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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 26-43

Tourists and turtles: Searching for a balance in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

1 University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada
2 Caribbean Conservation Corporation, San Pedro, Costa Rica

Correspondence Address:
Zoe A Meletis
University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.62678

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Tourism is seen as an important part of the turtle conservation 'toolbox' that can be used to (1) raise awareness about sea turtles, (2) provide funding for conservation and management, and (3) create 'alternative livelihoods' and revenues for communities who engage(d) in direct consumption or sale of sea turtle products. With some exceptions, however, few studies of sea turtle tourism dedicate adequate attention to the wants, needs, and perceptions of tourists (exceptions include Wilson & Tisdell 2001; Smith 2002; Gray 2003; Meletis 2007; Ballantyne et al. 2009). In this paper, we focus on tourist perceptions of turtle tours in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, home to Tortuguero National Park (TNP; est. 1975) and among the oldest turtle tour systems in the world. In 2004, the tour system was changed to mitigate potential negative impacts of tourist activity on nesting turtles. Whereas tourists and their guides once walked the beach 'looking' for nesting turtles, they now wait behind the beach and are radioed by TNP-affiliated 'turtle spotters' when turtles are 'ready' to be viewed. Impact mitigation was the primary motivation for this alteration to the tour system; resulting changes in the nature of the tour were not central considerations. Are the tourists enjoying the new tour format? Do they like/dislike the more passive waiting? Do the tourists know about, and understand the new tour system? In this paper, we address questions such as these, using a sample of 147 tourist surveys collected in 2008. We designed our survey to (1) add to the existing data on tourism in Tortuguero, (2) collect data on tourist perceptions of the (new) tour system, and (3) gauge tourist awareness of the Turtle Spotter Program (TSP) and the reasons for the new turtle tour system. The main purpose of this study was to collect data requested by interested stakeholders, and to consider the results with respect to implications for the future of turtle tour management in the area.

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