Presented by: Robert Burns and Ross Andrew of West Virginia University
Visitor use drives change in both ecological and economic conditions in marine areas. The National Marine Sanctuary Visitor Counting Process (NMS-COUNT) was developed and conceptualized to address the needs of NMS managers for visitor counting and assessment. NMSs sites function as underwater parks in the US, and are federally protected for their diverse and exceptional biological and cultural resources. In open water areas, many NMS sites are accessible through almost infinite locations, so a rigorous set of methods to count those visitors, assess their activities, and evaluate their expenditures related to NMS site visitation is needed. The NMS-COUNT process considers the local context of sites and builds off the strength of each site using local expert panels to identify the most feasible visitor monitoring solutions. Pilot studies at Gray’s Reef NMS and Florida Keys NMS have produced thousands of visitor observations through wide arrays of sampling techniques. Traditional observation and counting methods are supplemented with specific survey questions and non-traditional techniques for visitor counting (e.g., acoustic signals, social media data, satellite imagery classification, vessel ID tracking data). The methods best suited to a specific site are pulled from the myriad of potential tools, producing a customized counting process that is tailored to the unique attributes of a specific protected area. The NMS-COUNT process can be customized to different marine contexts and holds great potential for learning about visitors in marine settings that are challenging to sample.
Co-sponsors: NOAA National MPA Center and OCTO (MPA News, OpenChannels, EBM Tools Network)