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Assessment of Anthropogenic Disturbances Due to Ecotourism on a Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) Colony in the Blasket Islands SAC, Southwest Ireland and Recommendations on Best Practices
Abstract: The effects of anthropogenic disturbances due to ecotourism activities on a grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) colony were assessed during breeding and pupping seasons at White Strand Beach, located in the Great Blasket Island, southwest Ireland. The proportion of animals that were vigilant, resting, and flushing from the beach, and the abundance of seals hauled out on the beach were assessed as a function of approaching ferries, presence of tourists on the beach, time of day, season, group size, and environmental covariates. Vessels approaching within 500 m and the presence of tourists on the beach separately showed the strongest influence on the proportion of grey seals entering the water, as well as an increase in vigilance and a decrease in resting behaviour. Tidal state, together with group size, time of day, cloud cover, and wind direction, also showed a significant effect on grey seal behaviour. The results of this study have highlighted the need for a strict code of conduct for tourists and boats in the area to reduce the effects of disturbance. In the absence of a management plan for the Special Area of Conservation (SAC), recommendations are presented on best practices for ecotourism based on these results, with the aim of reducing disturbances of grey seals in the Blasket Islands SAC.
Key Words: anthropogenic disturbances, conservation, grey seals, Halichoerus grypus, wildlife ecotourism
Page Numbers: 268-282