An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Marine Mammal Tourism Management: The Case Study of Aotearoa/New Zealand
New Zealand is viewed as a world leader in marine mammal conservation and its regime for managing marine mammal tourism has been touted as best practice. Despite its management framework, a variety of studies conducted in New Zealand (and elsewhere) have shown that the current patterns and rates of growth of marine tourism activities have adverse short-term and long-term effects on marine mammals. Moreover, various studies have demonstrated that the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 (MMPR) are frequently violated by marine mammal tour operators in various locations. Consequently, the sustainability of the industry is being questioned.
This exploratory qualitative study investigated and assessed the perspectives of four key stakeholder groups (Department of Conservation, permitted tour operators, indigenous Māori, and scientists) regarding the effectiveness of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s current marine mammal tourism management regime in 1) protecting and conserving marine mammals, and 2) effectively managing and regulating the marine mammal tourism industry. The study adopted a single country (New Zealand) case study approach with data collected from 43 participants via 39 face-to-face interviews and one online interview.
According to the data, there are seven key themes that relate to the management of marine mammal tourism. These are: 1) indigenous Māori’s connection with marine mammals; 2) environmental compliance; 3) the power of education and interpretation; 4) challenges to enforcement; 5) the regulatory regime; 6) stakeholder collaboration; and 7) the politics of (marine mammal) tourism. The key findings of the study suggest a strong connection between indigenous Māori and marine mammals. The findings also indicate a presence of high levels of awareness and understanding of the regulations among permitted and non-permitted commercial tour operators, compared to that of other user groups. Gaps in the regulations, non-compliance with regulations, and insufficient enforcement, are key challenges facing marine mammal tourism (MMT). The study identifies reasons for non-compliance, challenges to enforcement, and limitations in regulations, especially regarding its application.
This research offers an opportunity to learn more about the MMT industry and addresses the ongoing uncertainty about the relationship between stakeholder groups and the effectiveness of MMT management. Conceptual frameworks for effective management of marine mammal tourism were developed in the study, providing insights into the dynamics of MMT management. These frameworks highlight the main themes that emerged from the data analysis and illustrate the connection and interplay between them. They also display the socio-economic, cultural, environmental and political complexities surrounding the MMT industry.
The study also provides a set of recommendations to help improve MMT management, marine policy, decision-making, and practice. These include: 1) engagement of indigenous communities in nature conservation and MMT management; 2) improvement of compliance, monitoring, and enforcement of environmental regulations; 3) reviewing and updating legislation that forms the basis for the regulatory regime; 4) investment in environmental education and interpretation; 5) facilitating constructive stakeholder engagement and collaboration; and 6) promoting adaptive management approaches for MMT management. Management agencies responsible for MMT should take the lead in implementing these recommendations, and all stakeholder groups need to be engaged in this process. The findings, frameworks, and recommendations of this study should contribute to the development of policies and practices of MMT, not only in New Zealand, but also at the global level.