Evidence of negative impacts of ecological tourism on turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) beds in a marine protected area of the Mexican Caribbean

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Journal Article
Aquatic Ecology, 2010, 44 (1), pp. 23 - 31
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Many marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in recent years. Some MPAs are open to tourists to foster environmental education and generate revenue for the MPA. This has been coined "ecological tourism". Here, we examine the impact of ecological tourism on turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) health in one area of the "Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc" MPA in the Mexican Caribbean. A heavily visited location was compared with an unvisited location. Turtlegrass leaves at the visited location were sparser, shorter, grew more slowly, and had more epiphytes than at the unvisited location. Vertical and horizontal rhizomes of turtlegrass also grew more slowly at the visited than at the unvisited location. There is reasonable evidence to suggest that the observed differences are likely due to the deleterious impacts of novice and careless snorkelers. If continuing, these impacts could cause severe degradation of the visited areas in this MPA and, thus, changes in management policies seem in order. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009.
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