QLE.20.019 – Defining the safe operating space for tourism in Marine Protected Areas

Route: Quality of the living environment

Cluster question: 006 How can we protect and preserve the quality of the substrate for humans and the environment while leaving room for social and economic development?

Coral reefs are under severe threat worldwide. Some of the most biodiverse reefs are currently a focal point for marine conservation by governments and organizations. At the same time these reefs are also actively promoted as a key attraction for marine tourism. Tourism is predicted to grow rapidly in the coming decades, while the current COVID-19 crisis has shown that it can also suddenly come to a complete standstill. The key question we address is how tourism, in combination with other drivers such as climate change, fishing and pollution, will affect the ecological integrity, local livelihoods and social cohesion of these marine tourism hotspots. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are commonly used to protect coral reefs and to serve as a reservoir of biodiversity for a larger region, as well as to sustain livelihoods, e.g. through marine tourism. An MPA consists of an ecosystem, a social system and a governance arrangement to restrict access and distribute benefits. In other words, an MPA is a multidimensional entity requiring an interdisciplinary approach to understand and adaptively manage its resilience. Marine tourism may support the resilience of MPAs, e.g. by financing marine conservation measures, but may also reduce the resilience by putting stress on the ecosystem and affiliated societies. A key challenge remains to understand the dynamics of the MPA as a whole: how are social and ecological factors interlinked and how do they affect resilience? We propose a social-ecological-systems approach to sustaining the resilience of Marine Protected Areas in the face of growing tourism and climate change. This approach explicitly links the resilience of ecosystems to governance structures, economies and society.


biodiversity, coral reefs, fisheries, nature conservation, resilience, Sanitation, social-ecological systems, tourism

Other organisations

Bogor University, CNSI, Conservation International, DCNA, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Saba Conservation, STENAPA, STINAPA, The Nature Conservancy, UCBerkeley, Universiteit Twente (UT), University of Papua, WWF


Organisation Wageningen University & Research (WUR)
Name Dr. L.E. (Lisa) Becking
E-mail lisa.becking@wur.nl