Issue date: 28 September 2001

Visiting the ‘blue planet’ as shown on the latest BBC series, narrated and presented by David Attenborough, is not without problems say a team of researchers at the University of the West of England. Their research demonstrates that marine tourism sometimes threatens the very resource on which it is based if it is not carefully planned and managed.

Environmental protection, local participation and education are at the heart of successful marine ecotourism according to findings by the team of researchers from the Faculty of the Built Environment and Faculty of Economics and Social Science and Bristol Business School. An important outcome of this two-year research project is the publication of planning guidelines in the form of six toolkits for local initiators and policymakers to help marine ecotourism to develop in a genuinely sustainable way.

Marine ecotourism enables people to experience the natural environment in marine and coastal regions where they will receive a satisfying experience and pay for this but also respect the environment where these activities take place and on which they depend. Examples of activities might include watching whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and other marine animals, seabird ornithology, diving and snorkelling, nature –based sightseeing trips by surface boat or submarine, rock-pooling, coastal footpath and beach walking and visiting seashore and sea life centres.

The Marine Ecotourism for the Atlantic Area (META-) team at UWE worked with three partner areas where marine ecotourism was being considered as a means of regeneration. The project partners in this research were Torbay Council, the Marine Institute, Dublin (looking at the Clare region) and Escuela de Negocios MBA in Gran Canaria, Spain.

Research in the three areas involved surveys of tourists and an analysis of the marine resources with potential to support ecotourism. The project also investigated the impact of increased traffic to new attractions, including the global impact of flying off to reach remote areas, and at ways of managing potential environmental damage. The research was funded by the EU Interreg IIc Atlantic Area Programme, whose objective is to promote transnational co-operation in the sustainable development of the EU’s Atlantic Periphery.

The idea of regenerating coastal areas by introducing mass tourism or ordinary tourism is not new. The META- project set out to investigate how marine ecotourism could bring about regeneration to areas in a sustainable way by protecting marine environments and creating economic benefits for the local communities.

Julie Wilson, the META- Project Manager, said, “Programmes like the BBC’s spectacular ‘Blue Planet’ are bound to increase the numbers of people wishing to watch marine wildlife in its natural habitat. META- can advise on how to minimise the negative impact of increased visitor numbers through careful planning, management and marketing.”

David Bruce, Principle Lecturer from the Bristol Business School said, “Many areas suited to marine ecotourism development are vulnerable and so run a high risk of becoming spoiled if the impact of tourism is not planned for. Unsustainable mass tourism has damaged parts of Gran Canaria – where beautiful natural scenery has been threatened by tourism development. This will continue unless tourism development is better planned and managed and marine ecotourism represents a way of achieving this.

Meta-’s Irish partner project in West Clare has created a marketing group – Irrus’, which seeks to responsibly market the Bottlenose Dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, as well as the local scenery and cultural heritage. The Irrus site address is A separate publication from the META- team gives advice on the responsible marketing of marine ecotourism.

The META- project is publishing a series of toolkits in October 2001, designed to help local planners and policy makers. The toolkits focus on community based planning, education and interpretation, voluntary codes, audit and review, and transport and economic impact awareness. Dr Brian Garrod, Senior Lecturer in UWE’s Faculty of Economics and Social Science, said, “We needed to define a series of principles for genuinely sustainable marine ecotourism before we could set about developing the toolkits. Many destinations have been known to market themselves as ‘ecotourism’ when they may not meet even the basic principles of environmental protection and local community benefits.”


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