The Earth’s demise has been predicted by hundreds of different cultures through the ages. But we don’t know when or how it’ll end. We do know, however, that every day, the Earth’s lifespan is lowered by the people that inhabit it.
The changes are happening all around us but none are feeling the strain more than wildlife. Some animals are now facing extinction as a result of the human populace’s impact. But the eco-conscious among us are making small changes to help – from turning off the tap when brushing our teeth to selecting holidays that are designed to be more eco-friendly – but does such a thing as ecotourism exist or are the holidays pedaled as friendly to the environment really just as bad?
What is ecotourism?
Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry. The World Conservation Union describes it as:
“Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature…”
Traditional forms of tourism are not sustainable. Issues faced like those in the Galapagos Islands are well document proof of this. An influx of visitors to a certain area can significantly damage the environment and wildlife surrounding it, and also interfere (often critically) with indigenous, local communities. These drawbacks with ‘traditional’ tourism make eco-friendly trips a growing trend where the emphasis lies on conservation, education, responsibility, and community participation.
How is ecotourism helping?
Let’s take Africa as an example. Africa is home to some of the most astounding wildlife, cultures, and scenery on the planet, but the continent now stands on rocky ground. Its population has grown from around 100 million at the turn of the century to 700 million towards the end. This drastic increase has put strain not only on natural resources but on the wildlife it is so famous for harbouring. And as its tourism industry continues to grow it’s more likely that its wildlife becomes a thing of the past.
Ecotourism is helping buck that trend.
In Africa there are vast plains teeming with wildlife which many tourists pay good money to see. This helps prop up the local economy, making it a vital source of income for the people who live and work in the area. Because of this, the community must help protect and maintain their wildlife to help guarantee that tourists can see what they’ve paid to for. The trick is to shift local community’s belief in conservation. Many don’t see ecotourism as a viable way to sustain the local economy, when in fact, it can help create employment opportunities and, in-line with the trend, actually bolster their tourism industry.
The continent is rife with endangered species and delicate landscapes under threat. With ecotourism, communities can bring tourists in, support communities financially, educate visitors, and control the conditions under which they visit – the three pillars laid out by the very definition of ecotourism.
There is also the argument that ecotourism can help raise awareness of corrupt and undemocratic political regimes that usually benefit from more traditional forms of tourism that are detrimental to the environment.
As ecotourism becomes more popular we may see higher numbers visiting areas of endangered species and habitats, which is great financially. The problem is that this can also cause issues like resource depletion and pollution; the creation of pathways and visitor centres can impact local habitats and communities, often driving animals away, and there have also been cases of theft and smuggling of animals which are then sold onto the black-market within ecotourism.
Ecotourism is a complicated issue. One can argue that without tourism in any form, we may have seen islands such as the Galapagos turn into paved over, high-rise hell. Would they really have conserved their wildlife and scenery if it didn’t earn money? Would Yellowstone be as well-kept and preserved if people weren’t interested in paying to see the beautiful scenery and wildlife it is home to?
The reality is that even ecotourism has is pluses and its negatives. And while negatives do exist, it’s important to remember that it’s vital that we continue to promote and educate in an effort to conserve and support local communities and their surroundings.
Without tourism, eco or otherwise, we may see them disappear.
John Stuart is a content marketer working alongside Tusk Photo, providers of incredible wildlife photography tours. Their tours are carefully created to ensure that keen wildlife photographers get the opportunity to photograph some of Earth’s rarest creatures. You can find them on facebook, twitter or youtube.