Visitor Impact Management At Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize
MPAs in Belize are known for their role in supporting sustainable livelihoods and socioeconomic development of local communities through tourism. However, an increase in tourist visitation to marine recreation sites in Belize has grown to an extent where there are serious concerns about the negative impacts of the marine recreation sector on coral reefs. One such site is Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP), which is the most popular site that local tour operators in Placencia use for snorkelling. Snorkel surveys were conducted at LBCNP to identify impacts in the form of inappropriate snorkelling activities. The impacts were classified as intentional, which included activities such as touching marine organisms, and standing on corals while unintentional impacts included fin brushing and stirring sediments. Visitors, park rangers, managers and tour guides were surveyed to provide evaluation data on the likely effectiveness of current visitor management strategies in reducing the above-mentioned impacts at LBCNP. The results indicate that management strategies implemented by the Southern Environmental Association (SEA) have varying degrees of effectiveness in reducing visitor impacts. However, a significant improvement in interpretive and educational information at LBCNP may help to change visitor behaviour and reduce impacts. Environmental briefings given by tour guides have shown to include a good indication of park rules, but to a lesser extent, those activities classified as reef etiquette. The findings also indicate that tour guides vary in their administration skills, which is an important factor in minimizing visitor impacts. This further suggeststhat tour guides need to improve in areas such as correcting intentional and unintentional behaviour displayed by visitors. Consequently, this study identifies the importance of tourism as a key management issue for MPAs in Belize and the visitor impact management strategies and tools that are available.
Area of Interest: Belize