Examining the impacts of marine tourism in the Seaflower MPA of San Andrés, Colombia
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San Andrés attracts roughly 400 000 tourists annually to white sand beaches and coral reefs. The island sits within the Seaflower Marine Protected Area, which covers 75% of Colombia’s coral reefs, including the western Caribbean biodiversity hotspot and provides habitat for 192 IUCN red list species. A study of marine tourism was requested by MPA managers to support policy, monitoring and enforcement decisions. This paper uses quantitative and qualitative information on tourism activity types, user density and coral reef condition to provide baseline information on the local tourism industry and its relationship with shallow reefs. Data was collected through interviews with marine tour operators and shallow reef transects following Reef Check protocols. There are up to 3700 visitors on the water every day during the high season, including SCUBA divers, snorkelers, kite surfers, sail boats, cruise ships, etc. It is clear that the impact of tourism is not linear nor is it easily divided by activity type. However spatial and historical analyses indicate that San Andrés reefs have been significantly changed by tourism development. High traffic areas showed lower hard coral cover, increased algal growth, increased coral rubble and low invertebrate diversity. This research offers valuable insight into where managers should focus time and resources. Speed-boat operators carry the vast majority of tourists, and represent a high impact community who could be targeted with environmental education campaigns. The highest traffic and highest damage area occurs in the San Andrés Bay, an area that would benefit from increased vigilance and enforcement of no-entry zones. Tourism policy recommendations suggested and supported by many operators during interviews include limiting speed-boat and jet ski permits, and establishing activity-specific regulations (ex. PWC best practices). This paper represents a baseline study, providing a platform for additional research. Further historical and comparative analyses are required to understand the area more completely.