In response to the
negative impacts of tourism on marine life, Hol Chan Marine Reserve has
conducted a Carrying Capacity Study, with the help of Green Reef Environmental
Institute and the World Wildlife Fund Mesoamerican Project. The purpose of the
project was to study tourist visitation in the reserve and implement adaptive
management strategies to address and mitigate these impacts in order to conserve
our marine natural resources.
Central to this
sustainability is the concept of "tourism carrying capacity" - an approach to
tourism management whereby levels of visitor activity or development in a
destination must be maintained within acceptable limits.
Visitor Impact Management is a comprehensive approach that attempts to
understand the nature of certain impacts and the factors related to their
occurrence. It helps to identify the factors leading to unacceptable tourism
impacts, and assists with the selection of potential strategies to deal with
The study involved the following: Snorkeler Survey -
actually following groups and recording behavior/impacts; a Visitor
Questionnaire to find out what guides are telling the tourists and how they
report their group's behavior; Database creation - compiling all the collected
data, so management can continue to build upon the findings; and the Formulation
of Recommendations - adaptive management to address identified impacts and
Hol Chan Marine Reserve receives approximately
50,000 visitors per year (including night divers). The study revealed that
limiting numbers would be difficult and not the most effective solution. It also
revealed that behavior modification and education were the most important
factors in decreasing the impacts of tourism.
Capacity Study involved soliciting answers to the following questions: 1. How
well were visitors informed of park rules? 2. How well did visitors and guides
follow park rules? 3. Which park areas did tourists visit? 4. Did park rule
compliance vary between park areas? 5. Which guides followed or failed to follow
park rules? 6. What was the relationship between guide instructions and
One Visitor Survey Analysis asked:
Were the park fees too little, adequate or too much? This survey revealed: 23%
too little, 72% adequate, 5% too much. Another inquired: Did you urinate in the
water? It was discovered that an astonishing 65% admitted to urinating in the
A total of 172 Hol Chan visitors were asked the
following: 1. Did the guide mention you were in a marine reserve? 2. Did the
guide tell you not to remove anything? 3. Did the guide tell you not to touch
corals? 4. Did the guide tell you not to stand on corals? 5. Did the guide tell
you not to kick coral with fins? 6. Did the guide tell you to be careful where
you stood? 7. Did the guide tell you not to stir up sediments? 8. Did the guide
tell you not to touch the fish?
of the survey showed that San Pedro and Caye Caulker tour guides were better at
informing visitors of park rules than cruise ship tour guides, and that San
Pedro tour guides were better than Caye Caulker tour guides at informing
visitors not to stir sediments. It also revealed that Hol Chan tour guides
better inform their visitors today, than they did 10 years ago.
Further discovered was that visitors from San Pedro
and Caye Caulker visited both the Hol Chan Cut and Shark Ray Alley, while
visitors from cruise ships only visited Shark Ray Alley. Visitors did not alter
their adherence to park rules between Shark Ray Alley and "the cut."
Surprisingly, though, about 25% of guides failed to follow all of the park
In summary, it was found that the relationship
between guide instructions and rule violations was mixed, but generally
indicated that guides may need to better ensure they are telling visitors not to
stir sediments or fin-brush corals and that they are complying with these
A follow-up meeting was held
to discuss these findings with tour guides and tour operators last Thursday at
the Hol Chan Visitor's Center. Below are the potential recommendations. Persons
with questions and/or comments may contact the Hol Chan Office by calling
226-2247, or by e-mail at email@example.com
Hol Chan Management agrees to:
*Rangers will provide
information (printed and spoken) about park to boats that are not regular
visitors to the reserve or those with identified problems of not informing
tourists (including Cruise Ship boats).
*Provide annual training for guides
(including Caye Caulker and Cruise Ship guides) about park, stressing the
importance of not stirring sediments and kicking corals.
*In order to obtain
annual Hol Chan vessel registration, boat owners must show that their guides
have completed the Hol Chan guide course.
*Hol Chan will help monitor that
all tour guides are duly certified (after getting a request for such assistance
and training from the BTB).
*Print stickers for boats and dive shops on "reef
*Provide dive shops, hotels and cruise ships with park brochures
and "reef etiquette" flyers.
Management interventions at the
Hol Chan Cut:
*Have better (more consistent) ticket
collection and provide information about speed and direction of the
*Rangers will spend more time focusing on environmental impacts
(assuming more guides agree to buy tickets in advance).
*Require that all
guides provide a life ring in the water to help avoid tourists standing up or
stirring sediments while talking or clearing mask, etc.
buoys to mark a no-wake zone west of the mooring buoys.
*Install more mooring
buoys on the fore reef (with guides' assistance).
interventions at Shark-Ray Alley
*Install mooring buoys at
*Consider switching boats and engines (to smaller ones and
4-stroke) to maximize fuel efficiency and allow a second patrol boat for
*Write a letter to the Government of Belize requesting
duty-free fuel be re-instated for the Marine Protected Areas
*Consider limiting the number of people visiting at one time
(particularly from cruise ships).
*Enforce the Belize Tourism Board (BTB)
rule of 10 visitors per guide (after arrangements with BTB).
cruise ships have a marine conservation educator go aboard to inform guests
about marine conservation before departure for trips.
Caye Caulker Marine Reserve in attracting some of the cruise passengers.
*Publicize the schedule of all cruise ship visitations to the
park ticket for Hol Chan - no longer offer separate ones by zone (100%
*Dive shops and hotels will make every effort to purchase
tickets in bulk. (Hol Chan office will also sell them and economic incentives
may be offered.)
*Guides will suggest to tourists that they buy their ticket
in advance from a dive shop or hotel, etc. (This is the only way to ensure
rangers can educate and enforce rules to protect environment and not make change
*Register in advance and purchase a ticket for night diving (unless
a tourist already has a Hol Chan ticket from that same day).
alter timing of trips to avoid 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. rush hours.
all visitors a full briefing on "reef etiquette" stressing they not stir up
sediments or kick corals.
*Monitor guests closely in the water and provide
tips on improving skills.
*Carry a life ring on all snorkel trips and use for
discussions with visitors while in water.
*Teach good snorkeling techniques
to novices by the boats on northern moorings.
*Limit number of visitors (or
boats) to only two boats per buoy. (Switch order of trips to Hol Chan Cut and
Shark-Ray Alley to accommodate this.)
*Work together to find and promote
alternate areas for check-out dives and night dives.
Additional management interventions included promoting visitation to other MPAs
such as Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve and Caye Caulker Marine
Reserve. Also mentioned was the creation of a Mexico Rocks MPA or Community
Management Area. It was suggested to test the application of voluntary
community-based management and that Green Reef could assist.