COVID-19 Impacts on Whale-Watching Collaboration Networks
COVID-19; coastal communities; natural resource governance; longitudinal network analysis; tourism management; wildlife tourism
Whale-watching tourism generates high-income seasonal livelihoods in coastal communities on the Mexican Pacific Coast; however, this sector is at risk from accelerated global changes. We evaluated the responses of a collaboration of tourism networks regarding the impacts COVID-19 using a longitudinal social network approach. We used a two-wave snowball method to identify potential interviewees and followed geographic and jurisdictional criteria using a face-to-face survey to map collaboration ties between 38 stakeholders involved in whale-watching tourism before and after the second wave of the pandemic. We also asked this group of stakeholders about their perceived impacts of COVID-19. We found slightly higher connectivity and centralization levels in the social networks after the pandemic. Loss of income and reservations, a decrease in both conservations and pollution, and an increase in the reduction in wildlife tourism were the main self-reported impacts. We also detected harmful pandemic legacies, such as whale-watching tours conducted using unregulated private boats. This research directly informs Mexico's whale-watching tourism policy by showing the management and coordination challenges that stakeholders face in a post-pandemic context. While the social fabric of coastal communities has been resilient to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found indications that the governance of marine resources can easily unravel if rule of law is absent.