Social carrying capacity assessment from questionnaire and counts survey: Insights for recreational settings management in coastal areas
Because of demographic and tourism increase, coastal areas are facing higher numbers of recreational users. Together with other factors (environmental quality, protection status), the level of use affects the spatial distribution of users. This level also affects the quality of user experience, because beyond a certain level, the number of users results in decreased user satisfaction; this is the social carrying capacity (SCC), which depends on user and site characteristics. This study assessed the SCC in a popular coastal area and examined how it influences the spatial distribution of users. Boat and visitor counts as well as data from a questionnaire-based survey were analyzed to assess i) crowding perception, ii) factors affecting the disturbance associated with use level, and iii) user's coping strategies when managing high use levels. The results demonstrated that crowding perception and disturbances associated with use level depend on-site characteristics, use level, and user characteristics. Boat type was the main factor affecting user's coping strategy. SCC significantly differed between sites and according to the use level anticipated by users. The SCC was fulfilled at every site within the marine protected areas, except for the sites experiencing the lowest use level. This study provides novel and valuable information for the field of recreational use management, when attempting to achieve either sustainable use goals through SCC assessment or biodiversity conservation goals through the effect of SCC on the spatial distribution of pressures related to recreational uses.