take a look at and
plug our local data in, but the key would be making sure we have
accurate local data” on visitation, Lohr said.
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)