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WKU student conducts research on sustainable tourism in Iceland

WKU student conducts research on sustainable tourism in Iceland

Jason Fox, a Joint Undergraduate-Master’s Program (JUMP) student in the WKU Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies (CHNGES) and Department of Geography and Geology, recently completed research in Iceland studying environmental sustainability within the country’s whale watching tourism industry.

Fox, a senior from Russellville, spent three weeks in August with various whale watching operations completing interviews with managers on company policies and protocols relating to environmental impact, tourist education and communication with other companies. Fox conducted interviews in Reykjavik, Akureyri and Húsavík, a small town in the north of Iceland world famous for whale watching. While in Iceland, Fox also volunteered with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in promoting tourist education on whale watching in Reykjavik.

The aim of Fox’s research is to determine sustainable best practices in tourism management and how best to share them throughout the industry. Nature-based tourism is Iceland’s largest economic sector, and whale watching is one of the most popular activities available. Whale watching, in general, is also among the most popular ecotourism activities at destinations across the globe. In Iceland, while each whale watching company approaches sustainability differently, multiple companies operate out of the same harbor space, and often multiple boats view the same whales while on tour.

The project originated through correspondence between the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, CHNGES, the IFAW and IceWhale. As the whale watching industry continues to grow, IFAW and IceWhale seek to make sure that operators are communicating with one another to secure the protection of whale populations, while also offering one-of-a-kind experience for Iceland residents and visitors.

Fox and his advisor, Dr. Leslie North, expanded this project to include communication between companies on environmental sustainability. As Iceland faces threats of a warming climate, the environmental footprint of tourism must be minimized in order for the industry to sustain itself. Collaboration between operators, research bodies and organizations such as IFAW and IceWhale can serve as a first step toward sustainable tourism, and WKU CHNGES is poised well to help develop the best mechanism by which to facilitate communication and environmental education among all interested parties.

To fund this research, Fox received a WKU FUSE Grant and a WKU Office of Scholar Development Lifetime Experience Grant. Fox is a student in the Mahurin Honors College at WKU.

For information, contact Dr. Leslie North at or (270) 745-5982. To follow Fox’s research, as well as other activities of WKU Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies (CHNGES), follow the Center at @wkuchnges on Instagram and Twitter and/or @chngeswku on Facebook.

Contact: Leslie North, (270) 745-5982

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 Last Modified 5/2/17