Is ecotourism helping or hurting the environment? | The Tylt
Is ecotourism helping or hurting the environment?
On one hand, encouraging tourism to the natural wonders of the world helps both tourists and the environment—at least in the long-run. USA Today's Brenna Swanston explains:
The main idea behind ecotourism is to educate tourists about conservation efforts and research developments in fragile natural areas, while also offering travelers a chance to experience those areas firsthand.
With education as the goal, ecotourism can fuel advocacy and environmentalism, which helps the world as a whole.
But flocks of visitors can also damage fragile ecosystems. The Atlantic's Annie Lowrey describes the bedlam taking place around the world:
Crowds of Instagrammers caused a public-safety debacle during a California poppy super bloom. An “extreme environmental crisis” fomented a “summer of action” against visitors to the Spanish island of Mallorca. Barcelona and Venice and Reykjavik and Dubrovnik, inundated. Beaches in Thailand and Mexico and the Philippines, destroyed. Natural wonders from the Sierra Nevadas to the Andes, jeopardized.
According to Lowrey, tourism among members of the global middle class has grown substantially, pointing out that "tens of millions of people have acquired the means to travel over the past few decades." This kind of competition to see natural beauty is sure to destroy it.
Like no other industry, ecotourism gives natural unspoilt areas an economic value, but this goes hand in hand with actively creating benefits for nature conservation and focusing on reducing environmental impacts.
But despite economic support, some critics say ecotourism has already gotten out of hand. In 2015, the Washington Post's Christie Wilcox reported:
Manta ray ecotourism brings in $3.4 million a year to the small town of Kona, which is big business for the rural island of Hawaii.
Despite these funds, Wilcox warned of the chaos years of ecotourism created off Hawaii's coast:
As the sun set, 25 boats converged on a small patch of reef just a few hundreds yards from the shore of Kona, Hawaii. With only four moorings, most of the boats illegally dropped anchor on the coral, dangerously tied themselves to other boats, or simply kept their engines running: a serious hazard if there are people in the water.
Ecotourism is the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry, but while operators often tout lofty conservation goals to lure customers, little oversight or evaluation actually ensures that such goals are being met.