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On sustainability concepts and how they resonate with tourism and recreation in coastal areas

Conference contribution
Authors Marie Stenseke
Published in Oral presentation at the 9th International Congress on Coastal and Marine Tourism (CMT), Gothenburg, June 13-16.
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Unit for Human Geography
Department of Economy and Society
Language en
Keywords Ecosystem services; sustainable use of biodiversity
Subject categories Human Geography, Social and Economic Geography


The quest for sustainability has urged a search for appropriate concepts and frameworks that can serve to better understand and approach the complex challenges for humanity. One of the major global environmental problems identified is the loss of species as well as of ecosystem functions of significant importance to humans. Here, one central conceptual issue is how humans relate to the non-human environment. In this paper I will elaborate on how some frequently used concepts resonates with tourism and recreation, departuring from the the ongoing work in UNs biodiversity platform. Biodiversity and the contribution’s to people it provides, including opportunities for physically and psychologically beneficial activities related to recreation, leisure and tourism, are being depleted at unprecedented rates. The Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012 under the auspices of United Nations, as a response to global concerns and initiatives taken during the last decades. The mission of IPBES is to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. The core work of IPBES is to deliver thematic, global and regional assessments, including not only the state of affairs but also drivers and policy options for harnessing the situation. In this endeavour, touristic and recreational activities are encompassed both as causing losses as well as being part of the solutions. In IPBES, some concepts brought to the fore are: ecosystem services, social-ecological systems and sustainable use of biodiversity. For all three of them, the issue of tourism and recreation show certain specificities and it is not evident if and how these ways of relating to the physical surrounding fits the construction of the concepts. As for ‘ecosystem services’ there has been a significant critique of the categorisation from scholars in social sciences and humanities, specifically highlighting the problems with the ‘cultural ecosystem services’ to which tourism and recreation is sorted. Considering ‘social-ecological systems’, the concept does not sit well with the mobile dimension of the contemporary society, for which tourism and recreation is one expression. When it comes to ‘sustainable use of biodiversity’, it can be noted that tourism and recreation does not really fit the often used dichotomy preservation – use, since it carries features of both. It can also be noted that while tourism and recreation might be devastating to species and habitats e.g. through exploitation of shallow waters with constructions like marinas, it also presents opportunities for sustainable alternatives, eg. by redirecting from large-scale fishery to sea safaris and less intensive leisure fishing opening for other kinds of businesses. On conclusion is that in striving to find sustainable solutions, there is a need to continuously sharpen the conceptual tools.

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