Whale-watching tourism as a driving force for socioeconomic development in Puerto López, Machalilla National Park, Manabí, Ecuador: El turismo de avistamiento de ballenas como motor de desarrollo socioeconómico en Puerto López, Parque Nacional Machalilla, Manabí, Ecuador
Balaenopteridae, Humpback whale, marine mammals, Megaptera novaeangliae, socioeconomics
We aim to analyze the socioeconomic impact of the whale-watching industry in one of the poorest areas in Ecuador. Puerto López, in Manabí, went from being a fishing village to leading the whale-watching industry in Ecuador. Thanks to the tourist attraction of humpback whales, the number of tourists in the area has increased by 15,000% since 1980, concentrated mainly around the whale season months of June to September. As a result, tourism services and employment opportunities also increased, bringing development and a better lifestyle to the region. The industry has become so important to the region that its value was estimated at USD 4.5 million in 2019. However, we consider this to be a conservative estimate and suggest that the real value may be even greater. Whale-watching benefits are not only economic: whales have brought a sense of identity to the region, which has worked to promote whale conservation laws at the national level. In recent years, the emergence of illegal whale-watching tour operators has become a threat to the industry, the region's economy, and the protection of the species, necessitating immediate action by the authorities.