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Educating tourists about biodiversity: can this help protect Australian rainforest? Dr Jenny Hill School of Geography an

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Educating tourists about biodiversity: can this help protect Australian rainforest? Dr Jenny Hill School of Geography and Environmental Management UWE, Bristol. Presentation outline. This talk will: Introduce rainforest diversity and ecotourism

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Educating tourists about biodiversity: can this help protect Australian rainforest?

  • Dr Jenny Hill
  • School of Geography and Environmental Management
  • UWE, Bristol

Presentation outline

  • This talk will:
  • Introduce rainforest diversity and ecotourism
  • Give examples of how rainforest diversity is being used in ecotourism
  • Examine whether educating visitors about biological diversity can help protect rainforest in Australia
  • Assess whether ecotourism can be used to protect rainforests more widely

Introducing rainforest diversity & ecotourism

  • tropical rainforests harbour over 50% of the world’s species on just 7% of the land area
  • over 60% of all known species of plant are found in tropical rainforests
  • 90% of primates are found in tropical rainforests
  • visitors are increasingly attracted to the biome, as ecotourists:

‘environmentally responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people’

Ecotourism Society


How is rainforest diversity used in ecotourism?

  • a defining characteristic of ecotourism is promotion of
  • environmental awareness
  • possibly promoted by educating visitors about the
  • rainforest ecosystem
  • visitors can be educated by ranger interpretation and
  • conveying info via interpretation centres, guided walks and
  • notice boards/info sheets
  • Australia leads the way in terms of ecotourism and visitor
  • interpretation …….

examples of:

  • - the Daintree Discovery Centre
  • - Crocodylus Rainforest Village
  • in the Wet Tropics World Heritage
  • Area (WTWHA)


Rainforest Village


Visitor education and rainforest protection

  • Field site
  • Crocodylus Rainforest Village
  • 1.75km circular ropewalk
  • specific biodiversity
  • information provided for
  • the walk

Research methods

  • 135 visitors sampled in July/August 2004
  • written questionnaire and biodiversity quiz given to
  • visitors with (n=73) and without (n=62) biodiversity
  • information
  • 16 biodiversity information sheets produced
  • covered evolution of rainforest, through forest structure, to
  • more complex ecosystem processes and rainforest uses,
  • threats & conservation

sheets read by visitors at specified points along the

  • ropewalk
  • position of sheets marked by numbered markers


  • visitors expressed a high degree of satisfaction with their
  • visit whether they received biodiversity info or not
  • highest levels of satisfaction for:
  • - encountering forest structure/trees (4.31)
  • - exploring something new/different (4.12)
  • - enjoying sounds, smells and feel of the forest (4.10)
  • lowest levels of satisfaction recorded for:
  • - acquiring a sense of forest history (2.85)
  • - seeing the forest wildlife (3.17)

three aspects recorded significantly different visitor responses

  • according to receipt of biodiversity info:
  • 74% of visitors who used the info said they were
  • satisfied/very satisfied with their learning, compared to 33% of
  • visitors without info

in terms of knowledge, visitors who used the biodiversity

  • sheets gained significantly higher results in the biodiversity quiz
  • the mean quiz score for those receiving info was 69%
  • compared to 43% for those not receiving info
  • this was new learning that took place on site

visitors did not notably alter their attitude towards

  • rainforest conservation or the way they would behave as
  • tourists in rainforests
  • they felt they were already conservation-oriented and
  • behaved as environmentally responsible tourists:
  • ‘I was already strongly convinced that it [the rainforest] should be strongly protected’
  • ‘I think that I am already an ethical walker, as far as staying on the path, not touching or breaking things etc.’


  • visitors were satisfied with gaining a purely emotional
  • experience
  • they were dissatisfied with the learning experience if they
  • did not have biodiversity info
  • visitors did not believe they learnt a great deal by
  • exposure to the forest alone, but they did believe they
  • learnt a lot with info
  • perceived learning can enhance the tourist experience
  • learning supported the emotional encounter with the forest

educational impact of biodiversity sheets was high as new

  • knowledge was acquired
  • interpretation provides a rounded tourist experience:
  • offers an emotional and intellectual experience
  • ecosystem biodiversity should be valued as an
  • ecotourism resource:
  • - helps tourists appreciate biodiversity
  • - did not alter existing beliefs in conservation and
  • responsible tourism

Can ecotourism protect rainforests more widely?

  • Positive impacts
  • tourism can provide revenue for conservation efforts within
  • rainforest parks and for reforestation etc
  • local communities can earn supplementary income
  • ecotourism offers the potential for ecosystem sustainability
  • as income is earned from preserving the rainforest

Negative impacts

  • contact with tourists can cause behavioural changes in
  • animals e.g. studies of chimpanzees in Uganda
  • more visitors can degrade the ecosystem e.g. soil
  • erosion studies in Costa Rican rainforest
  • economic distribution of tourism revenue can be unequal
  • and many companies do not pay for environmental
  • monitoring


  • careful planning of ecotourist sites
  • and
  • monitoring of visitor attitudes and impacts
  • can
  • ensure rainforest diversity is used to educate visitors and
  • to support conservation of the ecosystem that they come to
  • see