Sam Leslie (MSc Conservation and Rural Development Pathway) reports:
Sam Leslie (MSc Conservation and Rural Development Pathway) reports: Over the first week of March I had the pleasure of travelling to Malta with DICE’s Ecotourism and Rural Development Field Course with 9 other DICE MSc. students under the supervision of Professor Douglas Macmillan. Our aim was to study the feasibility of ecotourism as a source of income diversification for local artisanal fishers who are increasingly finding it hard to make a living through their traditional methods in the face of policy and market pressures. Based out of the sleepy town of Mellieha, we would spend the week working in pairs delivering surveys and interviews to key informant groups.
Prior to arriving on the sunny Mediterranean isle, our course designed a questionnaire to be administered to tourists as a means of investigating what draws travellers to Malta and to measure their interest in activities with local fishers, such as taking tours on Luzzos, the brightly painted traditional boat which typifies the Maltese fishing fleet, or participating in onshore demonstrations such as cooking classes. Furthermore semi-structured interviews were conducted with current fishers, a local fishing cooperative, tourism operators, and marine conservation groups, to increase understanding of stakeholder attitudes towards ecotourism as an option for diversifying income and to identify challenges that any future project wishing to implement such a strategy may face.
In order to better frame the results of this research, students made sure to also investigate Malta’s current touristic offerings by making sure to maximise downtime through excursions to the island’s stunning beaches, culturally rich towns, and ancient ruins. Having spent the last 5 months hard at work on assignments and thesis proposals under climatic conditions slightly less appealing than that offered by the Central Mediterranean, I wondered if it would be too late to update our risk assessment form to include strain from persistent smiling. My classmates and I were overtaken by the incredible cultural and natural beauty Malta provides.
A final report of our results will be delivered to the Marsaxlokk fisherman cooperative to better inform their continued efforts to improve economic opportunities for their members. All of SAC is additionally invited to attend our presentation (Mar 31st at 13:30 in room 116), where we hope to clear up any misconceptions our cohorts who remained bundled up in Canterbury may hold that we had simply snuck off on a mid-term beach holiday. Far from just sun-kissed cheeks and jealousy-inducing Facebook photos, the course provided students an opportunity to experience how to design and implement a project with real life application towards conservation and development goals. As someone who spent the two years prior to starting this program working on fisheries conservation projects in rural communities along the Mekong, I was impressed at the quality and efficiency which with our class was able to complete the project, a testament to the capability of DICE students, the expertise provided by staff, and nutritional advantage that top-quality, all you can eat buffets provide.