The University of Arizona

The ecotourism-extraction nexus and its implications for the long-term sustainability of protected areas: what is being sustained and who decides?

Wendy Hill, Jason Byrne, Fernanda de Vasconcellos Pegas


Some conservationists assert that multiple-use protected areas can accommodate competing claims for resource use, including extraction (e.g. mining and fisheries) and in-situ use (e.g. ecotourism). This is despite a growing number of studies showing how communities struggling with poverty, isolation, economic stagnation and environmental degradation experience limited benefits from ecotourism. This paper examines opposing claims over resource use (mining and ecotourism) in a World Heritage site in El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. It explores the idea that institutional processes can dis-incentivize both income generation from ecotourism and conservation if inequitable access to resources is not remedied. The article illustrates how ecotourism's contribution to socio-economic development of local communities can be circumscribed by: (1) the historical patterns of resource use; (2) misdirected interventions by state actors; (3) duplicitous actions of multi-national corporations, and (4) opaque governance processes with limited accountability. Findings support arguments that the capacity of ecotourism to reduce inequitable access to resources is limited and highlight why ecotourism cannot substitute for genuine institutional reform in protected area designation and management.

Key words: ecotourism, participation, El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, neoliberal conservation, sustainable development, equity

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