Lack of institutional capacity, personnel and infrastructure
Even though the tourist industry is important for the park, we must not forget that the main objective of a national park is to protect the ecosystem. Special efforts must be made by INPARQUES and AUA (both belonging to the Ministry of the Environment) to improve management of the park's non-tourist areas, which will make Los Roques an attractive destination for "ecotourists."
A potential way to increase the number of park guards, taking into account INPARQUES' budget deficit, is to ask the AUA to pay for their salaries. However, INPARQUES must also assign permanent personnel to the guard posts outside of Gran Roque. INPARQUES has not benefited from the presence of so many groups that are interested in the park's well being such as, tourist operators, commercial airlines, and telecommunication and commercial bank companies. These groups could be important allies for INPARQUES, facilitating the acquisition and maintenance of equipment like boats, radios, and other guard posts to improve park vigilance.
Regarding Los Roques' personnel training, currently, park guards are taking a scuba diving course, training which would be beneficial to repeat in the future. Training locals to become park guards would be an ideal project. They have the skills and knowledge needed to successfully accomplish the job. The additional advantages to this idea would be helping the economies of local communities and forming allies with local leaders and the general public. In Los Roques, as well as in other national parks, there is ample evidence of how local park guards are respected by inhabitants.
Solid waste disposal
In the town of Gran Roque and the recreational zones of Los Roques, the AUA has the responsibility for solving this problem. They have carried out awareness campaigns and are planning to reactivate a program of sorting garbage in the town. The garbage will be sorted into containers before taken to the incinerator. A temporary concession was recently offered to take and commercialize solid waste on the mainland. The island's plastic cutting machine was recently fixed through an agreement with the AECI. Can-crushing equipment and an ecological incinerator system will soon be implemented.
Educational campaigns during the high tourist season could provide incentives --in the form of gifts-- to tourists who pick up their trash. A program like this was carried out in Mochima National Park with positive results. Gifts were provided and sponsored by companies interested in "green publicity."
INPARQUES has promoted guided visits to Integral Protection Zones for school children from Gran Roque. They have picked up garbage during many of these visits. Non-tourist zone cleaning campaigns can be organized for volunteer groups from local schools or from other parts of the country. Since Los Roques is so attractive and there are many groups with economic interests in this park, it should be easy to find volunteers for cleaning campaigns, while generating allies for the park at the same time.
The Minister of the Environment, Ana Elisa Osorio, recently presented the aqueduct and integral drainage project for Gran Roque which proposes to develop a fresh-water distribution system involving the collection and treatment of domestic wastewater. Three thousand million dollars will be invested in this project (La Rotta 2001).
Population growth and tourism industry
The Ministry of the Environment is developing a program to populate the islands of the Venezuelan Caribbean Sea. It is expected that in the long run a large part of the population of Los Roques will be relocated to islands outside the park. This will begin once the proper infrastructure, adequate for the region's harsh weather, is constructed (La Rotta 2001).
Gabriel Cruz, of AUA's Urban Department Program, informed ParksWatch that "sun and beach" tourism and fishing would be the main economic activities in these new settlements. The knowledge that people from Los Roques have for managing limited resources (e.g. water) will be used to develop the economies of these new settlements, which hopes to divert these types of tourists to other islands and away from the park.
In addition, the development of the tourist industry in the park will be focused on promoting ecotourism. Specialized tourism with high quality services would attract visitors interested in scuba diving, sport fishing, birdwatching, and observing other animals, like turtles and cetaceans. Ecotourism is becoming more important in the worldwide tourism market. Tourism of this sort will maintain a high level of income without having to increase the number of visitors to the national park.
This program seems to be the solution to the threat of population growth and it should be implemented as soon as possible. This will depend on how efficiently economic resources are made available, and decisions are taken by the Ministry of the Environment.