Ecotourism Experiences Promoting Conservation and Changing Economic Values: The Case of Mon Repos Turtles
Each year during the turtle watching season, Mon Repos turtle rookery in Queensland attracts many ecotourists interested in seeing sea turtles nesting or hatching. As part of their visit, visitors are able to learn about the biology of and threats to marine turtles. A sample of visitors were surveyed in order to determine whether their experiences at Mon Repos changed their conservation attitudes and their intended behaviours for protecting sea turtles. Using these results, the role of environmental education in changing their attitudes and intended behaviours is analysed and is found to be an important influence. Nevertheless, it is argued that other factors (such as emotional effects) are also important (sometimes the most important ones) in altering conservation behaviours and attitudes. This is less well recognised in the economics and ecotourism literature than it should be. The results from the survey summarised here are based on statements from respondents obtained soon after their ecotouristic experience at Mon Repos. There is therefore, likely to be a gap between the intended behaviours stated by respondents and their realised behaviours. Various types of hypothetical bias may be present, and a drop-off or decay effect is also likely to occur which also involves a bias. This effect creates difficulties for the application of contingent valuation methodology as well as from other forms of stated preferences elicitation of economic values. Simple mathematical models can be used to predict how individuals are likely to change their conservation behaviours as their information about the characteristics of environmental goods (in this case wildlife species) is altered. However, allowing for the conservation consequences of emotional experiences seems to be more challenging. In concluding, it is also pointed out that the conservation consequences of ecotourism do not depend solely on its generation of favourable behaviours among ecotourists. Furthermore, for reasons identified, ecotourism has serious limitations as a means for conserving wild biodiversity and needs to be supplemented by other means.
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