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Planning for Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area - Good Practice Guidance PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joachim Willms [Managing Director]   
Planning for Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area - Good Practice Guidance


1.1 Purpose
The term ‘marine ecotourism’ means different things to different people. At the heart of almost all definitions of marine ecotourism, however, is the aim of appreciation and enjoyment of the natural marine environment in all of its many forms, along with any associated cultural features. This document aims to offer good practice guidance to local marine ecotourism initiators and policymakers, assisting them to foster the development of genuinely sustainable marine ecotourism. Marine ecotourism may be able to help regenerate coastal communities, and address low incomes, low levels of investment, high unemployment, out-migration, and so on. Moreover, marine ecotourism is thought to offer a special opportunity to achieve environmentally sound, sustainable development – development that will help to meet the needs of the present generation without damaging the resource base for future generations. It can also make a contribution to the objective of ‘balanced spatial development’ set out in the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP)1, by addressing regional disparities through sustainable use of the region’s indigenous potential. There is no reason why marine ecotourism should be intrinsically sustainable – the various activities must be planned and managed in such a way that sustainability is built in at the outset. The central argument of this document is that marine ecotourism can indeed bring economic benefits to peripheral areas of the EU Atlantic Area, but unless its development is properly planned and managed according to principles of sustainable development, such benefits will not last. Marine ecotourism that is not truly sustainable risks destroying its own resource base, perpetuating rather than breaking the cycle of renewal and disintegration that has plagued so many local areas along the Atlantic coastline in recent decades. It is critical that communities throughout the whole of the EU Atlantic Area apply the same universal principles of good ecotourism practice in formulating local solutions because the marine resource upon which they depend is a shared transnational resource.

1.2 Scope and Audience
The guidance is aimed not only at entirely new marine ecotourism developments, but also at existing marine tourism activities that could become marine ecotourism. It is also aimed at enterprises already operating as ‘marine ecotourism’ in some form or another. In the case of the latter, more emphasis is given to the importance of continual monitoring and review, as planning and management practices will need to be responsive to the constantly changing marine and coastal environments in which they take place. Whatever their limitations, formal planning systems provide the fundamental starting point for promoting and regulating marine ecotourism development. While there are observable weaknesses in current regulations pertaining to marine ecotourism, it may not be realistic to change the statutory mechanisms entirely, but nor would it be realistic to avoid addressing their inherent weaknesses. In the meantime, given the difficulties in initiating major changes, a careful blend of statutory and voluntary structures can be used to alleviate the problems caused by the messy and complex nature of marine ecotourism planning.

It is important that local policymakers appreciate the complexity of trying to develop and regulate ecotourism activity. However, it is assumed that local initiators and decision-makers have limited power to influence any large-scale changes required in the statutory planning system. With this in mind, another short publication has been produced, entitled ‘Planning for Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area: Transnational Policy Implications’, which sets out marine ecotourism planning policy and regulatory considerations for governments, national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and ecotourism associations. A further document entitled ‘Genuinely Sustainable Marine Ecotourism in the EU Atlantic Area: A Blueprint for Responsible Marketing’, is also available for download at

A principal theme of this guidance is the importance of a ‘bottom up’ approach to achieving genuinely sustainable marine ecotourism. Yet any guidance document may be seen as ‘top down’. The guidance offered is prescriptive but should always be interpreted in its local context and with the local stakeholders, without whose active support and participation no marine ecotourism can be genuinely sustainable. This document is designed to be compatible with national planning policy guidance more generally. In particular, this guidance is intended to supplement the EU Atlantic Area Member States’ national planning policy guidance on tourism, integrated coastal zone management, environment and development."

1.3 Context
Many EU Atlantic Area coastal communities have their roots in commercial sea fishing and traditional forms of tourism. There has been a tendency for such communities to develop a strong economic and cultural dependence on such activities, with the requirements of these traditional activities tending to dominate in spatial development terms. More recently, however, many coastal communities have been subject to severe pressure resulting from the progressive reduction in fishing opportunities under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, with the result that many fishing communities have been forced into a period of structural economic decline and social stress. Meanwhile, the conventional substitute of traditional seaside tourism has proved of diminishing value because of heavy international competition. The imperative within spatial planning in the peripheral communities of the EU Atlantic Area has therefore changed considerably in recent years. Instead of attempting to facilitate the further development of the commercial sea fishing industry and traditional forms of tourism, spatial planning is attempting to stimulate social and economic regeneration through a process of diversification.

Some communities are now turning to ‘new’ forms of tourism and the development of marine ecotourism represents an important route by which the quality (and in particular, environmental quality) of the tourism products provided by peripheral communities may be improved. It has the potential to re-deploy some of the infrastructure and resources formerly employed by the local sea fishing and tourism industries. However, there is a growing awareness that any such development must contribute to wider sustainability  objectives.

"Experience suggests that unless tourism activity of any kind is properly planned and managed, it risks compromising the economic, social and/or environmental components of the sustainability of an area and also, through its transport implications, the global environment. Genuinely sustainable marine ecotourism offers an opportunity to promote new development that brings local economic and social regeneration benefits, while also having a neutral or even positive impact on ecosystems and the environment.

This Document Contains:

• A discussion of the role of planning in promoting the sustainable development of marine ecotourism and of the broader planning considerations for ecotourism in the marine environment
• A model of marine ecotourism planning good practice, setting out seven principles for genuinely sustainable marine ecotourism
• A series of toolkits through which these principles can be implemented through action
• Illustrations and case studies of good practice
• Resources for local initiators and policymakers
• A review of EU and international obligations and duties for planners of marine ecotourism"

Full document here

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