Module 2

Unit 2.3

Introduction to Blue Tourism Economy

University of Malta
Institute for Tourism, Travel & Culture

Blue Economy Tourism & environmental matters (coastal/maritime)

Main material source

Environmental impacts and the vulnerability of Coastal and Maritime Tourism

It has been observed that coastal and maritime tourism have increasing negative environmental externalities.

This is mainly due to the air, water and waste pollution and the direct and induced land-use change in urban, rural and natural spaces. At the same time this type of tourism is highly dependent on the health of natural ecosystems that provide much of the attractiveness of the Mediterranean region.

Coastal and maritime tourism activities

Coastal tourism refers to beach-based tourism and recreation activities, including swimming, sunbathing and surfing, alongside other activities taking place on the coast and for which the proximity of the sea is advantageous, such as coastal walks or wildlife watching.

Maritime tourism includes predominantly water-based activities, such as sailing, yachting and cruising, and other nautical sports.

Both coastal and maritime tourism are among the oldest and largest segments of the tourism industry. They evolved from leisure activities reserved to the wealthiest in the 19th century to more so-called democratic activities within the reach of middle and working classes, especially with the mainstreaming of paid vacations and all inclusive resorts, as well as affordable means of transportation.


Ecorys (2013): Study in support of policy measures for maritime and coastal tourism at EU level 

Honey M. & Krantz D. (2007): Global Trends in Coastal Tourism

Impacts of coastal and maritime tourism

The negative environmental impacts of tourism on the coastal and maritime areas of areas such as the Mediterranean stem mainly from the construction and use of infrastructures such as hotels, second-home residencies, ports and marinas, waste treatment facilities, and from maritime or coastal recreational activities, including nautical tourism, golf courses and water sports.

These negative externalities consist of water and energy consumption for tourism services, for e.g. for swimming pools, golf courses, accommodation and air conditioning, especially in water sensitive areas, where they also lead to land change and the artificialisation of the coast, pollution, and biodiversity loss.

Marine litter

Marine litter is one particularly critical issue: in some Mediterranean tourism areas, more than 75% of the annual waste production is generated during the summer and is directly correlated to the number of tourists. In fact, coastal tourism denigrates ecosystems through multiple pressures, such as waste, water and air pollution, light and noise pollution, the introduction and propagation of alien species, urbanisation, transportation, and resource use. Such pressures do not solely impact the ecosystems within the proximities to the sources of pressures but impact far away ecosystems; this happens through marine plastic litter and air pollution from maritime transport in particular, which rapidly disperse with the marine and air currents respectively.

Cruise tourism is also having strong environmental impacts. Cruise ships travel from port to port polluting the air, impacting public health and degrading natural ecosystems. In fact, the Mediterranean cruise fleet of one single company, consisting of 47 ships, emits about 10 times more sulfur oxide (SOx) than the over 260+ million passenger vehicles in Europe. Equally importantly, is the introduction of alien species through ballast water of cruise ships, which can potentially result in irreversible damages for the entire ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cruise ships travel relatively close to the coastline where biodiversity is most vulnerable to pollution. Hence, cruise tourism, along with shipping, contribute to the decline of marine species, such as marine mammals affected by ship strike. Noise pollution, from cruises and recreational boating, is another major factor which impairs the livelihood of marine fishes and mammals along coastal waters, further impoverishing the marine ecosystem.

Sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions are mainly due to the presence of sulfur compound in the fuel. Smoke containing sulfur oxides emitted by the combustion of marine fuel will often oxidize further, forming sulfuric acid which is a major contributor to acid rain.

Given the anticipated sectoral growth, those environmental and social pressures are likely to increase if adequate policies are not implemented at local and national level. As Northern Mediterranean countries are a rather mature tourism destination, most of these pressures are likely to increase in Southern Mediterranean Countries (SMCs) with weaker regulations and poorer enforcement capacities.

Abassov, F. and al. (2019): One corporation to pollute them all. Transport & Environment.

Transport & Environment (2021): Cruise ships impact.

Plan Bleu & UNEP (2020): State of the Environment and Development (SoED). UNWTO Tourism Dashboard.

Dependency of tourism on natural ecosystems

The environmental pressures from human-induced activities also take a toll on the tourist industry as it lowers the attractiveness of tourist destinations. This loss of attractiveness, stemming due to pressures from coastal tourism, is evident from waste pollution, including presence of faecal water in beaches, and the degradation and loss of flora and fauna due to water scarcity derived from tourist infrastructure.

The development of coastal tourism infrastructure, which is especially dense within the area from Southern Spain to Northern Italy, has eliminated entire ecosystems and has resulted in highly vulnerable economies dependent on mass tourism.

Infrastructure leads to light pollution that worsens the survival of coastal species as it alters their reproductive cycles and confuses species, such as new-born turtles which race inland towards artificial light instead of to the sea.

Tourism vulnerability to climate change

The Mediterranean tourism sector is exposed to growing pressures linked to the effects of climate change. Coastal erosion, for example, is already evident throughout the Mediterranean coast, especially in the southern part. Lack of water, coastal erosion and rising sea levels are some of the challenges that climate change poses to tourism operators and other stakeholders on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The most worrying impacts of climate change on tourism sector in the medium (2030) and long-term (2050) are likely to affect especially the Eastern (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine) and Western (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) southern Mediterranean countries:

Direct impacts: loss of visits and increase in direct costs due to high climate instability that discourages local visitors and in particular international visitors.

Indirect impacts: decrease of attractiveness due to the local biodiversity losses characterizing the destination, as well as the deterioration of local essential infrastructures (transport, hospitality, etc.) due to flood pressure.

Some important direct impacts on the tourism sector are not immediately visible. This causes a distortion of the climate change risk perception of the tourism sector operators, which, to date, have arguably not given priority and enough attention to adaptation and mitigation actions to climate change, increasing the vulnerability of destinations in the Mediterranean coast.

UfM (2018): Climate change impact on the tourism sector in the southern Mediterranean. Foreseen developments and policy measures.

J=Jordan, I=Israel, L=Libanon, P=Palestine, E=Egypt; T=Turkey, A=Algeria, M=Morocco.

Community, Eco- and Nature-based Tourism

Nature-based and community-based tourism are relatively recent emerging options of the tourism industry that aim at redirecting relatively small numbers of travellers to less mainstream locations and activities. This is done in order to alleviate their weight on the ecosystems.

Sustainable practices are being explored under these markets. One of these is ecosystem-based management, that adapts to the pre-existing environment in order to sustain it, interact with it and protect it. However, the implementation of genuinely sustainable and responsible models in the Mediterranean is unfortunately still marginal.

Ecotourism in coastal and maritime areas

Ecotourism in coastal and maritime areas can be defined as tourism of either unexplored or endangered environments with the purpose of supporting conservation efforts made in the area together with scientific research developments.

By definition, ecotourism in coastal and maritime areas seeks to reduce the impacts and pressures generated by conventional tourism by promoting good practices as well as cutting down on bad practices. Yet, nature-based activities, though controlled and monitored, still generate direct impacts on the protected ecosystems that need to be contained and deflected using the resources generated. Therefore, on the one hand, ecotourism aims to specifically counter environmental degradation. Yet, on the other, it can sometimes cause it. Ecotourism may involve taking tourists to ecosystems that are relatively untouched by humans. Human presence can disturb these ecosystems, scaring off prey and disrupting hunting patterns for predators, cause soil erosion and habitat loss if the number of travellers increases rapidly. Uncontrolled recreational activities also threaten the wildlife.

Tourism in marine protected areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) refers to the protective management of certain natural areas with the aim of preserving their natural state. Preserved for the resources, biodiversity or species they contain, they are delineated zones inside of which certain identified activities are non-permitted. In order to identify the boundaries of an MPA and the objectives of the conservation, in-depth knowledge of the area is needed. MPAs require the establishment of surveillance and monitoring mechanisms to fulfil compliance. Such environmental conservation initiatives have been growing in the past decades. A key aspect of an MPA and its direct impact on tourism deals with the limitation of the number of tourists that can access the wild area in order to reduce overcrowding. While it is sometimes difficult to measure the ideal number of tourists to reduce negative environmental externalities without harming the local economy, these practices help to set rules that constrain mass tourism and some of the negative derives of ecotourism.

To estimate the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of MPAs, a series of tools exist, such as social–ecological systems, impact evaluation, and common‐pool resource governance. These complementary scientific frameworks aim at documenting the ecological and social impacts of several conservation interventions such as MPAs. This impact evaluation of governance in social–ecological systems shows that MPAs have a positive impact on ecological dynamics and on the ecosystem in general.

IUCN : Marine Protected Areas

Michael B. Mascia and al. (2017) : A novel framework for analyzing conservation impacts: evaluation, theory, and marine protected areas

MPAs also influence, directly and indirectly, the well-being of the population through multiple channels. For instance, introducing new systems of marine resources governance into MPAs leads to adapted and enhanced services in flows of marine ecosystems such as provisioning services (e.g. fisheries), infrastructures, regulatory services (e.g. carbon sequestration) and cultural services (e.g. tourism) as well as supporting services.

Furthermore, MPAs allow a more transparent distribution of resources within and among social groups while reallocating the benefits of ecosystem services. They determine at once the size of the marine economy generated by the ecosystem services, the distribution of property rights and the size of each individual dividend.

When accounting for the spillover of tourism in MPAs, especially from the ecological perspective, one should look at the shift in behaviour of tourists in MPAs as well as in the peripheral areas, where recreational activities, such as fishing or swimming, are allowed.

MPAs and indirect impacts

Establishing an area as MPAs can have various indirect impacts. For instance, redistributing the revenues from fishing of an MPA to other regions (fishing being often prohibited in MPAs), could increase the cost of fishing and lower profitability, given that travel distances might increase, as well as exploratory fishing and the aggregation of fishing pressure in non‐MPA locations. Yet, prohibiting fishing in MPA would also result in the increase of fish abundance in the area, benefiting fishable areas, and therefore mitigating some or all of the previously mentioned costs. However, the concept of MPAs implies a protection of a particular area that leaves surrounding areas particularly exposed to the negative impacts of tourism: in short, establishing MPAs increases potential pollution and destruction of nearby areas.

Ecosystem services in the tourism sector

The ecosystem approach uses the concept of ecosystem services to value the processes within ecosystems in monetary terms. Ecosystem services take into account the value of ecosystems in markets, which have historically greatly undermined the critical role of ecosystems in enabling natural processes that are necessary for human wellbeing and subsistence. Hence, it introduces an instrument for the introduction of economics in conservation policies and environmental aspects in sectoral policies.

Camino Liquete, Chiara Piroddi, Diego Macías, Jean-Noël Druon & Grazia Zulian (2016) : Ecosystem services sustainability in the Mediterranean Sea: assessment of status and trends using multiple modelling approaches. Nature, scientific reports.

The concept of ecosystem services

Ecosystem services refer to the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being, in terms of both tangible and intangible benefits. Ecosystem services are generally classified into four categories:

Provisioning services are those that lead to energy outputs such as food, fresh water, wood, fibre, genetic resources, energy, and medicine.

Regulating services are the benefits coming from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control.

Habitat or Supporting services are those which are essential for all other ecosystem services, such as biomass production, oxygen, soil formation and retention, nutrient cycling, water cycling, and provisioning of habitat for species and the maintenance of gene pools.

Cultural services include non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, TEEB, IPEBS,

Julian Rode, Marc Le Menestrel, Gert Cornelissen (2015) : Can monetary valuation undermine nature conservation?

It is important to note that while integrating monetary criteria in conservation aims of incentivising nature protection, there is always a risk of prioritizing monetary-based decisions that do not really benefit conservation.

End of Unit 2.3

Unit 2.2
Module 3