Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Environment and Society

Advisor/Chair:

Ann Laudati

Abstract

Ecotourism is a popular tool for biodiversity conservation and local community development. It has long been argued that the depth of community involvement and support is imperative in creating effective and sustainable ecotourism programs, although widespread community involvement is rarely achieved in practice. Local perceptions of the benefits and impacts of ecotourism development and held values for the resources utilized in ecotourism activities may influence community support and decisions to be involved; however, little is understood as to why such perceptions exist. This research highlights community perceptions of ecotourism and held values for sea turtles and explains the emergence of these perceptions within two villages on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Data were collected through face-to-face community surveys, key-informant interviews, and participant observation during the summer of 2012. The field data revealed that community members did not perceive ecotourism to be widely beneficial, but instead viewed the government, people who work in the tourism industry, and tourists themselves to benefit from ecotourism practices. Further, community members perceived ecotourism as negatively affecting poor people, people who do not work in the tourism industry, and the environment. These perceptions of who or what is affected by ecotourism development were traced back through centuries of political-ecological processes on St. Kitts that have mediated local people’s relationship with their land and resources, as well as their relationships with each other. The results of this research suggest a focus on the role of ecotourism in amending the persistent marginalization of local people from their resources by applying a participatory development approach to ecotourism development through collaboration with existing community groups and social networks.

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