Protected coastal areas and nature-based tourism

While protected areas are of great significance in the preservation of heritage and biodiversity in Australia, there are general concerns about the management of parks, especially at the terrestrial coast. Many areas have been secured within the protected areas system, and in some jurisdictions this is actively expanding, but in all jurisdictions the budget for management has been frozen for some while. It appears likely that government revenue for protected area management is not likely to show a substanlial increase in the future. At the same time, pressure from tourism has been growing. Numbers of visitors, especially in coastal areas, have been increasing, with consequent impacts in parks. Also, expectations of management and for facilities have grown: for trails and interpretation, better roads and car parking, and better camping facilities. Nor do all visitors wish to camp, many look for accommodation to be available.

This situation has led to a deal of discussion over the role of the nature- based tourism industry in the management of protected areas. Many protected areas are the industry's core resource, while the parks lack the funds to provide adequate management. There have been a number of examples in the last decade of attempts to negotiate in-park or near-park facilities, which have had varied success. The Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island provides a case study of a situation where developers have gone to considerable lengths to minimise the impact of the resort on the environment.

Box 4.15 Case study: Kingfisher Bay Resort

Kingfisher Bay Resort was opened on a 65 ha. freehold site on the western coast of Fraser Island in 1992. The resort is an enclave of freehold land on a large, forested, subtropical sandmass island which is largely reserved within the Queensland protected area system, hi addition, Fraser Island is inscribed on the World Fleritage List. The resort has accommodation for approximately 400 visitors, but unlike many resorts, which focus on their own facilities and activities, Kingfisher Bay centres its activities on its unique location. Visitors travel primarily to experience the environment of Fraser Island, not simply to stay at a resort by the sea.

The general location and the site of the resort have meant that a great deal of design work and site-specific planning has been necessary to achieve a credible nature-based tourism resort. Power, wastes, use of materials, and the impact on plants and animals, including weed and plant disease concerns, have been addressed in seeking to minimise impact. The cost, up to the opening of the resort, was approximately $90 million. The purpose of the development has meant that some common resort activities, such as jet-skiing, have not been provided. Ongoing training for staff and interpretation for visitors is heavily emphasised. Current advertising for the resort lists interpretive walks, ranger-guided canoe and 4WD bus tours, whale-watching trips and fishing as major activities. It is clear that the protected area of Fraser Island is the core resource for this development. The developer has listed the following monitoring programs set up to test the impact of tire resort on the sustainability of the area (Charters 1996):

* seabed biota near the discharge point of the Enviroflow sewage treatment system (at the centre of the channel between the island and the mainland)

* bat, bird, frog, and small mammal numbers near the resort

* weed numbers, compaction and drainage near adjacent trails and roads.

Kingfisher Bay illustrates that sensitive resort development can take place immediately adjacent to a fragile reserve. Given the demand to visit Fraser Island, it is clear that, for one segment of die market, Kingfisher Bay Resort provides a low-impact means of visitation. It also contributes to raising awareness of the special character and value of this piece of the Australian coast. This is not to argue that conservation is not a government responsibility, but to provide an example of one way in which profitable nature-based tourism and protected areas can be sustainably juxtaposed.

Figgis (1999) has argued that the trend to accommodate nature-based tourism and revenue-earning industries through multiple-use approaches is a dangerous one, leading to a series of compromises that threaten biodiversity in key areas. Rather, the effort should be to extend the conservation of biodiversity outside parks, into privately owned areas, while retaining key areas in the reserve system for their one main purpose. It is interesting that this argument is developed in different terms for marine protected areas, where the tradition is the zoning of reserves for multiple uses. Core areas become 'no-take', limited access areas; zoning and management are subjected, properly, to monitoring and review, leading to a more flexible approach. The debate is thus ongoing on the definition of MPAs, their zoning, and the identification of significant core areas. Such an approach is potentially more sustainable, being an adaptive management model rather than a static wilderness model.

The key question remains as to the focus on the purpose of the protected area: these areas have been protected in order to preserve their biota and heritage values. Where governments fail to manage them adequately, they are inevitably degraded in a variety of ways. At Australia's coastline there is great and increasing pressure to exploit the commercial potential of protected areas. Nature-based tourism clearly has many key contributions to protected area management, ranging from private sanctuaries, to improving reserves' cash flow, to providing interpretation. However, all causes are lost if the core resource is degraded through failure to maintain focus on the purpose of reservation.

 
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