Nathanael Stanley presents research at international ecotourism conference

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USF College of Public Health doctoral student, Nathanael Stanley, can check another milestone off of his academic to-do list.

For more than two years, he wanted to present at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference. However, because the conference was normally held in either Africa or South America, and he was on a student budget, he never attended.

But, for the first time ever it was held in the United States on Jan. 25-27, at the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability, and he jumped on the opportunity to take part.

Nate Stanley

Nathanael Stanley earned his BA in anthropology in 2012 and his MA in biological anthropology in 2014 from Texas State University. One of his professors at Texas State recommended he consider USF COPH for his PhD. (Photo by Anna Mayor)


“It went from being as far away and inaccessible as possible to right where I was,” Stanley said. “This is my first time at a research university, and I can see now that being at a research university, and in an applied field like public health, are exactly where I needed to be.”

The conference drew more than 200 professionals from around the world working to highlight and promote ecotourism’s role in sustainable development.

Stanley, who will earn his PhD in global communicable diseases from the Department of Global Health in 2019, shared results of the field study and meta-analysis research he conducted on community-based ecotourism infrastructure.

Community-based ecotourism (CBE) is a form of tourism that places emphasis on the development of local communities.

The goal of CBE is to ensure that local residents are the primary beneficiaries of the tourism business, allowing a major portion of the tourism to benefit the local community, while minimizing the negative effects on the environment.

Stanley reviewed 30 case studies covering Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, each representing a total of 15 different ecological zones.

He then collected field study research in the Andean Cloud Forest in Peru and worked with Rainforest Partnership, an NGO, in Austin.

“I specifically did a meta-analysis and a field study because I wanted to see if what I saw in the literature was what I would see in the field,” Stanley said. “When I saw commonalities and patterns develop in terms of the success factors between and among the 30 case studies, it was just very interesting. I suppose that is why the end result ended up being 233 pages; it was fun to write about.”


Stanley in Calabaza, Peru during a hike while conducting field research. Many of the local populations use the long and winding path to transport potatoes and fruit that is sold in nearby towns, according to Stanley. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Stanley)


The Rainforest Partnership sent him to Peru to collect demographic information on the host communities and to map potential trails for ecotourism attractions.

“There was little to no infrastructure for the ecotourism business while I was in Peru, so I assisted with the development of the infrastructure. I wrote their business plan and collected demographic information in both of the communities, since that information had not been collected yet,” Stanley said.

Through talking with the local population, Stanley said he discovered that their economic situation was worse than the NGO assumed.

“What is more, through talking with the president of one of the communities I found out that communication between the NGO and the two communities was very low, and that the communities were losing faith that the NGO would actually be able to help them,” he said.

Stanley examined how international entities involved in community-based ecotourism development, such as NGOs, often lack communication with local populations.

He also examined the dynamics of power within CBE and the need for host community empowerment.

“The finding I presented on at the conference was the existence and variability of power and control between the host community, being the population who will be the owners, managers, and primary beneficiaries of the business, and any outside entity assisting with the development of the business, such as an NGO,” Stanley said.


Stanley holding a biface hand ax from an excavation unit during his field research in Texas. It was the largest stone tool that came from the unit and dated back to the Late Archaic period (~5,000 to 3,000 years ago). “An archaeobotanist analyzed the edges under a microscope and found microwear and particles of some of the local vegetation called sotal, which is a type of desert plant. You can eat the root of the plant after it is cooked,” Stanley said. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Stanley)


Stanley’s research and field study led him to conclude the need for businesses to temporarily share control with the host community so that the host population has enough time to learn from experts.

The level of power given to the host community, as well as how power was handed to them, affected the success of business, according to Stanley.

“Little to no control over the business’ development would take away from the community-based aspect of the business,” Stanley said. “Yet, giving all the control to the host community, without providing the necessary education and training, would also hinder the development of the business.”

Stanley said it was a domino effect that social empowerment held on the host community; those who were empowered by the businesses fared better than those who did not.


Stanley sharing a meal in Calabaza, Peru after a field research day of harvesting gourds and granadilla. They attempted to get him to try a hot pepper, but Stanley said he refused because it looked painful after watching someone else try it. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Stanley).


“It seems like common sense now that I think back to it: if you provide people with education, it empowers them to the extent that they can provide for themselves and their community,” he said. “Sometimes when people think about doing community-based ecotourism, it can seem intimidating because you immediately begin to perceive the amount of time and effort it will take to develop something from the ground up, and in many cases you are developing it in a culture or social environment that is different than your own. But, starting with education can alleviate some of that pressure because the community you work with is completely capable of developing a program or business, based on their local culture, once they receive the necessary training.”

Stanley said his research adds to the discussion that CBE can help to address health disparities.

“Community-based ecotourism is a sustainable development technique, which contributes to increasing the environmental health of the area the business is located,” he said. “Community-based ecotourism also directly addresses five of the eight Millennium Development Goals: reduce poverty, increase access to primary education, promote gender equality and empowerment of women, ensure environmental sustainability, and encourage global partnerships for development. These are all things I saw in the literature and in the field, and I presented on all of these findings at various conferences. I do not know why public health is not more involved with ecotourism. There is a definite need for us to be since there are very large associations with global and environmental health.”


Stanley with residents of a village in San Antonio, Peru. He assisted the village with developing a community-based ecotourism business. (Photo courtesy of Nathanael Stanley)


Stanley hopes to eventually publish his research on this topic and will soon have an article on ethnobotanical data he collected in Peru published.

“I decided to do the ethnobotanical study as a side project because I have always been interested in medicinal uses of plants, and I knew that medicinal gardens were a method of income diversification in some ecotourism businesses,” he said.

He has also started researching the American experience of using assistive reproductive technologies and causes of human infertility.

After presenting at the conference, Stanley was offered a possible opportunity to recreate some of his work in Fiji.

“I’ve learned to be flexible with planning my future. Having a wide lens lets you see opportunities you may have never perceived to be possible. I never planned to research ecotourism or ethnobotany in Peru, but it was an opportunity that was handed to me and it ended up being one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had,” he said. “Opportunity is what students need, and in my experience, opportunity is what the College of Public Health, really USF Health in general, strives to offer its students.”


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.