Date of Award

1-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

College/School

College of Science and Mathematics

Department/Program

Earth and Environmental Studies

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Pankaj Lal

Committee Member

Meiyin Wu

Committee Member

William Thomas

Committee Member

Claudia Baider

Subject(s)

Forest conservation--Mauritius, Tourism--Environmental aspects --Mauritius

Abstract

Mauritius, a small island state in the Indian Ocean, is a biodiversity hotspot with highly threatened forest ecosystems. It is also a country where environmental and conservation programs have been successful in the past. However, the issue of funding has received relatively less attention and national park systems are chronically underfunded. As part of assessing the potential for local funding, we assessed the demand for forest recreation. Recreation in forest ecosystems is one of the cornerstones of modern nature-based tourism. Tourism is increasingly a favored tool to promote conservation of natural forests, especially in developing countries where conservation financing can be intermittent. At policy level, stakeholders on the island have limited opportunity to translate conservation policies they help formulate into direct action. Enhancing the stakeholder engagement process is all-the-more relevant on a small island developing state where differences in gender, income, ethnicity interplay with differences in resource access and power distribution.

Our study is organized in three core chapters. In Chapter 2 we explored means of ensuring and enhancing conservation funding on the island. To that end, we designed and administered survey based contingent valuation approach to estimate the willingness to pay for conservation of state and privately owned forested sites. Study results suggest international and domestic tourists have a mean willingness to pay of USD 7.73 and USD 3.74 respectively, for conservation. These values represent amounts that visitors are willing to pay for conservation every time they visit a public or private forested site. Results show that education and mid-level supervisory roles positively influence willingness to pay values. Study results also show that people aged 50 and above, not having any supervisory role, married with one child or less, tend to have lower willingness to pay for conservation.

In Chapter 3, we focused on the contribution of domestic tourism to the conservation potential of native forests in the small island developing state of Mauritius. Our study used individual travel cost data from 188 residents, collected from in-person surveys at nine forested areas on the island. Results indicate that the consumer surplus for naturetourism ranges between USD 3,739.21 and USD 3,975.54 per person per year. Our models also show that visit rates, and therefore residents’ investment into tourism activities in forests, can increase with better sensitization campaigns and better understanding of the role played by forestland managers. Our most conservative estimate gives native forests of the island an annual recreation value of USD 260 million. The third aspect of our study, explored in Chapter 4, used analytic hierarchy process (AHP), in combination with an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) associated to conservation programs and policies developed on the island. Our findings present a robust overview of stakeholder preferences by establishing their priorities and assessing existing conflicts. Our findings show that state and private stakeholders favor expansion of existing nurseries and the setting up of new ones to increase re-afforestation programs. The opportunities to raise funds through corporate social responsibility and nature-based tourism are also prioritized in their chosen strategies. Refining identification and management of invasive species remain a priority for the scientific community. Other stakeholders view their continued participation in conservation policy formulation as a strong factor to keep building upon, but seek to address the lack of legal enforcement in forestlands as well as development threats to environmentally sensitive areas.

Our study contributes to the literature by empirically assessing willingness to pay for conservation between and among international and national tourists visiting forest sites in Mauritius and developing an approach for determining predictors and mean willingness to pay values. We show that conservation strategies can extract greater benefit from the stakeholder engagement processes of formulating conservation policy by integrating AHP and developing outcomes that have better stakeholder buy-in than a one-size-fits-all solution.

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