A nesting beach in North Carolina, USA, has had a record nesting season combined with the highest grossing tourism season. Cape Hatteras National Seashore had a high of 222 nests found in 2012, which is well above the previous record of 153 set in 2010. This nesting record could be due to a recent regulation that restricts driving on the beach to certain places and at certain times of the year, along with a $120 permit that is required to do so. Many believe this regulation has changed the type of tourists that are attracted to the area. Locals say they observed more people basking on the beach and fewer fishermen, in addition to a decline in off-road vehicles and an increase in fancier SUVs.
According to Tisdell and Wilson (2002), ecotourism (tourism in exotic, often threatened, natural environments, to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife) can have positive direct impacts on rookeries. This is aside from positive implications it can have on growing community support. Clearly the demand to engage in land-based turtle-watching is primarily based on the probability of seeing a turtle and the size of the population. In a similar case, the Harbor of Argostoli, Kefalonia, has a number of sea turtles visiting and swimming near the pedestrian walkway where many tourist come just to admire them. Therefore, the sustainability of tourist visits is dependent on the ecological maintenance of the local nesting beaches and areas frequented by turtles.
This should weigh heavily on political and community-based support for sea turtle conservation. Additionally, ecotourism can be argued to be increasing the survivorship of hatchlings. Nests are closely monitored and beaches are protected, with some communities even planting trees behind the beach to reduce light pollution from land. This is on top of the efforts that local conservation groups are making to protect and monitor nests throughout the season.
However, these findings are not an excuse for unregulated tourism. Sea turtles are threatened by extinction and all human activities must be closely regulated to protect their nesting beaches and frequented areas. Greece has a poor record of enforcing these regulations to protect sea turtles, but the above findings give a glimpse of hope that combining tourism with sea turtle conservation is possible and requires active engagement from all parties.