Sustainable diving tourism on the Golden Rock - Assessment of the ecological and social carrying capacity of reefs of Sint Eustatius and the potential for artificial reefs

Tropical regions and developing states depend largely on their “blue nature” and related tourism for their potential and economic well-being. Even so, coral reefs are degrading around the globe, whereas the pressure exerted by diving tourism is increasing steadily. This conflicting situation empathizes the need for sustainable use of marine ecosystems and sustainable tourism development. Here, we looked at the potential of sustainable growth of diving tourism for the small tropical island Sint Eustatius, part of the Dutch Caribbean. We evaluated the ecological and social carrying capacity of the reefs surrounding the island and studied the possibilities for artificial reefs. Our study showed that a new methodology identifying pressures and sensitivities of dive sites was effective in differentiating between sites, and could act to evaluate intrinsic and extrinsic risks acting on reefs for management purposes. Consequently, our study demonstrated that pressures associated with the diving sector were relatively small for St.Eustatius, but that the marine resources of St. Eustatius have declined over time. Moreover, we found that the diving tourist especially prized the natural resources and tranquility of the island, while stakeholders envisioned growth of tourism. And lastly, we showed that divers valued landscaped reefs positively depending on the design of the reef. Natural looking reefs with rich biotic growth and wrecks were particularly well appreciated and were considered a possibility to dive on. In summary, our results indicate that the reefs of St.Eustatius can sustain growth of the diving sector and that landscaped reefs can support sustainable growth. As the attraction of St.Eustatius to visitors is currently characterized by the rich nature and quiet atmosphere, growth of tourism should be carefully considered in terms of both ecological as social carrying capacity. Such consideration requires adequate ecological and environmental data for which consistent monitoring programs need to be developed. This will safeguard sustainable use of St.Eustatius’ blue-nature, for generations to come.

This research was conducted as part of the Wageningen UR innovation program TripleP@sea – Caribbean Netherlands (as funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Economic affairs under project number KB-IV-007). More specifically, this report contributes to the subproject “Towards a Tourism Masterplan for St.Eustatius”. 

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