Ethnographic Study of Tourism and Conservation

Posted: November 27, 2012

Today was the first day of fieldwork for our Directed Research study of the social-ecological dimensions of tourism on Bastimentos Island. The island is home to the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park, the only marine protected area in the Bocas del Toro region.

Tourism has the potential to benefit local communities and support conservation efforts such as marine protected areas. However, uncontrolled or unplanned tourism development can have the opposite effect, and degrade the cultural and natural attractions that drew the tourists to the destination to begin with. Tourism is developing rapidly in Bastimentos and in the surrounding region of Bocas del Toro. It has already generated considerable impacts in the region, both positive and negative.

The objective of our study is to gain insight into how tourism is affecting the socio-cultural, economic and natural environments of the island from the perspective of local people living in the largest settlement on Bastimentos Island, called Bastimento Town (or Old Bank). We will focus on the relationship between tourism and the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park. We plan to use the results to generate recommendations that will help local decision-makers achieve tourism that provides maximum benefits to the community and the natural environment.

Students will use a multi-method ethnographic approach (e.g. surveys, interviews, participant observation) to collect qualitative and quantitative data over the next two weeks. Our group aims to survey a minimum of 75 households and as many tourists as we can find. Today was our first visit to the community. Our objective was to get acquainted with the town and its residents and to identify the households from which to draw our random sample. In order to do this, students printed aerial maps of the town from Google Earth and walked around the community, marking of all the households they observed (total of 160). Next week we will begin our surveys and have also been invited to participate in the yearly founding festival of Bastimentos Island.