Attitudes towards marine mammal conservation issues before the introduction of whale-watching: a case study in Aruba (southern Caribbean)
1. Effective conservation management requires a solid understanding of social and economic factors, in addition to biological factors affecting what is to be conserved. Aruba is one of the most densely populated islands in the Caribbean and its already high number of tourists is still increasing. No commercial whale-watching operations are offered yet on the island. This provides a rare opportunity to document knowledge of and values concerning marine mammals before the introduction of whale-watching operations.
2. In 2010, a survey was conducted to investigate the awareness and attitudes of resident Arubans (n = 204) and tourists (n = 198) towards marine mammals and their conservation on Aruba. Knowledge of the local marine mammal community was low for both groups. Most participants would support more stringent legislation for protecting marine mammals in Aruba. Overall concern regarding threats to marine mammals was high and oil spills, chemical pollution, litter and sewage were identified as the most serious threats. A large proportion of residents (84.2%) and tourists (83.6%) were interested in, and willing to pay for, viewing marine mammals. Both groups preferred to see marine mammals in the wild rather than in captivity.
3. This is the first study that investigates the attitudes of people towards marine mammals and their conservation in a country that does not have marine mammal related tourism yet. This study suggests that strong support for marine mammal conservation issues does not critically depend on detailed knowledge of the local marine mammal community, or on the availability of whale-watching operations.