Icons under threat: Why monitoring visitors and their ecological impacts in protected areas matters


  • Wade L. Hadwen,

  • Wendy Hill,

  • Catherine M. Pickering

  • Dr Wade Hadwen is a Research Fellow with the Australian Rivers Institute (School of Environmental Science, Griffith University, Nathan Campus, Qld 4111, Australia; Tel. +61 7 3735 3987; Fax: +61 73735 7615; Email: w.hadwen@griffith.edu.au). Associate Professor Catherine Pickering (c.pickering@griffith.edu.au) and Senior Research Assistant Wendy Hill are members of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research (Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University, Qld 4222, Australia). This paper is part of ongoing research by the authors in recreation ecology and management of protected areas.


Summary  Visitation levels are on the rise in protected areas throughout the world. In response, many icon sites are showing signs of overuse and more protected-area managers report tourism and recreation as threats to sustainable management. Clearly, there is a growing need to assess (monitor) and manage visitors to mitigate their impacts. In this paper, we articulate why targeted visitor-impact monitoring matters and highlight how existing monitoring programmes fail to deliver the necessary information to protected-area managers. We suggest that the availability and quality of visitor data are currently insufficient to facilitate the development of proactive management strategies in most protected areas. We call for more scale-sensitive (time and space) collection of visitor load and environmental (response) data. Specifically, since icon sites (like waterfalls and mountain peaks) are the focus of visitor motivations and activities, we highlight the case for proactive assessment, management and reporting of condition at these sites. Ultimately, visitor trends will be influenced by visitor management. If visitor activities degrade the icon, the financial benefits of tourism and recreation to a protected area may not be sustainable. In addition, the conservation and protection objectives of the protected area will also not be met.