Experiences with nature through visits to protected areas provide important cultural ecosystem services that have the potential to strengthen pro-environmental attitudes and behavior. Understanding accessibility to protected areas and likely preferences for enjoying the benefits of nature visits are key factors in identifying ways to reduce inequality in access and inform the planning and management for future protected areas. We develop, at a regional scale, a novel social media database of visits to public protected areas in part of the Chilean biodiversity hotspot using geotagged photographs and assess the inequality of access using the home locations of the visitors and socio-economic data. We find that 20% of the population of the region make 87% of the visits to protected areas. The larger, more biodiverse protected areas were the most visited and provided most cultural ecosystem services. Wealthier people tend to travel further to visit protected areas while people with lower incomes tend to visit protected areas that are closer to home. By providing information on the current spatial flows of people to protected areas, we demonstrate the need to expand the protected area network, especially in lower income areas, to reduce inequality in access to the benefits from cultural ecosystem services provided by nature to people.
Read the full article in Science of the Total Environment.