Martone et al., Tourism benefits associated with sea otters in coastal BC

Martone, R.G., R. Naidoo, T. Coyle, B. Stelzer and K.M.A. Chan (2020). “Characterizing tourism benefits associated with top-predator conservation in coastal British Columbia.” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 30(6): 1208–1219. url

Facing public concern over costs related to top-predator reintroductions and conservation, ecosystem services such as ecotourism are often used to evoke benefits that outweigh or offset those costs. Quantifying these benefits using rigorous scientific methods can provide confidence to policymakers and other stakeholders that predators can in fact deliver positive outcomes to people living alongside them. The evaluation of these benefits is often anecdotal or qualitative, however, and empirical quantifications are rare. In coastal marine ecosystems, sea otter reintroduction is seen as a conservation success to some but a bane to others. The contribution of sea otters (Enyhdra lutris) to tourism revenue is touted as a crucial ecosystem service benefit to offset the loss of shellfish harvesting and associated revenue, but remains unquantified, weakening the favourable reception of conservation action. The potential economic benefits of sea otters associated with tourism and the extent to which benefits are realized were evaluated based on: (i) choice-experiment surveys of tourists; and (ii) interviews with tourism operators in British Columbia. Sea otters were a strong factor in people’s choices regarding wildlife viewing, and sea otters could have large benefits for local economies. Alongside socio-economic characteristics, tourism experience influences tourists’ preferences. Tourism operators did not perceive sea otters as strongly influencing tourist choice, highlighting the gap that can occur between the perception and the reality of tourist preferences, leading to missed opportunities for the alignment of economic development with conservation actions.