Balancing commercial and environmental needs: licensing as a means of managing whale shark tourism on Ningaloo reef
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This paper explores the creation, significance and progression of the licensing systems employed to regulate whale shark tourism at Ningaloo Marine Park. Since 1993 mandatory whale shark tour operator licences have been offered through an evolving competitive tender process. A content analysis of the evolution of licence requirements revealed a progression from a minimalist approach to one covering a full range of detailed and audited sustainability indicators. A tour operators' opinion survey was undertaken to understand industry issues and the impacts of the regulatory licensing system. Operators cited the need for business planning and offering a quality experience as their main challenges. Issues included cost pressures from local and global competitors. Few saw their own activities as being an environmental issue, and few saw regulation procedures as an issue.It is argued that further refinement of the licensing system is required to put its operations into a transparent, science-based context, and to offer incentives for improvements to rise above basic compliance. An explicit consideration of the balance between environmental regulation and commercial sustainability is needed to create a situation of perpetual improvement and provide best outcomes for all stakeholders, including operators, the local economy, the environment and guests.
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