In just a single second, 45 tourists have arrived at their destination. That amounts to 1.4 billion tourists in one year.
The tourism industry is huge and often it impacts locations that have both outstanding natural beauty and poor infrastructure in place. Tourists deplete the local resources and result in waste which often can’t be well managed. Tourism also puts stress on land use, damaging natural habitats, migrations, turtle nesting and more.
Often, people have good intentions. It might be that you’re massively into conservation and nature and you want to see wildlife and habitats before they are lost. But no matter what your intentions, it can be challenging to immerse yourself in nature without damaging it.
Greta Thunberg famously promised not to travel by plane due to the associated carbon emissions. Tourism contributes to more than 5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation accounting for 90 per cent of this.
Grim news for explorers — but before you put your backpack in the attic and say goodbye to any exotic holidays we want to share a potential solution: ecotourism.
What is ecotourism?
Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015)
Ecotourism is about educating people and building a relationship with nature and cultures while also providing social and economical benefits.
Ecotourism is a win-win. Tourists get to experience nature and local culture in a holistic way while giving back. Costa Rica was one of the first countries that started eco-tourism in the 1990s. Today, around 25% of their land is devoted to national parks and wildlife reserves and 98% of Costa Rica’s energy is produced from renewable resources!
How can I participate in ecotourism?
All it takes is to be a bit more mindful of your impact. If you’re feeling stuck, start with these ideas: travel slow (no flights), support ecotourism organizations, reduce your waste, respect the wildlife and support the locals.
A few more detailed examples:
Swap your jet ski or motorboat for a kayak. Most jet skis run on a combination of oil and gasoline which is even worse than gas engines. They also make it very easy to manoeuvre through shallow and narrow waters, harming marine life and ecosystems. Kayaking takes you to super remote places along rivers and the ocean without polluting them. You can also see wildlife up close without scaring them away with a loud motor.
Rather than travelling on a cruise ship which creates the same emissions as a million cars in one day, travel by a sailing boat. They’re not only driven by wind but also require way less energy and waste. It’s also a much more connected and thrilling way of travelling and living on the water!
Are you visiting a location with marine life? If you’re a diver or snorkeler why not check Green Fins to find a sustainable dive center to support. You can also go swimming or diving with sharks. In rural marine economies with high poverty, when you pay to interact with sharks, you increase their value alive (and decrease their value when dead, fished for their meat or fins).
At the end of your trip try to support local artisans when you buy your souvenirs rather than stopping at a large chain. This way you are supporting the local economy and reducing the air miles of the products you’re purchasing.
Want to dig deeper?
This week we will be talking a lot more about ecotourism on our Instagram stories. Tune in and get involved.
We’ll also be interviewing Brendon Sing on our 23rd AMA on the 12th of January at 2 pm UTC, live on Instagram. Originally from South Africa, Brendon has been diving and researching sharks for over 20 years whilst achieving the highest qualifications in the scuba diving industry. Together with his wife Liz, Brendon created Shark Guardian to protect the mighty shark.
We’ll be getting to know Brendon, discussing Shark Guardian’s work, and talking about the topic of eco-tourism and how the tourist industry can protect sharks.
Read more about the upcoming AMA here.