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Volunteer Tourism for Marine Conservation: A Force for Positive Change in Northern Belize

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Title: Volunteer Tourism for Marine Conservation: A Force for Positive Change in Northern Belize
Author: Meeker, Alexandra
Department: Department of Geography
Program: Geography
Advisor: Gray, Noella
Abstract: As one of the fastest growing sectors of alternative tourism, volunteer tourism projects advertising opportunities for potential travelers to ‘do their part’ and ‘save the environment’ with conservation and/or research elements are increasingly popular. This thesis evaluates how multiple stakeholder groups perceive volunteer tourism in Sarteneja, Belize within a marine protected area (MPA) context as a mechanism of neoliberal conservation. Additionally, this research considers how the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is transformed in a neoliberal environment. Using data from semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and a single focus group, this thesis concludes that despite the enthusiastic debate around the questionable validity of neoliberal conservation as an approach to sustainable development, volunteer tourism in this case study can be considered an instrument for positive change at the community level as well as supporting national efforts for biodiversity conservation. However, in order to achieve these overarching benefits, critical attention must be heeded to the ways in which these volunteer experiences are produced through processes of commodifying nature, while simultaneously considering the desires of the involved stakeholder groups.
Date: 2014-05
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