Tourism, Reef Health, and Visitor Enjoyment in Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya
Reef-based tourism is known to put environmental pressure on reefs, but how does this interact with the ecological and economical sustainability of Marine Protected Areas? Previous research suggest that if reef conditions decline then the tourism to the reef will also suffer, but is this always the case? This study investigated the interaction between tourism impact, reef condition and customer satisfaction in Watamu Marine National Park, Kenya. A wide range of data was collected including benthic ecological variables, visitor counts, visitor behaviour while visiting the reef and questionnaires to assess enjoyment. It was found that tourism to the reef was causing observable damage and changing the ecological character of the visited site, which potentially compromises the ecological sustainability of the park. Despite this observation, most tourists did not notice these changes and/or were happy with their experience and hence the economic sustainability of the park appears confident. However, the future trajectory of reef condition and tourism to the reef are complex and difficult to predict, which could lead to trade-off between conservation goals and income generating goals. A potential solution is presented where the synergy between both goals is maintained.
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