The Application of a GIS-based Ecological Sensitivity Index using Geotagged Social Media Data: A Case Study of Ecotourism Sustainability in Mount Seymour Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada
Ecotourism, defined as tourism to places of ecological interest, is a multi-trillion dollar global industry. It provides an economic boost for many small, isolated communities and raises awareness for endangered habitats. However, some habitats, particularly sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems, are extremely vulnerable. Increasing ecotourist presence has the potential to exacerbate ecological damage in these ecosystems through disturbances such as trampling. Therefore, it is important to monitor the locations of tourists across zones of ecological sensitivity, and, if necessary, apply restrictions and protections to preserve vulnerable ecosystems. This study identifies sensitive ecological areas within Mount Seymour Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada, and quantifies tourist impact via density mapping of geotagged social media data. First, the factors that contribute to the ecological sensitivity of Mount Seymour Provincial Park were identified and a GIS-based Ecological Sensitivity Index (ESI) was created using a multiple-criteria evaluation. This index revealed that 63 percent of parklands are considered highly sensitive and unsuitable for ecotourism. Tourist distribution data was gathered via the Flickr application programming interface (API) and these posts were digitized into ArcGIS 10.5. Models of tourist density and tourist hotspots were created to analyze the relationship between ecological sensitivity and tourist spatial patterns. When comparing ecological sensitivity with tourism spatial density, the Tourist Impact Index only found moderate levels of tourist presence within ecologically sensitive areas. By running zonal statistics on the twelve identified tourist hotspots across the sensitivity index, a value of approximately 0.9 on a 0-1 scale was obtained for two hotspots, indicating that these tourist hotspots were located on highly sensitive areas. Overall, these findings suggest that there is some concern regarding ecotourist disturbance within Mount Seymour Provincial Park at this time, specifically on Mount Seymour Peak, but the overall disturbance from ecotourism is low minimal.