August 30, 2008
Education and Conservation Benefits of Marine Wildlife Tours: Developing Free-Choice Learning Experiences
By Zeppel, Heather
ABSTRACT: Marine wildlife tours can provide a range of education and conservation benefits for visitors, including emotional (i.e., affective) responses and learning (i.e., cognition). Interpretive programs cover the biology, ecology, and behavior of marine species; best practice guidelines; and human threats to marine areas. The author reviews the education and conservation benefits of 18 marine wildlife experiences with dolphins, whales, and marine turtles by using (a) M. Orams's (1999) framework of indicators such as behavior or lifestyle changes in visitors and (b) 3 environmental indicators of conservation. Results of this meta-analysis showed that visitor learning and emotional empathy during mediated encounters with marine wildlife contributed to on-site behavior changes and some longer term intentions to engage in marine conservation actions. The author presents an experience-learning-action model to guide research and develop free-choice visitor learning. KEYWORDS: conservation actions, environmental behavior, free-choice learning, marine wildlife tours
Marine Wildlife Tours
Marine wildlife tourism is "any tourist activity with the primary purpose of watching, studying or enjoying marine wildlife" (Masters, 1998). It includes marine wildlife-watching holidays; boat trips in marine or estuarine areas; guided island or coastal walks; observing marine life from land; visiting marine or coastal nature reserves, visitor centers, and marine aquariums; and participating in study tours or conservation holidays. Marine wildlife includes "flora and fauna that live in the coastal and maritime zone and are dependent on resources from the marine environment" (Masters). Approximately 30,000 known marine species and 10,000 known bird species exist (Wildlife Extra, 2006).
In this article, I focus on mobile free-ranging marine animals, such as marine mammals, sharks, fish, rays, turtles, and seabirds. Marine mammals are a key tourism attraction (Beasley, 1997; Birtles, Valentine, & Curnock, 2001; Duffus & Dearden, 1993; Higham & Lusseau, 2004; Muloin, 1998; Neil, Orams, & Baglioni, 1996; Orams, 2003, 2005; A. Smith, Newsome, Lee, & Stoeckl, 2006; Stokes, Dobbs, & Recchia, 2002; Valentine, Birtles, Curnock, Arnold, & Dunstan, 2004). Popular marine mammals are dolphins (Amante-Helweg, 1996; O'Neill, Barnard, & Lee, 2004; Orams, 1997a, 1997b), whales, and porpoises (cetaceans); dugongs and manatees (Sorice, Shafer, & Ditton, 2006); and seals and sea lions (pinnipeds; Barton, Booth, Ward, Simmons, & Fairweather, 1998; Booth, 1998; Kirkwood et al., 2003; Scarpaci, Nugegoda, & Corkeron, 2005). Tourists are also interested in whale sharks (Birtles, Cuthill, Valentine, & Davis, 1996; Birtles, Valentine, Curnock, Arnold, & Dunstan, 2002; Davis, Banks, Birtles, Valentine, & Cuthill, 1997, 2000) and other shark species (Dobson, 2006); fish and rays (Lewis & Newsome, 2003); sea turtles (Tisdell & Wilson, 2001a, 2001b; Wilson & Tisdell, 2001); and seabirds, especially penguins, albatross, and gannet.
Worldwide, 500,000 divers per year feed, photograph, and swim with sharks (Topelko & Dearden, 2005). Nesting or rookery areas for seabirds and marine turtles (Higham, 1998, 2001; Schanzel & McIntosh, 2000; Tisdell & Wilson, 2002) and haul-out areas for seals and sea lions (Orsini & Newsome, 2005) attract visitors. In Australia in 1999, marine tourists visited more than 70 marine species: humpback, southern right, and dwarf minke whales; dolphins; turtles; sea lions; seals; penguins; fish; reef, grey nurse, great white, and whale sharks; rays and sea dragons; and cuttlefish (Birtles et al., 2001). Orams (2003, p. 237) cited a survey in which 376 marine tourism operators in New Zealand reported that viewing marine wildlife was a key attraction; 44% of the tours focused on marine mammals, and 22% focused specifically on dolphins. Seabirds (42%), fish (30%), penguins (18%), and other marine wildlife (16%) were popular wildlife categories (Pearce & Wilson, 1995).
Interpretive Programs on Marine Wildlife Tours
Environmental interpretive programs are often promoted as a key element of sustainable visitor interactions with wildlife (Foxlee, 2001; Ham & Weiler, 2002; Moscardo, 1998; Moscardo, Woods, & Saltzer, 2004; Orams, 1994, 1995a, 1995b, 1996a, 1996b, 2002; Orams & Hill, 1998; Russell & Hobson, 2002; Schaenzel, 1998; Woods & Moscardo, 2003). Interpretive activities or educational programs in marine areas involve talks by tour guides, interpreters, and rangers on boats or at shorelines as well as visitor-center displays, signs, and brochures. This information covers the biology, ecology, and behavior of marine species; best practice guidelines; and threats to marine life. Visitor benefits from these programs during marine wildlife tourism experiences can include enhanced educational and conservation outcomes (Andersen & Miller, 2006; Finkler & Higham, 2004; Higham, 1998; Hughes & Saunders, 2005; Luck, 2003; Madin & Fenton, 2004; Mayes, Dyer, & Richins, 2004; Muloin, 1998; Orams, 2000; Schanzel & McIntosh, 2000; Tisdell & Wilson, 2005). The personal benefits of viewing and learning about wildlife are the basis for conservation actions (Manfredo & Driver, 2002). On-site benefits of increased understanding or emotional responses to marine wildlife encounters (Schanzel, 2004) may lead to off-site benefits such as greater environmental awareness, support for nature conservation work, and protection of endangered species (Orams, 1997b; Wilson & Tisdell, 2003).
Environmental Learning in Free-Choice Settings
Visitor learning for enjoyment during leisure activities is an important part of the tourism experience (Packer, 2006). Environmental learning in informal or free-choice settings is a growing area of study (Ballantyne & Packer, 2005; Whelan, 2005). The settings for free-choice learning include libraries, museums, aquariums, zoos, botanic gardens, science and visitor centers, and guided recreational activities or nature tours. Storksdieck, Ellenbogen, and Heimlich (2005) identified three learning outcomes from free-choice environmental education or learning initiatives: (a) incidental outcomes (e.g., newfound appreciation, skills, and self-confidence), (b) broader outcomes (e.g., adoption of environmental values), and (c) affirmative outcomes (e.g., identity building).
Through wildlife tourism in natural areas and zoos, visitors gain firsthand experiences and knowledge about wildlife. Previous studies of experiential education in whale-watching ecotours focused on visitor learning (Forestell, 1993; Forestell & Kaufman, 1990). Curtin (2005) highlighted the experiential aspects of wildlife tourism, including visitors' emotional and physical benefits from wildlife interaction. Through these experiences, visitors respond to the innate human desire to interact with and interpret wildlife and the cultural and anthropomorphic appeal of animals. Urban dwelling motivates visitors to seek physical, emotional, and psychological benefits by connecting with nature and wildlife. Brody (2005), in his theory of learning in nature, recognized that the bases of meaningful learning are acting, thinking, and feeling, along with the physical, personal, social, and temporal aspects of direct encounters with nature. Schanzel (2004, p. 354) found that visitors at a marine life center in New Zealand gained psychological benefits such as "positive moods and emotions, environmental sensitivity, sense of place and species, and affective learning" from hands-on involvement with sea animals. The emotional and aesthetic aspects of encountering wildlife play a key role in fostering visitor empathy and affinity for nature (Ballantyne & Packer, 2005). Hence, interpretive programs need to integrate knowledge with the emotional aspects of observing or interacting with wildlife (Howard, 2000; Schanzel, 2004). Previous researchers have mainly evaluated the effects of environmental education or interventions (planned environmental information or training) on students' environmental outcomes. Leeming, Dwyer, Porter, and Cobern (1993) reviewed 34 studies of environmental outcomes published since 1974. In the majority of the studies, researchers investigated changes in environmental knowledge or attitudes; only six studies examined changes in proenvironmental behaviors. Zelezny (1999) completed a meta-analysis of 18 environmental interventions in both classroom and nontraditional settings, such as summer nature camp, and found that improvements in environmental behavior correlated with active involvement and participation; younger students and classroom settings correlated with longer programs. The studies with adult participants involved programs lasting less than 10 hr. Most of the studies relied on reported or inferred behavior (n = 16; 89%). The studies in nontraditional settings involved adult participants in shorter programs with no active involvement. Researchers observed no environmental behavior changes.
Participants in a 5-day outdoor ecology program in the Bavarian Forest National Park had a higher commitment to plan and adopt positive environmental actions compared with students on a 1-day program (Bogner, 1998). Active involvement in ecological restoration fieldwork by university students positively affected proenvironmental attitudes and ecological behavior intentions (Bowler, Kaiser, & Hartig, 1999). Most studies of environmental behavior relate to general conservation or environmental learning programs.
Few researchers have examined environmental knowledge, attitudes, or behavior toward marine species. Barney, Mintzes, and Yen (2005) assessed student responses to bottlenose dolphins in North Carolina, using self-reported behaviors. With the exception of in college students, they reported (a) limited general knowledge of dolphins among utilitarian attitudes and (b) a willingness to engage in harmful or disruptive behaviors caused by lack of environmental awareness, such as touching the animals or getting too close. The researchers suggested delivering messages to discourage people from feeding, petting, or touching dolphins in informal settings such as aquariums and marine ecotourism centers rather than on wildlife tours. In another study, the level of knowledge of sea turtles of primary school students in Greece correlated with positive environmental attitudes in terms of personal understanding, concern, and empathy for turtles on Zakynthos island and with verbal commitment or willingness to act in their benefit (Dimopoulos & Pantis, 2003).
Framework for Managing Marine Wildlife Tourism Experiences
I conducted a meta-analysis of 18 published studies of interpretation in marine wildlife tours. From journals, reports, and conference proceedings, I selected studies involving guided tours for visitors in marine settings. I followed a framework that measures effective management of marine tourism to obtain positive changes in tourists and the marine environment (Orams, 1995c, 1999; see Table 1). Indicators of tourist benefits from marine animal encounters include enjoyment and learning contributing to proenvironmental attitude and behavior changes, along with conservation benefits for marine environments and marine wildlife. Indicators of conservation benefits include tourists reducing disturbances to wildlife, protecting habitats, and aiding the viability of marine ecosystems. In this article, I use these conservation and learning outcomes synonymously with the term benefits. Uncontrolled tourism causes negative environmental impacts on marine wildlife, but these are minor compared with the impacts of hunting, disease, ocean pollution, boating, and fishing bycatch. In this article, I focus on positive conservation messages delivered to visitors on marine wildlife tours.
Orams (1999) based his framework on an earlier model of experiential education in whalewatching ecotourism programs in Hawaii (Forestell, 1993; Forestell & Kaufman, 1990). In that model, the researchers focused on the knowledge visitors acquired from interpretive talks on the whale-watching tours to reduce impacts and promote proenvironmental behaviors. Luck (2003) evaluated the key role of interpretive talks on swim-with-dolphins tours in New Zealand that used models by Forestell and Kaufman and Orams (1997b). Orams (1999) extended Forestell's three-step experiential education sequence to a four-stage sequence of desirable tourist outcomes from marine education programs. Mayes et al. (2004) adopted a model based on changing attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and actions through wildlife interaction and interpretation with benefits for animals, the environment, and visitors. Orams's (1999) framework is useful for identifying which human impacts or disturbances in marine environments can be minimized as a result of interpretation in marine wildlife tours.
Behavior and Lifestyle Changes in Tourists
Some researchers suggest that marine wildlife tours with a strong educational focus can create longer term behavioral or lifestyle changes in visitors, such as minimizing environmental impacts, donating money, and supporting environmental issues (Moscardo et al., 2004). Howard (2000) found that 74% of visitors (37 of 50) surveyed 6 months after visiting a sea turtle beach reported talking to friends or family about turtles, removing beach litter, reporting turtle sightings, releasing turtles trapped in nets, and volunteering. Table 2 presents the changes Tisdell and Wilson (2002, 2005) reported in the personal behavior or lifestyle of visitors who had observed sea turtles on an Australian beach.
Ballantyne, Packer, and Bond (2007) surveyed 452 people before their visit to a sea turtle beach and inquired about their existing proenvironment activities (see Table 3). A follow-up survey of 140 visitors 6 months after the beach visit indicated that 18% of respondents wanted to or had recognized the need to adopt specific behaviors in relation to wildlife conservation, and 9% of respondents reported adopting new behaviors, including donating money and telling others about conservation issues. Similar behavioral changes occurred in visitors to two dolphin-feeding programs (Mayes et al., 2004; see Table 4).
The type of information visitors receive appears to directly influence their behavior. Mayes et al. (2004) reported that 3% of the visitors to a program that discussed human impacts on dolphins thought it was acceptable to touch them, whereas 25% of the visitors to a program that did not discuss the issue felt that touching dolphins was acceptable.
Other researchers have reported the benefits of marine wildlife visits. L. Smith (2006) compared the behavior of visitors to a turtle beach, beach visitors who had viewed a sea turtle display, and those who had participated in a sea turtle tour. The tour participants knew how they should behave when viewing nesting turtles (see Table 5). Orams (1996a) compared the proenvironmental attitudes of participants 2-3 months after participating in a dolphin education and feeding program with those of a control group (see Table 6).
Since 2004, volunteer turtle guides and tour operators at one sea turtle center in Western Australia have increased the level of information and public education about turtle-viewing behavior and conserving marine turtles (Macgregor, 2006). However, 77% of tourist groups still breached the code of conduct by shining lights directly at the turtles, not staying behind turtles, and coming within 3 m of the turtles; 51% of the code breaches disturbed nesting turtles (Waayers, Newsome, & Lee, 2006).
Most of these researchers measured intention to act rather than actual behaviors and relied on self-reporting by visitors; they did not report longer term studies of changes over 1-5 years (Bogner, 1998; Finger, 1994; Gralton, Sinclair, & Purnell, 2004; Zelezny, 1999). To change environmental behaviors, new actions or measures need reinforcement (Storksdieck et al., 2005). A study of specific environmental behaviors among recreational boat owners discharging sewage at pump-out stations found education, boat size, years of boating experience, knowledge of water pollution, dumping regulations, and awareness of the impacts of sewage on water quality were important variables (Cottrell & Graefe, 1997). Environmental concern and knowledge of ecology influenced proenvironmental actions such as pumping out boat sewage.
Conservation Benefits of Marine Wildlife Tours
The conservation benefits gained from wildlife tourism include (a) wildlife management and research, (b) financial support for conservation of species, (c) socioeconomic benefits, and (d) education of visitors that potentially leads to more conservation- focused behavior and support (Higginbottom & Tribe, 2004). According to Orams (1995a, 1999), the conservation outcomes for marine wildlife and environments aim to (a) minimize disturbance, (b) improve habitat protection, and (c) contribute to the long-term health and viability of ecosystems. Mayes et al. (2004) found that visitors to two dolphin-feeding experiences recorded commitments toward conservation measures, but the numbers of committed participants differed between groups. Table 7 presents conservation appreciation and actions by participants in those experiences.
Researchers conducting a follow-up survey of 140 visitors 6 months after their visit to a conservation park found that people recognized the specific behaviors needed for wildlife conservation (18%) and had adopted new conservation behaviors, such as donating money or telling others about conservation issues (9%; Ballantyne et al., 2007). Ninety visitors surveyed on Australian whale-watching cruises reported that they conserved water and energy, bought ecofriendly products, and participated regularly in recycling (Ballantyne, Packer, & Hughes, 2006). Conservation messages delivered on tours and in brochures and displays at seven marine wildlife attractions in New Zealand-involving dolphins, whales, penguins, albatross, and shorebirds-highlighted whale hunting, protection of marine mammals and migratory birds, management and eradication of predators, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, recreational set netting and fisheries bycatch, management of marine pollution and urban waste, and Maori environmental values. On a program in which tourists participated in collecting and recording data about dolphin sightings and behaviors, 54% of visitors stated their wildlife experience had affected their environmental values and actions (Higham & Carr, 2003). Saltzer (2001) surveyed visitors to Sea World Australia and found they also pledged to support wildlife conservation, but in smaller percentages (see Table 8). In sum, personal encounters with marine wildlife linked with educational programs were likely to generate conservation appreciation and action by visitors. However, few researchers have observed on-site or actual visitor behaviors compared with intended behaviors, such as approaching nesting marine turtles (Waayers et al., 2006).
Visitor Benefits From Marine Wildlife Interpretation
In this article, I have identified a range of education and conservation benefits for visitors on guided marine wildlife tours. The on-site benefits of increased understanding or emotional responses to marine wildlife encounters can lead to off-site benefits such as greater environmental awareness, support of nature conservation work, and protection of endangered species. I assessed empirical studies of marine wildlife tourism experiences against the framework of Orams (1995c, 1999), measuring positive changes in visitor attitudes and conservation of the marine environment. Visitor benefits from marine animal encounters include enjoyment and learning, which contribute to proenvironmental attitudes, behavioral changes, and longer term intentions to engage in conservation actions that benefit marine wildlife and environments. Therefore, marine wildlife tours with a strong educational focus and an interpretation program can create attitude and behavior or lifestyle changes in visitors (Ballantyne et al., 2007). Thus, this review of visitor benefits from guided encounters with marine wildlife supports Orams's (1999) framework for managing marine tourism experiences as well as the experiential education sequence model in marine ecotourism programs (Forestell, 1993). Situations in which visitors gained information about marine wildlife that reinforced the emotional benefits from their direct experience of marine animals in their natural habitats produced some immediate conservation outcomes. Researchers need to support these reported changes in the environmental knowledge, attitudes, and inferred behaviors of visitors by conducting scientific studies of improvements in marine habitats and conservation of marine species.
Marine wildlife tours with an educational focus changed the proenvironmental attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of some receptive visitors. On whale and dolphin tours, visitors changed their attitudes toward conservation, displaying a greater knowledge of cetaceans and awareness of threats to marine life. Changes in visitors' personal behavior on a guided tour of turtle nesting beaches included better overall adherence to guidelines about minimal impact with the turtles. Four months after interacting with sea turtles and dolphins, visitors reported adopting proenvironmental behaviors, such as cleaning up beaches, recycling, and donating money to wildlife groups. Other conservation benefits included enhanced appreciation of marine wildlife and actions to reduce human threats or impacts on wildlife (Howard, 2000). Close proximity to nesting turtles or interactions with dolphins magnified these environmental and personal benefits. Direct, close contact with animals was more likely to produce changes in visitors' attitudes than was passive viewing of wildlife from a boat or shore. The quality of marine wildlife interpretation also influenced the conservation outcomes and other environmentally responsible behaviors that visitors reported.
These personal, educational, and conservation benefits for visitors depend on appropriate management of marine animal encounters and interpretation programs that integrate knowledge with the emotional aspects of observing marine wildlife. The level of visitors' commitment to marine wildlife conservation was related to the impacts on their knowledge and attitudes and behavior. Ballantyne et al. (2007) found that the personal impact of viewing marine turtles on nesting beaches and their conservation related to participants' knowledge and interest (75-100%), understanding and attitude toward turtles (70-74%), general attitudes toward wildlife and nature conservation (52-67%), and personal beliefs (34%). Participants on marine wildlife tours realized benefits when they integrated the affective (emotional) benefits and excitement of seeing unique marine life with the cognitive (educational) benefits of learning new facts about marine wildlife. Therefore, educational entertainment on marine tours needs to include both cognitive and affective aspects of experiential learning (Howard, 2000; Schanzel, 2004). Visitor learning for enjoyment during leisure activities is an important part of the tourism experiences (Packer, 2006). For this reason, "free-choice learning contexts are well-placed to influence environmental attitudes and behaviour using appeals to the emotions" (Ballantyne & Packer, 2005, p. 289). Marine wildlife interactions that involve making personal connections with marine animals in a free-choice learning context can provide or reinforce a range of conservation and educational benefits. Tourism experiences that increase both environmental awareness and positive feelings are likely to generate environmental actions resulting in conservation benefits for marine wildlife and the natural environment.
The link between marine interpretation programs and the conservation benefits deriving from guided marine wildlife tours needs further investigation. Much of the research on marine wildlife tourism is site or species specific, focused on biological impacts, and limited to one type of encounter. Surveying visitors at aquariums and Sea World parks about the conservation and educational benefits of marine wildlife encounters at these captive sites is another area needing research (Adelman, Falk, & James, 2000; Ballantyne, 2007; Ballantyne, Packer, Hughes, & Dierking, in press). Research is also needed to identify the types of human impacts or disturbances in marine environments that are minimized as a result of interpretative programs on marine wildlife tours. Other topics in need of further investigation are (a) the conservation attitudes and behaviors of staff and operators of marine wildlife tours (Groff, Lockhart, Ogden, & Dierking, 2005), (b) the environmental attitudes of marine visitors in regard to whale watching and commercial or subsistence whaling (Higham & Lusseau, 2007; Orams, 2001), (c) cross- cultural attitudes toward wildlife conservation in marine tourism settings (Takei, 1998), and (d) the role of scientists in providing information to tour operators and monitoring marine wildlife (Rodger, Moore, & Newsome, 2007).
Also needing investigation are influences on environmental behaviors such as (a) the level of recreational involvement or specialization and the intensity and emotional aspects of marine experiences (Thapa, Graefe, & Meyer, 2005, 2006), (b) the role of experiential learning in generating empathy and changing environmental behavior of visitors on a range of marine wildlife tours (Berenguer, 2007; Schanzel, 2004), (c) the identification of what evokes empathy in tourists for endangered marine wildlife (Ballantyne & Packer, 2005), and (d) the extent to which visitor empathy can be developed for potentially dangerous marine wildlife such as sharks (Dobson, 2006).
Research on the links between the emotional aspects of wildlife experiences, learning, and conservation actions will test the usefulness of Orams's (1999) model of conservation benefits of interpretive programs for visitors and the environment and Brody's (2005) theory of learning in nature. A need exists for longer term studies that measure not visitors' self-reported intentions to act environmentally but their ongoing actual conservation actions 1-5 years after marine wildlife interactions. The wildlife experience in a scenic, natural area may heighten visitor concern and appreciation for wildlife, but behavioral changes may not always ensue. This more in-depth evaluation of educational programs in marine wildlife tourism experiences will validate techniques that increase visitor knowledge, foster empathy, and promote conservation behaviors that benefit marine wildlife.
Mediated encounters with selected marine wildlife, especially marine mammals, provide visitors with a range of education and conservation benefits. Marine wildlife interpretive programs that highlight species biology and human impacts influence visitor attitudes, beliefs, and conservation outcomes. Guided interactions on marine wildlife tours motivate visitors to respect marine life, foster environmentally responsible attitudes and behaviors, and benefit marine conservation. Providing wildlife experiences that elicit from visitors a combination of affective and cognitive responses to marine wildlife increases environmental awareness, modifies intentions to act proenvironmentally, and fosters conservation appreciation and actions by visitors. These conservation outcomes also depend on the intensity and frequency of visitor encounters with wildlife and the type of learning experience they receive. Enhanced visitor knowledge and empathy are necessary for effective environmental learning in free-choice settings such as wildlife tours. Interpretive programs improve visitors' on-site behavior, but researchers need to study whether participating in these programs results in longer term conservation outcomes. To guide future studies on free-choice visitor learning, I presented an experience-learning-action model, which identifies incidental, broader, and affirmative learning outcomes from free-choice environmental education initiatives. The challenge for marine interpretive programs is to engage visitors and deliver effective conservation messages about marine animals and ecosystems while managing visitors' desires for close interactions with marine wildlife. REFERENCES
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Heather Zeppel is a senior lecturer in tourism at James Cook University in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Her research interests include Indigenous tourism, ecotourism, wildlife tourism, environmental sustainability, and environmental education. Copyright (c) 2008 Heldref Publications
Copyright Heldref Publications Spring 2008
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