Velando, A. & Munilla, I. Disturbance to a foraging seabird by sea-based tourism: Implications for reserve management in marine protected areas. Biological Conservation 144, 1167–1174 (2011).
The provision of recreational opportunities is one of the important human goals of marine protected areas. However, as levels of recreational use increase, human disturbance is likely to cause significant detrimental effects upon wildlife. Here we evaluate the best managing options to mitigate the impact of sea-based tourism on the foraging activity of an endangered population of European shags, Phalacrocorax aristotelis, in a coastal marine protected area (Cíes islands, north-western Iberia). Boat disturbance elicited a characteristic avoidance behavior that resulted in a substantial reduction in foraging activity as levels of boat use increased. Moreover, boats excluded shags from the best feeding areas, resulting in higher densities of foragers in areas of little boat traffic. We used a behavioral model to explore the effects of managing strategies aimed at reducing the impact of boats on the foraging activity of shags. Our model suggested that in low boat disturbance scenarios limiting the number of boats using the reserve would be a better management option than habitat protection (i.e. the establishment of set-aside areas free of boat traffic). On the contrary, when boat disturbance levels are high the protection of habitat is recommendable, even if spatial variation in habitat quality is unknown or poorly assessed. Our study stresses the point that management strategies to minimize disturbance to foraging seabirds may depend on the spatial overlap between sea-based recreational activities and foraging seabirds and the spatial variation in marine habitat quality for seabirds.