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This article outlines the efforts of a small NGO, the Mareeba Wetland Foundation, to conserve nature and conduct tourism at its Mareeba Tropical Savanna Wetland Reserve in northern Queensland. It provides background about the establishment of the reserve and its nature and draws on the results from a survey of visitors to this reserve. It provides a socio-economic profile of visitors, their frequency of visits to it and their knowledge of it prior to visiting. This knowledge is found, on the whole, to be poor. The way in which visitors decided to visit the reserve is also considered as are indicators of the economic surplus obtained from visits. Because for most visitors their visit was an experiential good, doubts are raised about the traditional method of estimating the visitors’ surplus in these circumstances and also about the applicability of the travel cost method to estimating the demand for visits. A further difficulty noted (in relation to the applicability of the travel cost method) was the high frequency of multiple purpose journeys. The extent to which visitors learned about nature and nature conservation and obtained information about the Mareeba Wetland Foundation and its programmes is also evaluated. Views were solicited from respondents about the role which they believe NGOs should play in nature conservation and about public versus private provision of facilities and services in national parks. Significant implications are drawn about political failures in catering for nature conservation. Doubts are raised about the purist view that ecotourism needs to be conducted under virtually natural conditions if it is to make an optimal contribution to the conservation of biodiversity.


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