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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01130

Risk assessment of wildlife-watching tourism in an important endangered loggerhead turtle rookery

Adolfo Marco*, Samir Martins, Alejandro Martín-Rábano, Sonia Lopes, Leo J Clarke, Elena Abella

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Wildlife-watching tourism is a non-exploitative activity that can contribute to sustainable economic development of coastal communities. It is important to assess potential impacts and implement best practices to mitigate any effects. We studied this issue on Boa Vista (Cabo Verde), which supports around 60% of nesting activity of one of the most endangered loggerhead turtle rookeries globally. Between 2013 and 2016, authorized turtle watching involved 4942 tourists, generating a mean annual direct income of >289000 USD and the direct creation of >250 jobs. On João Barrosa beach, which supports around 20% of nests and 48% of turtle-watching activity on the island, we tested the influence of turtle watching on nesting behavior, reproduction and nest site fidelity. Nesting females observed by tourists spent significantly less time on nest camouflaging behaviour, although all other phases of nesting were unaffected. There were not statistically significant differences between the renesting frequency of females watched (n = 187) and non-watched (n = 972) by tourists. We found no evidence that the current turtle watching intensity has an effect on turtle reproduction. Turtle poaching remains a severe threat on beaches with no turtle watching, although it has strongly decreased on beaches with tourist visits. We suggest tour guides follow best practice guidelines to minimize disturbance, specifically retreating from the immediate vicinity of a female during nest camouflaging to mitigate the observed impact.