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4246 - Can ecotourism improve the acceptance of natural protected areas? A case study from the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, Veracruz, Mexico

The Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve (LTBR) (Veracruz, Mexico) is one of the five richest Mexican ecological hotspots. An economically marginal region, it has undergone enormous socio-ecological changes since the 1950s. State distribution of land to local indigenous and immigrated landless peasants and the growth of private cattle ranching led to the loss of ca.85% of the original forest cover. In 1998, to counter this trend, the area was designated as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a protected area type that seeks to reconcile conservation with the multiple use of natural resources. The creation of the LTBR was, however, associated with land expropriation, which together with resource use restrictions, spurred substantial conflicts between local population and conservation actors. In a case study, based on qualitative empirical social research methods, we investigate existing efforts to foster ecotourism in LTBR as a way to diversify local incomes sustainably. We analyse how these initiatives influence the perception and acceptance of conservation and the Biosphere Reserve. Ecotourism initiatives in LTBR were originally collective projects, embedded in a network, though more individual initiatives emerge to adapt to financial and organisational constrains. Primary sources of support are public funding, distributed from the LTBR to collectively managed nature-based touristic projects and include capacity building. Overall, support is perceived positively. However, the difficult application process leads to few applications being successful, causing resentment and conflict. Without funding ecotourism projects risk bankruptcy, while financial support may in turn result in economic dependency. If capacity building activities have contributed to increase local environmental awareness and foster better practice in designing and running ecotourism projects, substantial problems remain in waste disposal and waste water. The case study suggests that fostering ecotourism alternatives can lead to an improved environmental awareness and acceptance of the LTBR, when this contributes to improve local livelihood. However, lack of transparency, deficient communication and financial problems decrease the acceptance of, and compliance with, conservation measures.

Keywords: Sustainable development, Biosphere Reserve, Ecotourism, Conflict, Mexico

Author: de la Vega-Leinert, A. Cristina (Greifswald University, Germany / Deutschland)

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