An application of an interdisciplinary approach to understand the interactions between Marine Recreational Activities and Natural Capital in the Basque Coast

Natural Capital refers to the ecosystem values that provide goods, services and opportunities for our livelihoods and well-being. The Basque Coast offers opportunities for numerous recreational activities: the study of these activities’ relationships with the environment and society is crucial to promote its sustainability. A multidisciplinary approach was applied to disclose the challenge of understanding the interactions between Marine Recreational Activities (MRAs) and Natural Capital.

In this work, a framework was created and evaluated to understand the interactions between resources, activities and impacts on the Basque Coast focused on MRAs. For this purpose, a matrix on the dependencies or MRAs on resources and their impacts was created through a literature review. Thereafter, the framework was validated by the tourists/users themselves, which provided information for 549 relationships in an online distributed questionnaire. The spatial and temporal variation of MRA intensity of use for recreation was estimated by a participatory mapping process, performed through the same online questionnaire, which included a selection of recreational spots identified along the Basque Coast. Information from 295 recreational users was analyzed to identify differences in MRAs intensity throughout the year and in the summer time, showing higher intensities during the summer time and distinct spatial distributions for some of the MRAs (e.g. recreational navigation). This information was used to determine areas potentially exposed to higher pressures as well as more valuable MRA areas. The economic impact of MRAs was also explored utilizing databases of the establishments and companies that support MRAs directly and indirectly. Correlations among number of users and number of establishments indicate that MRAs are more dependent on the Natural Capital than on the Built Capital. The social impact of the MRAs is condensed on the remarkable positive effects of MRAs on wellbeing and on the potential conflicts that appear between users when sharing space (e.g. between surfers and beach-goers).

This work represents the first attempt to identify, classify and quantify MRA interactions and impacts from a three-dimensional perspective (i.e., economic, environmental and social) in the Basque Coast and it will serve as a framework for more complex studies, which will be important in the context of managing a growing natural-based tourism sector.