Experiencing nature with a visit to a natural park provides important cultural ecosystem services that can potentially improve pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes.
So, understanding the accessibility of protected areas and the way in which different visitors interact with them is a key factor in reducing inequality in access and help inform management and planning of natural areas.
To measure who was visiting what protected areas, we developed a novel social media database of visits to public protected areas in the Chilean biodiversity hotspot using photographs from social media. We then assessed the inequality of access using their home locations and socio-economic data.
Valle de la Engorda is only a few hours drive form Santiago. Photo: Casey Fung.
For example, Flickr users share geo-located photographs, this information can be used to calculate people’s visits to unpopulated areas and provide insights into landscape preferences. We determined the home locations of 3816 visitors who shared Flickr images and identified 2944 of these visitors with home locations in Chile. We presented visitor's home locations for four protected areas as specific examples.
Fig. 5. Examples of the distribution of visitors' home locations for four protected areas in the Chilean biodiversity hotspot: A. National Park La Campana, B. Natural Monument El Morado, C. Natural Reserve Altos de Lircay and D. Natural Reserve Malalcahuello.
The study area covers part of the Chilean biodiversity hotspot between Valparaiso and Araucania regions, encompassing about 148,000km2. This region holds both the greatest plant richness and endemism in Chile and the most populated areas.
We found that just 20 per cent of the population make up 87 per cent of visits to protected areas – and the larger, more biodiverse protected areas were the most visited and provided most cultural ecosystem services. We revealed that inequality in accessibility to cultural ecosystem services from protected areas is very high, with the majority of visits arising from a small proportion of the population.
Fig. 3. Total distance travelled per municipality against average income per capita in Chilean pesos, weighted by the total annual photo-user-days. Chile SM fig5