Oamaru Penguin Colony

At the ESTC13, Jason Gaskill, the manager of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, will present a case study on how tourism can turn into self-funding conservation, and share his insights on how this example be applied to other ecotourism sectors. The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony offers an exciting example of how a government-owned conservation project can succeed on commercial terms and become a profitable ecotourism venture.


Jason Gaskill

TIES: Can you give us some background on the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony and its mission?


Jason: In 1991, the idea of setting up a penguin colony was very attractive due to the large number of breeding pairs along the Otago coastline and more specifically around the Oamaru area. Its mission to conserve penguin colonies was set into stone. This started the construction of dirt mounds, nesting boxes, lighting, and seating for the visitors. Initially, only volunteers patrolled the area, but with the increasing number of visitors, two people were employed full-time as guides, caretakers and monitoring assistants. Over time, more viewing platforms, facilities and greater landscaping and penguin habitats were added. A penguin-monitoring program was also added for data analysis, monitoring, tracking, and tagging.


Not until 1993 did the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony charge visitor fees, which enabled the committee to turn it into a thrieving tourism attraction. More developments and changes came to the area as the tourism increased: more employees were added, upgrades were made, new visitor centers built, and environmental awards were won. Throughout all this, the penguin population thrived. The breeding rate has increased, and conservation has been ensured for generations to come.


Learn more: the history of the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony



TIES: What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?


Jason: Some of the biggest challenges were keeping the penguins safe from land-based mammalian predators, managing the visitors as they arrived so they could have a good clear view of the penguins without interrupting the penguins’ natural behaviours, and establishing a systematic way of making sure our tourism activities didn’t have a negative effect on the penguins. To overcome these challenges, we improved the fencing around the main breeding area; constructed customized facilities that provided a view into the penguin habitat, which allowed visitors to enter the habitat without the penguins being effected; and instituted a weekly monitoring program to check each nest site and track the progress of each chick, and this information is compared between areas of the colony where visitors are allowed and where they are not. We also have a control colony where no tourism activities are allowed, in order to closely monitor the behavior of the penguins and their relative health.

TIES: From your experience, how do you think ecotourism can become a self-funding mechanism for conservation?

Jason: A simple explanation is that ecotourism relies on natural, wild habitat. The maintenance of that habitat, and the animals and plants it sustains, costs money. But not just money. It requires a consistent, reliable source of revenue to ensure the protective measures can be put in place, maintained, and enhanced where required. Conservation is a matter of priorities: if an ecotourism venture sees itself primarily as a business, designed to make money, the habitat becomes a commodity to be bought and sold as it is consumed. If an ecotourism venture sees itself as a guardian of the habitat, where recovery of the impact of visitor is used to offset the costs of their presence, it becomes a vehicle of safeguarding habitat and conserving wildlife. In essence, if the priority is the habitat, conservation is the core business activity and tourists have a chance to participate in that conservation. To put it very simply, that’s how an ecotourism venture becomes a self-funding conservation program – and I will share more details about what steps we took to make this happen in my presentation.


Source / Fuente: ecotourismconference.org

Author / Autor:  ecotourismconference.org

 Date / Fecha: 05/05/13

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