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Assessment of Carrying Capacity for Tourists in Nature Protected Areas (ACCTA)

Figure 1: Activities, pressures, components, factors, and indicators. 

Projekti Hrvatske zaklade za znanost
Start date
Jul 1st 2014
End date
Jun 30th 2017
The aim of the interdisciplinary project is to improve environmental management and increase conservation and social benefits of nature protected areas. We propose to do this by developing a novel, comprehensive method of calculating carrying capacity of protected areas, and demonstrating the method for two protected areas of divergent environmental and socio-economic attributes.
Major project goals:

Primary goal of this project is to develop quantitative scientific framework for carrying capacity for tourists (CCT) assessment in Nature protected areas (NPAs) that prioritizes protection. The developed framework will be general, accounting for possible pressures of tourist activities on four components of carrying capacity: ecological, social, physical, and economic (Figure 1). Carrying capacity for tourists is the number of people that may visit a protected area during any given period, which: (i) maximizes long-term protection of the area's objective, and (ii) does not cause unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitor's satisfaction.

Secondary goal of this project is to validate the general framework. We will implement the framework and calculate CCT for two NPAs of national importance in Croatia: the National Park (NP) Krka and Park of Nature (PN) Telašćica. These NPAs are undergoing organizational changes, and are in need of decision support systems to help them implement new management strategies.

Figure 2: NP Krka

Figure 3: PN Telašćica

Fundamental and applied research components

Method development contributes to the body of knowledge in conservation biology, ecology, and environmental management, while planned fieldwork on visitor preferences and behavior may contribute to social sciences as well. The fundamental research will be applied to calculate the carrying capacity maximizing protection of two study areas.


Calculating the CCT by optimizing nature protection is an interdisciplinary effort. It utilizes:

  1. ecology and environmental methods to estimate effects of visitors and the supporting infrastructure on the environment;
  2. mathematical modeling to calculate anthropogenic effects as a function of number of visitors;
  3. geographic information system (GIS) to link all the information;
  4. social science to estimate social limits to CCT;
  5. socio-economic cost-benefit analysis.
Importance of the results

Although the main advance of the project may be theoretical, the project will have tangible effects on Croatian nature conservation efforts, tourism, and economy.

CCT calculations for NP Krka and PN Telašcica will have direct positive consequences on management of the two important areas, thus improving environmental and socio-economic benefits of the two NPAs.

For the first time, there will be a systematic, quantitative approach to calculation of maximum number of tourists that can concurrently reside in protected areas maximizing nature conservation goals. Models, methods, and information management framework resulting from this project will advance environmental science to minimize risk of economic activity in protected areas. This will help sustainable development of Croatian tourism and, therefore, Croatian economy and society as well.

Results of the project have the potential to initiate a paradigm shift in environmental management and, therefore, conservation. Environmental and socio-economic risk assessment by means of calculating the carrying capacity based on the new methods will enable creation of proactive, forward looking policy, and the ability to incorporate a-priory estimated environmental and socio-economic risks.

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