Parks, people and planning: local perceptions of park management on the Ningaloo Coast, North West Cape, Western Australia
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Attaining the ‘appropriate’ balance between human use of national parks and their protection is a topic of considerable public, scientific and business interest and is thus an important focus for research. An increasingly affluent and mobile western society has made tourism the world’s largest industry; an industry with a significant reliance on the attractions of protected areas such as national parks and their wildlife. Regional communities have benefited from protected areas through local tourism expenditure and government recognition of the economic and social values realized from protected areas. High levels of visitation, and the management of this human use require effective management. But tensions arise when park managers invoke policies and management prescriptions to mitigate the adverse affects of human use. These actions and the way they are implemented can have an alienating impact on local communities, particularly those with a direct business dependency on park tourism. This thesis explores the notion that truly sustainable management of national parks can only be achieved if park managers and communities living adjacent to parks work together in a partnership to meet each other’s needs and through this process, foster the long-term environmental, social and economic benefits that can be derived from these parks. This thesis documents how a local community perceives its park managers and thereby the impact that park management has on local communities. It then seeks to identify the opportunities for park managers and communities to improve the way they view each other and the skills, attitudes and approaches necessary to create the environment for a sustainable relationship and can deliver sustainable outcomes for both parties.Three methods were employed to progress this research; an extensive review of literature and theory on relevant aspects of the people and parks relationship; the use of a case study of communities adjacent to parks on the Ningaloo Coast; and, qualitative and quantitative surveys to inform those case studies. A resident perception survey of the Exmouth and Coral Bay communities was conducted in August 2005. At the same time key stakeholder representatives were interviewed. Secondary quantitative data on the areas economy and demographics was also collected to triangulate aspects of the primary data. The Ningaloo coast community’s perception of park management has been adversely affected by a recent (2004) management planning process for Ningaloo Marine Park that culminated in significant constraints being placed on recreational fishing access. Both the planning process and the decision have been the focus of community anger. Currently the levels of trust and respect within the community for the park agency and its management performance are low. Despite evidence that the parks of the Ningaloo coast make important social and economic contributions to the local communities of this area, the local community holds negative perceptions of the social and economic impacts of park management, and are influenced strongly by the local community’s attitudes, perceptions and feelings towards the park agency. The park agency’s inability to consult, involve and communicate with the local community (to the satisfaction of the local community) contributes to these attitudes, feelings and perceptions.Key findings include; the prevailing norms and belief systems within the park agency reinforce the classic managerial paradigm; park management fails to accommodate broader social and economic measures, which diminishes trust and undermines attempts to foster community involvement and stewardship; ineffectual leadership, poor communication and outmoded approaches to planning and community engagement, local apathy to involvement in park planning and a lack of community education in regard to the promotion of park values, programs and activities compound this situation. The Ningaloo coast has the potential to provide an exceptionally bright future for its local communities, based largely on the inherent natural and cultural values of Ningaloo Marine Park, Cape Range National Park and other associated reserves. Whether the potential to develop community stewardship of the parks of the Ningaloo coast is fully met depends largely on the willingness of park management to relinquish some of its power, establish a suitable governance model in order to work collaboratively with the community and communicate effectively with it in order to achieve sustainable futures for both the park and the community.
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