Issue date: 08 January 2003

Marine ecotourism is being heralded as an important new strategy for the sustainable regeneration of coastal communities in the EU Atlantic Area. A group of researchers from the University of the West of England, Bristol, have examined the potential for marine ecotourism during a three-year study, culminating in a report entitled ‘Planning for Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area: Transnational Policy Lessons’.

Many coastal areas of the North Atlantic have either been spoiled by insensitive development, resulting in ruination of a previously attractive tourist destination, or impoverished due a decline in the economic fortunes of traditional industries such as ‘bucket and spade’ tourism and commercial sea fishing. Marine ecotourism, which is defined as tourism that is based on enabling people to experience the natural marine and coastal environments in ways that are consistent with the principles of sustainable development, was found to possess a number of features that make it particularly suitable as a regeneration strategy.

The research, funded by the EU Interreg IIc Atlantic Area programme and the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (now the Office of Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM)), identifies a need for the integration of planning across national and local boundaries. It also provides planning guidance and toolkits for local action, as well as a blueprint for the responsible marketing of marine ecotourism. Earlier reports are available on the Internet at

David Bruce from the Bristol Business School said, “This has been an interesting inter-faculty project, drawing on tourism expertise in business, transport, economics and the environment. Our research points to a need to provide national and local authorities with a set of guidelines for consideration at the outset of any plans. At the heart of marine ecotourism is the need to bring about recognition that care of the attraction, whether it be whale watching, coastal walking, boat trips or scuba diving, must be the top priority. It is also crucial that development is started at a local level and that local people are full participants in any plans if the ecotourism plans are to be sustainable.”

“The guidelines we have drawn up point to a need for international co-operation, especially where a natural attraction straddles national or local boundaries. After all, whales know no boundaries and shipping rights need to be negotiated for whales watching trips. Also, a recognisable branding for the marketing of ecotourism attractions will enable easy recognition of a tourism development that has true ecotourism credentials.”

Dr Julie Wilson, researcher from UWE’s Faculty of the Built Environment points out that education is also a very important part of the ecotourism ethos. “It is vital that people visiting ecotourism areas are shown how tourism impacts on the environment of the area they are visiting. The fragility of some coastal regions needs to be highlighted. This educational element can also be an enriching part of the experience, as it enhances understanding of the area visited,”

Other considerations pointed out in the report include transport and the impact of travelling to sometimes-remote areas and how the transport infrastructure might cope with an increase in visitor numbers.

Dr Brian Garrod, of UWE’s School of Economics, concludes. “The report does include some strict requirements but it is apparent that conducting ecotourism according to the principles of sustainable development, so that the natural attractions people come to see are protected for the long term, is crucial if some communities in the region are to survive and thrive.”


Editor’s notes

A copy of the report ‘Planning for Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area: Transnational Policy’ can be obtained by contacting the UWE Press Office – contact details above – and also at

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