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Kate LeMasters

This brief article highlighted one of my areas of interest: ecotourism. I have been working on a project with Professor Kahn and WLSC involving ecotourism in rural Brazil, so seeing it enacted in a marine environment is an interesting twist to what I have previously studied. The article lays out the current lack of knowledge of whale sharks and the difficulties in creating ecotourism around this industry. Due to migratory factors, a lack of surety in seeing whale sharks, and the lack of public awareness, the immediate idea of ecotourism seems bleak. However, through time, the researchers conducted surveys and found that tourists were usually willing to pay at least $55 to swim with whale sharks. Because this article was written in 2007, I wonder if a lessening of the information gap is the reason that whale shark trips now average at about $110. The gap in information was an issue that the researchers originally identified, but we have seen in Belize that people are willing to pay double what the researchers claim to be maximum WTP. I wonder if this is causal.
They state that buy-in to ecotourism for whale sharks has continually increased, indicating that ecotourism is becoming more population, and local communities are increasingly more willing to participate in these programs. Because one of the articles for class today emphasized the need to retrain locals to conserve marine environments, this is a promising finding. Ecotourism is undoubtedly an ideal method for retraining subsistence fishers, as it allows the local economy to grow while promoting tourism and increasing conservation of the environment. However, I would wonder what other activities are available. The article pointed out that diving and snorkeling are common, but for a full Ecotourism industry to operate, there needs to be an itinerary of activities. I do not doubt that there are many options for recreation, as Belize has plenty, but in each location where this is implemented, we must keep in mind that whale shark sighting alone cannot make up an ecotourism trip. Although this in itself could be, decreasing marginal returns indicate that tourists decrease their willingness to pay after each successive trip of whale shark sightings, so we must incorporate other sustainable activities into this industry.

Bailey Ewing

Before we conduct our research it is necessary to determine whether or not whale sharks are worth preserving. And then from there, how should we go about doing this. I learned a lot form the way that this article approached many different sides of Whale Shark demand and how that can be provided for, relative to potential income.

I found the idea to keep the community and tourists informed about conservation needs and the benefits and revenue that whale sharks will bring to local economies, to be a very effective way to promote conservation. If wanting to keep this out of the control of the government, the method with the most potential is to give the community an invested interest. I agree with Kate that it is possible that the average price of a whale shark excursion has drastically increased over the past 6 years due to a better informed community. This is an amazing species which fascinates excites and deserves respect from those who are well-informed. By informing many we will see demand rise and, in turn, greater success in the market for whale-sharks.

One thing that struck me that I cannot seem to understand is the fact that in Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia, Davis and Tisdell found that people will pay anywhere between $30 to $900 to swim with whale sharks. First, I wonder why this is such a large range and also what makes someone willing to spend $900 and how often that willingness might occur.

Corinne Hemmersbach

Seychelles: A Case Study of Community Involvement in the Development of Whale Shark Ecotourism and its Socio-economic Impact
Today in class we discussed tragedy of the commons and the idea of “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon.” I thought this article was a great example of how the support of a community can make implementing policy more effective. Keeping the community aware of the costs and benefits of the project is a great way to promote awareness and ultimately create a sustainable ecotourism activity. The article states that there were several ways the general public was involved in the project. From its outset, the project encouraged the participation of the public in monitoring activities. Advertisements were placed in the national newspaper to encourage public participation at the workshop. Not only did the project engage the community in the conservation work, but it also provided a source of income to the local community – alluding to both ecological and social success. Keeping the local communities aware of the process will be important in the future if new training programs are to be put in place. As Kate points out, ecotourism may be a promising method for retraining subsistence fishers. As mentioned in class, training programs will be key to the success of conserving the ecosystem and keeping the people happy.
While there has been a lot of success for the development of whale shark ecotourism in Seychelles, there still remains the large cost factor of finding the sharks. I would be interested to see the progress Seychelles has made since 2005.

Holley Beasley

Like Bailey, I also was struck by the large range of willingness to pay to swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park. I wonder if the people who are willing to pay $30 simply do not value an experience with whale sharks to a great extent, or if there is some other factor working into the equation. A swim with whale sharks is more of a luxury market item, and so it could be that people with lower incomes have a lower willingness to pay not because they value the whale shark less but because they are not capable of paying a high price on something that is not a daily necessity. Similarly, the person who is willing to pay $900 could just be extremely wealthy and so they would be willing to spend that much money on any kind of outdoor experience. While sufficient data probably helps to correct for this difference in income, I still wonder if stated preference surveys account for differences in lifestyle and income. Just because someone is not capable of paying anything to swim with a whale shark, it does not mean that their economic value is zero. Components like this might help to explain the wide range that appears in the willingness to pay in Ningaloo.

Bess Ruff

Whale-shark Ecotourism

I think Holley is spot on in considering how income would impact an individual's willingness to pay and create such a large discrepancy between the lower and upper bounds of the survey. The Australia example supports the inclusion of the question about income on our surveys. Additionally, this paper points to a sense of ownership among the community as being a driving factor for ecotourism. When I asked the question about ownership in class today, I was wondering whether the emotional associations to a public good are a double-edged sword. Some people might feel greater emotions towards a public good because they feel that everyone should get a chance to enjoy it; or some people will look at the resource as something that doesn't belong to them and therefore they don't see its removal as directly detrimental to them. The approaches taken by the MCSS initiative show that even though a resource is a public good, a sense of ownership can still be established among community members. This sense of responsibility can provide invaluable resources in terms of gathering data, promoting ecotourism, training local workers, etc.

Joe Moravec

I do agree that income may be a key variable in understanding the large range in WTP. However, like Kate mentioned, there are decreasing marginal returns. While I may be willing to pay $900 to see whale sharks today, I may only be then willing to pay $100 tomorrow, and after seeing them two or three days, not willing to pay very much at all. The stated range seems inconclusive without correcting for other variables. This is exactly why we discussed changing our survey to include the "last time you saw a whale shark?" question. We need to know where on the margin each person is willing to stop paying to see another whale shark.

I am interested in how the program/policy was actually created, and I hope that while in Belize we are able to see the practical side of our research. From the outset, the local community seems to buy into (with a little education about sharks) the idea that sustainable development of an eco-tourism industry is the best option. The Seychelles seems to have gotten it right on this one, as the sharks are protected and not over-exploited, the community retains the benefits, the local dive centers gained income, and my guess is this all created additional jobs in the long run to replace any losses for fishermen. As Casey said in class today, Belize seems to be one of the best places to find the government and people committed to conservation on a national level. This can only be maintained through community involvement similar to the program in Seychelles.

Shannon Marwitz

Like Joe, I was really interested in how the program was designed. When thinking about getting a community to buy into a policy, it was always my intuition that you would conduct the research and then present your findings to the stakeholders, but in this case, the community members were included in the research process. This way of going about it makes a lot of sense. Not only do you have more people involved allowing for more data collection, but I think people would be much more willing to follow policy recommendations. In general, people are more willing to do something if they figure it out on their own than if they are just told to do it by someone else. I also noted that just like other articles we read which have used previous surveys as a template, Seychelles adopted a modified version of Western Australia's encounter policy. This highlights the importance of cooperation and the need for literature to be easily accessible.

Emily Shu

I thought the article provided a nice balance to the other piece we read for class since it showed the possibility for national public involvement as a positive influence on government policy making. I really connected with the idea of “community buy-in” because as we discussed in class, it is the only way to successfully implement nation-wide conservation efforts and research. By creating a newsletter and allowing citizens to contribute to its efforts, as Joe and Shannon referenced, it encourages community involvement and a personal stake in the cause. Furthermore, I thought it was extremely significant that MCSS research teams would use boats chartered by local operators or dive centers, providing another source of income that benefitted the community as a whole. This speaks to what we discussed in class yesterday – of finding alternative sources of employment or income for locals. If fishermen could be trained to be a part of conservation efforts, the restrictions on fishing would seem less dire.
It is important to address that the locals are not the only ones helping MCSS with their monitoring program. I thought it was extremely smart that paying participants were encouraged to help monitor and document whale shark sightings. We have consistently discussed how educating someone helps them to become more aware and invested in marine ecosystems. I would be curious to see if these participants would have a higher WTP in a conservation fund after their experiences with aiding MCSS’s efforts,

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