Ecological restoration and environmental philosophy: International visitor experiences at Aotearoa (New Zealand) eco-sanctuaries
Ecological restoration projects have been developed in various regions in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to address biodiversity loss and to provide human-assisted recovery of damaged, destroyed and degraded ecosystems. While the success of the ecological restoration is primarily assessed in terms of the science of ecology, it is also dependent on sustained social and economic support. Human values and action profoundly shape the implementation and success of ecological restoration projects. Societal discourses relating to ecological restoration are important to an extent that demands rigorous social science insights. Tourism provides biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration with both economic justification and opportunities arising from human-nature experiences. Nevertheless, the intersection of ecological restoration and the social sciences is largely overlooked in rigorous academic studies. In Aotearoa, a number of eco-sanctuaries have set out to develop tourism to financially support their primary function of ecological restoration. The development of these projects is mainly in response to New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis which has been historically driven by the ravages of introduced alien (exotic) species. Accordingly, eco-sanctuaries are predominantly characterized by intensive eradication and control of invasive alien species, and the translocation and breeding of endangered native species. These aspects of ecological intervention and management raise a number of complex moral and ethical issues that are poorly understood. Although tourism is argued to bring both opportunities and challenges to the development of eco-sanctuaries, little is known about eco-sanctuary visitors and their experiences at these sites. This thesis examines social perceptions of ecological restoration and considers their implications for visitor experiences in mainland eco-sanctuaries. The thesis focuses on international visitors and eco-sanctuary stakeholders, employing theories of environmental philosophy, including environmental ethics and aesthetics, in order to achieve in-depth insights into how aspects of ecological restoration are perceived and understood by different actors. Guided by social constructionism, the thesis uses a case study approach at three mainland eco-sanctuaries, using qualitative methods including photo-elicitation and flash interviews, combined with a comprehensive programme of semi-structured interviews. The thesis provides empirical evidence of the multiple meanings of ecological restoration by international visitors. It finds that international visitor perceptions of ecological restoration reflect disparate biodiversity interpretations and contrasting conservation narratives which inform potentially polarising visitor experiences at New Zealand eco-sanctuaries. At a deeper level, the thesis uncovers the critical roles of environmental ethics and knowledge and awareness in shaping distinct individual perceptions of ecological restoration. These perceptions cast light upon sharp distinctions and subtle nuances between the eco-sanctuary experiences among international visitors. The thesis also reveals a wide range of perceptions of ecological restoration and tourism held by eco-sanctuary stakeholders. Informed by these insights, the philosophies of eco-sanctuary stakeholders can either challenge visitors to reflect upon their ecological perspectives or pay increased attention to visitor interests and accommodate diverse perspectives in the provision of the tourist experience. The different philosophies of eco-sanctuary stakeholders may offer valuable insights into the co-creation of diverse international visitor experiences at New Zealand eco-sanctuaries. Through addressing several significant gaps in the existing literature, the thesis responds to calls to advance the social sciences of ecological restoration through the development of relevant tourism knowledge. Furthermore, it complements and extends current research on environmental and conservation narratives in Aotearoa by highlighting contrasting tourist narratives. The thesis empirically advances the transdisciplinary agenda of tourism and environmental philosophy by adding new understandings of environmental ethics and aesthetics on both the supply and demand sides of tourism. Two empirically informed conceptual frameworks are presented and discussed to cast light upon (co-created) visitor experiences that are produced by key actors and consumed by international visitors at mainland eco-sanctuaries in Aotearoa. Given that ecological restoration projects and tourism have been increasingly connected at a global scale, the thesis also provides valuable information for international audiences through building emerging theory which clarifies the relationship between international visitor experiences and perceptions of ecological restoration.
Advisor: Higham, James; Albrecht, Julia
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Ecological restoration; Visitor experiences; Eco-sanctuaries; Environmental Philosophy; Tourism; International Visitor
Research Type: Thesis