Tracked to protect - Spatiotemporal dynamics of recreational boating in sensitive marine natural areas
In many coastal areas, high numbers of recreationists may exceed ecological capacities. Careful monitoring of visitor flows is a first prerequisite for coastal area management. We show how AIS ship data can be translated into interpretable information on recreational boats and investigate whether AIS can provide monitoring information when compared to nature conservation policy targets. In the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site we used nearly 9 million data points to create spatiotemporal patterns for the 2018 recreation season. We combined this with shipping lanes and bathymetry data and compared the resulting patterns with nature protection regulations. Our results show that most of the traffic is concentrated around tidal channels. We also show that exceeding speed limits is not predominant behaviour, but the effect of speeding on birds and seals might be more severe than the data suggests. We mapped favourite tidal flat moor activities, and observed where this occurs in Marine Protected Areas. We conclude that AIS analysis can provide valuable recreational boating monitoring, relevant to sensitive coastal area management in the entire Dutch Wadden Sea for the full recreational season. Broader integration of AIS with radar data and ecological data can add to the power of using AIS.