Protected area visitation is an important component of ecotourism, and as such, must be sustainable. However, protected area visitation may degrade natural resources, particularly in areas of concentrated visitor activities like trails and recreation sites. This is an important concern in ecotourism destinations such as Belize and Costa Rica, because they actively promote ecotourism and emphasize the pristine qualities of their natural resources. Research on visitor impacts to protected areas has many potential applications in protected area management, though it has not been widely applied in Central and South America. This study targeted this deficiency through manager interviews and evaluations of alternative impact assessment procedures at eight protected areas in Belize and Costa Rica. Impact assessment procedures included qualitative condition class systems, ratings systems, and measurement-based systems applied to trails and recreation sites. The resulting data characterize manager perceptions of impact problems, document trail and recreation site impacts, and provide examples of inexpensive, efficient and effective rapid impact assessment procedures. Interview subjects reported a variety of impacts affecting trails, recreation sites, wildlife, water, attraction features and other resources. Standardized assessment procedures were developed and applied to record trail and recreation site impacts. Impacts affecting the study areas included trail proliferation, erosion and widening, muddiness on trails, vegetation cover loss, soil and root exposure, and tree damage on recreation sites. The findings also illustrate the types of assessment data yielded by several alternative methods and demonstrate their utility to protected area managers. The need for additional rapid assessment procedures for wildlife, water, attraction feature and other resource impacts was also identified.
Additional publication details
Identifying and assessing ecotourism visitor impacts at selected protected areas in Costa Rica and Belize