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Environ Manage. 2013 Aug;52(2):335-47. doi: 10.1007/s00267-013-0047-3. Epub 2013 May 10.

The tourism carrying capacity of underwater trails in Isabel Island National Park, Mexico.

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Laboratorio de Ecosistemas Marinos y Acuicultura, Departamento de Ecología, CUCBA, Universidad de Guadalajara, Km. 15.5 Carretera Guadalajara-Nogales, Nextipac, 45110 Zapopan, JAL, Mexico.


The popularity of ecotourism in the marine protected areas of Mexico has increased over the last 10 years; in particular there is a large development of a SCUBA diving industry in the Mexican Pacific including Isabel Island. Given the risks associated with human activity in the marine environments around this island, we propose two ecotourism management strategies: (1) the creation and use of underwater trails, and (2) the estimation of the specific tourism carrying capacity (TCC) for each trail. Six underwater trails were selected in sites that presented elements of biological, geological, and scenic interest, using information obtained during field observations. The methodology used to estimate the TCC was based upon the physical and biological conditions of each site, the infrastructure and equipment available, and the characteristics of the service providers and the administrators of the park. Correction factors of the TCC included elements of the quality of the visit and the threat and vulnerability of the marine environment of each trail (e.g., divers' expertise, size and distance between groups of divers, accessibility, wind, coral coverage). The TCC values ranged between 1,252 and 1,642 dives/year/trail, with a total of 8,597 dives/year for all six trails. Although these numbers are higher than the actual number of recreational visitors to the island (~1,000 dives per year), there is a need for adequate preventive management if the diving sites are to maintain their esthetic appeal and biological characteristics. Such management might be initially directed toward using only the sites and the TCC proposed here.

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