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No data? No worries! Using social media to identify inequality in access to nature’s benefits in Chile

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
For example, people with lower incomes tend to visit protected areas close to home, while wealthier people tend to travel further.

By getting information on the current movement of people to protected areas, we highlight the need to expand the protected area network, especially in lower income areas, to reduce inequality in access. This should help increase the benefits from cultural ecosystem services provided by nature to people, and possibly improve pro-environmental behaviour.

This case study has important implications for policy in providing information on the distribution and spatial flows of people to protected areas. Conservation of natural ecosystems, cultural ecosystem services and the delivery of recreational benefits are explicit objectives of the Chilean protected area system policy.

For more information contact lead author Maria Jose Martinez Harms - maria.martinezharms@uq.net.au or @mjecoservices

Maria Jose Martinez Harms
ceed.edu.au

Martinez-Harms MJ, Bryan BA, Wood SA, Fisher DM, Law E, Rhodes JR, Dobbs C, Biggs D, Wilson KA. 2018. Inequality in access to cultural ecosystem services from protected areas in the Chilean biodiversity hotspot. Science of The Total Environment 636:1128-1138.

Acknowledgments: MMH is supported by the Ministry of Education from the Chilean Government fellowship and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions scholarship. MMH is also supported by the University of Queensland – Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Integrative Natural Resource Management Postgraduate Fellowship. BAB was supported by CSIRO Agriculture and Food, and Land and Water. KAW was supported by the Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT100100413) and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CE11001000104), funded by the Australian Government. This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation.

Credits:

Created with images by raandree - "chile region de la araucania conguillío national"

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