Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06751 5
Marine and coastal-based tourism is important to Australia, not only for domestic tourism where Australians seek to enjoy the heritage and natural values of the environment, but also for the 20% of tourists arriving from overseas who prize our natural and unspoilt marine environment. According to the Bureau of Tourism Research (DISR 2001a), 50% of international visits and 42% of domestic visits are to coastal and marine areas.
Marine tourism is now a significant part of the economy. It has been estimated that marine tourism and recreation contributed $15 billion to the economy in 1997, or 50% of the economic activity of marine industries (Greiner et al. 1997). The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, for example, has experienced a large increase in tourism since the 1980s when visitor numbers were 150 000 visitor-days. Tourism in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was worth $1 billion, with 1.6 million visitor-days in 1997, and with 1.5 million visitors in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. With this type of use, tourism clearly depends on sustaining environmental and heritage values.
Some places are internationally recognised such as The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Sydney Harbour and city, the Gold Coast, and the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. There is, however, a great diversity of tourism experience within Australia and its territories, including:
- Antarctic tourism, with an estimated 10 000 people visiting the sub-Antarctic Islands in 1999 (IAATO 2000), although most vessels depart from South America rather than Australia,
- whale-watching off the coasts of Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales,
- bird-watching, e.g. Little Penguins on Philip Island, shorebirds in Western Australia, and seabirds around the coast,
- diving for fish or to observe marine life around the coast, including on the Great Barrier Reef, on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and off the coast of Tasmania,
- limited opportunities of swimming with dolphins at Monkey Mia in Western Australia, Port Phillip Bay, Victoria and in Moreton Bay, Queensland, and
- swimming, boating and fishing at the beach.
Six World Heritage Areas in Australia have a predominant marine component:
- The Great Barrier Reef,
- Lord Howe Island Group,
- Shark Bay in Western Australia,
- Fraser Island,
- Macquarie Island, and
- Heard Island and McDonald Islands.
Challenges and issues facing Australia's tourist industry include:
- allocating access to high quality environments (which are also sought for conservation reasons),
- ensuring that the environment is not degraded,
- integrating the interests of marine tourism operators with other users,
- promoting heritage tourism, including nature-based tourism, education and best-practice initiatives,
- ensuring that the overall planning, development, management and monitoring arrangements for marine tourism are well developed and are underpinned by a good information base, and
- ensuring that investment in regional infrastructure does occur.
The appeal of the Antarctic wilderness attracts growing numbers of tourists.
Source: R Ledingham, Australian Antarctic Division
The growth in the number of people visiting an area is dependent on external factors, such as the targeted promotions run by the Australian Tourist Commission and the State and Territory tourism promotion agencies.
There are social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts caused by tourism. It is estimated that one-third of the Australian population is involved in recreational fishing, and in some areas recreational and commercial fishers compete for species. It is estimated that 700 000 people scuba dive each year, and there are over half a million registered, privately owned motor vessels in Australia and hundreds of thousands of other smaller craft. Activities associated with the use of this equipment have the potential to affect the environment through pollution of water (boat sullage) and disturbance of species and habitats. Recreational fishers tend to target reef ecosystems and remove larger predatory species. The effects of selective removal of such fish are largely unknown. Shore-based recreational fishing can have effects on shore populations of invertebrates that are collected for bait in intensively visited areas.
A major source of environmental impacts is the provision of infrastructure to support tourism. This can include airports, power generation facilities, accommodation, sewage treatment and disposal facilities, moorings, and marine transport. Often the infrastructure is required in fragile or pristine environments that are susceptible to disturbance and fragmentation.
Infrastructure needs are increasing both on the mainland and on the 19 resort islands within the Great Barrier Reef area for both day visitors and longer stay visitors. An increasing range of sites is now accessible, through the use of bigger and faster boats (since 1982), thus placing more sites potentially at risk of irreversible disturbance.
Tourists leave from Port Douglas to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Source: J Jones, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
There are also social and community effects where tourism affects the lifestyle of residents in ways they perceive as intrusive. Negative social impacts may include real or perceived increases in crowding, prices, or crime. Increasing tourism may also result in increasing conflict between various uses and, within the same uses, between commercial, recreational and Indigenous interests.
Because the environmental effects of tourism activities are regulated or controlled by a variety of agencies, it is not easy to summarise the effectiveness of responses to impacts on coastal and marine areas that are subject to tourism pressures.
However, on a national level, the Commonwealth Government developed a National Action Plan for Tourism in 1998. The Plan, which identifies conservation and careful management of the environment as essential to the long-term viability of the tourism industry, makes a commitment to ecologically sustainable tourism development, recognising that environmental considerations should be an integral part of economic decisions.
Management of a wide range of tourism activities within a specified area is a complex exercise. Activities within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are managed through broad-scale zoning plans which identify appropriate activities at a subregional level, and through a system of permits and licences, accreditation and self-regulation through Best Environmental Practice Guidelines for some activities. Greater self-regulation has been encouraged, and the marine tourism industry has produced a Code of Conduct which covers issues such as anchoring, removal of rubbish, fish feeding and preservation of World Heritage values. In March 2001 the launching by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority of a Tourism Operators' Handbook complemented the code. All licensed tourism operators are subject to an environmental management charge.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority requires performance bonds to be posted where the construction of semipermanent or temporary structures is involved. The siting and operation of infrastructure is subject to local government requirements or to the requirements of special-purpose agencies. Local government may also promote and monitor tourism in their areas.
Ecotourism in the Antarctic is generally well regulated, especially in the sub-Antarctic islands. All companies proposing to visit Heard or Macquarie Islands must submit detailed plans and undertake an environmental impact assessment before the trips will be approved.
As of February 2001, the CRC for Sustainable Tourism was working on the Nature Tourism National Review on current practices of Australian protected area management agencies relating to the use of protected areas by visitors. The CRC and CSIRO are also conducting research programs into techniques for monitoring the impact of tourism activities.
A study on how the operation of dolphin-swim ecotours affects the dolphins in southern Port Phillip Bay found that the avoidance reaction of dolphins to humans varied significantly in response to location, approach strategy and tour operation. Direct, deliberate approaches to dolphins from tour vessels or swimmers resulted in higher levels of avoidance responses. The parallel approach provided the animals with the option of ignoring or interacting with swimmers.
Antarctic tourism is an emerging environmental issue. The level of tourism in Antarctica is currently very low, however, while the number of expeditioners associated with national operators is relatively constant, tourist numbers have doubled over the last eight years and tourist activities in the Antarctic continue to diversify. Tourists visiting some Antarctic sites over a short summer season are drawn by very high expectations of Antarctic wilderness.
Apart from the comprehensive overview of tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, there appears to be little information available on a national scale to assess the impacts of tourism on coastal and marine environments. Although local government, tourism agencies, and States and Territories may collect this information, it is not readily available for collation at a national scale. Therefore it is difficult to assess the impacts of activities, and the success or otherwise of measures to maintain environmental quality in marine and coastal areas used for tourism.