Recreation Ecology Around the World: Part 1 – East Asia Yep, I have not posted in over a month. Whoops!  I feel like this is my busiest semester to date and what little free time I have has been devoted to trying to finish the A Song of Ice and Fire series or knitting.  Blogging has taken a back seat to research and other hobbies. However, recently a bunch of review papers have appeared in the literature summarizing the state of recreation ecology in various countries around the world (East Asia, Canada, Australia, and the United States).  As I work through reading these papers, I figured I could take write a series of blog posts that can serve as a tour of the world through the lens of a recreation ecologist (hopefully it will take less than 80 days…).

First stop – East Asia

Yu-Fai Leung is a recreation ecologist based out of North Carolina. Leung is originally from Honk Kong and still visits East Asia often.  This year, Leung published a paper in the Journal for Nature Conservation summarizing the trends in recreation ecology research in East Asia since the 1960s. His paper also addressed some of the unique challenges and opportunities faced by researchers in East Asia.

Recreation ecology originated in the late 1960s/early 1970s and has taken hold as an applied field of study in the US, Europe, and Australia.  What Leung found out, through an extensive literature search and synthesis, is that recreation ecology research appeared in East Asia at about the same time as elsewhere in the world. Additionally, the research trends in East Asia followed the same trajectory as research trends in the US and Europe.

The story goes like this:

1960s/1970s: Japanese researchers focus heavily on experimental trampling studies with some emphasis on roots and impacts to roots (roots are not a huge focus in US and European studies).

1970s-1990s: Research moves towards focusing on visitor impacts and the development of recreation facilities. Chinese researchers begin to explore carrying capacity (continues to be a focus in China until today). Long-term monitoring studies on trails begins.

1990s – present: Research begins to diversify as ecotourism to East Asia increases. Research expands to large protected areas such as National Parks.  Research begins to include a human dimension component.

Qianshan National Park in northeastern China (photo by Yoshi Canopus used under creative commons license)

Now, the majority of the studies found in Leung’s literature synthesis were not published in English; they were published in various East Asian languages. As such, researchers in the US, Europe and Australia may have been unaware of the rich wealth of knowledge coming out of East Asia. And to be completely honest, I do not think I have ever read a recreation ecology paper focusing on recreation impacts in an Asian protected area.  Such a language barrier is only one of the challenges that East Asian recreation ecologists face.

Leung points out that the research in East Asia is largely a scholarly endeavor and not usually applied in an actual management setting.  In the US, Europe, and Australian – recreation ecology is a very applied field.  Additionally, compared to elsewhere in the world, the research that has been occurring in East Asia is low in diversity and in many places there is no baseline data to work from or compare to (an important piece of information if you want to examine impacts over time).

The most interesting challenge that Leung brought up was the fact that recreation and tourism in East Asia is not very similar to recreation and tourism in other parts of the world. Many of the protected areas where recreation is occurring in East Asia have a long history of intense human disturbance and very high levels of facility development.  As such, it’s difficult to decide whether what would be considered an “impact” in the US or Europe is the same thing as an “impact” in East Asia. Defining impact in East Asia may become a major challenge to researchers as populations continue to increase and recreation and tourism consequently increases as well.

Thermal hot springs (and associated facilities) in a national park in Japan.

However, the high levels of use seen in East Asia are not all bad from a research standpoint. Recreation ecologists in East Asia have the unique opportunity of conducting research at use levels that are generally not seen in US or European protected areas. Additionally, since hardening (think paving over trails and building sidewalks, etc.) is often used in these high use areas as a management technique, researchers in East Asia can contribute to the recreation ecology literature through studies on the best practices for hardening surfaces.  Finally, many areas where recreation and tourism is occurring are located closely to local communities (and in some cases communities reside within the boundaries of the protected or recreation area).  In East Asia, there is the unique opportunity to include communities in the management of recreation and tourism.  Community-based management has been successfully applied to the management of wildlife preserves and fisheries, but as far as I know, very little research has examined community-based recreation management.

Overall, important recreation ecology research is occurring all over the world. Unfortunately, in the case of East Asia, language barriers have constrained the widespread distribution of recreation ecology findings. The unique characteristics of recreation in East Asia (long history of human use, prolific facilities and hardened surfaces, and high levels of use) makes the region a potential wealth of knowledge if recreation ecology researchers can overcome some of the challenges they face.

Leung, Y. (2012). Recreation ecology research in East Asia’s protected areas: Redefining impacts? Journal for Nature Conservation, 20 (6), 349-356 DOI: 10.1016/j.jnc.2012.07.005


One thought on “Recreation Ecology Around the World: Part 1 – East Asia

  1. Hey Ashley, great writeup! Yu-Fai is a thorough researcher and author. During our trip this summer to some of Japan’s parks, we saw evidence of this high-use high-hardening approach. If I may speculate, the driving force was the centuries of development occupying every flat (and not-so-flat) area. So, parks as we recognize them here in the West were relegated to very mountainous areas. Beautiful and rugged, but remote. Thanks for the post!!

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