Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) are asking an important question that has major implications for tourist hotspots the world over: how much tourism is too much? Put another way, when does tourism stop helping a local economy and start hurting it? When it comes to the eco-friendly Outer Banks lifestyle, the importance of this point cannot be overstated.
Determining the impact people have on the ecosystems of the places they visit is more complicated than just plugging some figures into a computer systems to get an answer. Researchers are trying to figure out the impact human interaction with delicate ecosystems changes and what the maximum amount of interaction is before the areas become hurt by the presence of humans in the area.
UNC researchers are conducting their research in a setting far away from North Carolina. To study the effects of humans on fragile areas such as vulnerable coast lines, they have set up camp at the Center for Galapagos Studies in the Galapagos Islands. Tourism in that area has exploded in recent years and many more people have moved to the area to benefit from the better jobs that are offered by the ecotourism industry.
The Galapagos Islands are located about 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, of which the islands are a part. Ecuadoran officials have bee looking at the island and for ways to maintain both the ecotourism industry while maintaining the very things that make it such an attractive destination. That seems to be the key. People flock to areas such as the Galapagos Island to view the wildlife there but then, at some point, too many people means the degradation of a pristine ecosystem that ends up getting lost in the push for a better economy.
The study is already sparking a conversation in the Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast popular among tourists. Dave Hallac, the superintendent of the Outer Banks Group, told The Outer Banks Voice the more information local leaders have, the better:
andldquo;I would anticipate that that type of science is, yes, something that the park service is very interested in,andrdquo; he said. andldquo;But itandrsquo;s also something we have been studying and working on I think for many, many years.andrdquo;
Hallac, who oversees Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, explained that the park service does a lot of research on parksandrsquo; carrying capacity, which takes into account things like the visitor experience, the effects on natural and cultural resources and what it takes to manage the park and the flow of visitors.
The laid back Outer Banks lifestyle is one reason so many people have flocked to the area for vacations and to live. Outer Banks real estate has become more and more popular as people look to enjoy the Outer Banks lifestyle or to make some money renting beach properties to vacationers who want to check out the beautiful beaches, enjoy the special ecosystem or check out the Outer Banks history sites such as can be found at Kill Devil Hills and at Kitty Hawk. The normal population of the area is normally about 35,000 but it can swell to more than 200,000 during the high point of the tourist season.
Residents and officials hope the UNC research will help them keep the area’s ecosystem safe while they are looking to maintain the tourism industry that has been so good for the local economy.
andldquo;One of the things andmdash; and Iandrsquo;ve been in this business for a long time andmdash; that weandrsquo;re always trying to figure out is: Where is that line, or that sweet spot so to say, that the resources can be preserved for future generations while allowing this level of public use?andrdquo; said Pat Kenney, superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore, according to The Outer Banks Voice.
What no one wants is to see the end of the laid back Outer Banks lifestyle. The area is home to a host of animals and plants and an amazing ecosystem that needs to be protected and preserved to make sure it is an area people want to visit for a long time.