Ecotourism: First, Do No Harm

“I think there’s been a glib … championing of ecotourism, that it’s a win-win situation,” says Martha Honey, executive director of the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C. in an article in Science News,

When ecotourism in an area grows, the site becomes vulnerable to the same problems, such as sewage maintenance, that come with mass tourism, says John Davenport of University College Cork in Ireland.

Even for activities that aren’t usually destructive, a high volume of tourists can create a problem, he says. Such is the case with scuba diving—traditionally a well-managed, environmentally friendly sport. Throughout the world, researchers have seen a link between dive traffic and coral damage, Davenport says. Divers knock into corals or stir up silt that suffocates the reefs, which regenerate slowly.

When divers add an underwater camera to already cumbersome scuba gear—a juggling act that Davenport compares with “driving while having a shave and a smoke”—the damage becomes worse. In Sodwana Bay in South Africa, divers who took underwater photographs damaged reefs by bumping into them in on average, 9 out of 10 dives, whereas divers who didn’t take pictures caused such damage in just 1 out of every 6 dives, he reports.

“Since you’ve got a million new scuba divers [around the world] each year, it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Davenport says…

Currently, good research on ecotourism is difficult to find, says Davenport. Most destinations weren’t studied before ecotourism began, making before-and-after comparisons difficult. Moreover, many governments are reluctant to provide funding for investigations because they profit from ecotourism.

Perhaps the major barrier is the working assumption that ecotourism, with the conservation funds it raises, must be better than typical mass tourism. Says Hueter, “My concern is, that’s where the analysis ends, and only in rare cases do [researchers] look deeper.”

Read the article here.

Where, oh where, are the studies we need?

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