- This study developed a strategic conservation project for the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon focusing on a signature species and this aquarium’s conservation focus areas (i.e., marine debris, sustainable fisheries, water quality, climate change). This study also examined the potential for incorporating an ecotourism or wildlife tourism component to enhance this project and provide visitors with a unique field experience. The first phase involved species identification using database analysis and informal interviews with Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) staff, research institutions, and government agencies. The second phase focused on suggestions for implementation based on these discussions and an internal stakeholder meeting with aquarium staff to assess institutional support for identified projects. This second phase also included input from the tourism industry to examine the potential for incorporating a field experience into the project to help generate personal connections with the environment, inspire public stewardship, and mitigate impacts in coastal areas. Main objectives were to: (a) determine how and where this aquarium could best meet the needs of local species and ecosystems, (b) identify any preferred AZA methods for development of a conservation project, and (c) explore the potential for incorporating a tourism related field experience to enhance the project.
The database analysis identified 23 potential species for the project, and identification criteria subsequently refined the list (e.g., species conservation status; Phase I). Interviews revealed three overarching themes: (a) what this aquarium’s conservation project should be and how it should be implemented, (b) project research and development, and (c) incorporating a field experience. Many respondents suggested species listed within the database analysis, including rockfish and sea otters. AZA interviewees reported benefits of focusing on a species housed on-site at the aquarium. Although there are no existing AZA protocols for developing a strategic conservation project, this organization’s accreditation questionnaire was recommended as a guide. Researchers who were interviewed also noted the importance of incorporating key stakeholder groups (e.g., fishing community) and policies into the plan. All interviewed groups agreed that database analyses of federally listed species coupled with interviews with stakeholders are important for creating a baseline for project identification. Respondents from the AZA and tourism industry favored incorporating a field experience into the project for providing benefits such as project enhancement and marketing. Some interviewees, however, were concerned about necessary resources (e.g., funding) and potential competition among industries for attracting tourists. These findings were reported to aquarium staff during a meeting (Phase II) where it was observed that internal consensus of project goals and objectives had not yet been reached. Regardless, staff interest in conservation of rockfish, North Pacific Albatross, and sea otters were taken into consideration during final project assessment.
Based on these results, the primary project recommended to this aquarium is North Pacific Albatrosses, including laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis), black-footed (Phoebastria nigripes), and short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). The alternative project focuses on sea otters (Enhydra lutris). Recommendations for project implementation and measurement are also provided and based on a content analysis of existing conservation projects and management initiatives for these subjects (e.g., U.S Fish and Wildlife Species Conservation Plans). Suggestions for a field component related to each project are also included.