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Marine ecotourism

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Could our oceans be getting `loved to death'? Consider some facts -- Over half of the 46,000 km coastline of the Mediterranean has been built upon. Hotel, beach front villas and holiday homes have replaced the very beaches that tourists thronged to. In the oceans of Thailand, the coral reefs are bare and bleached, mangroves and sea grass meadows have disappeared and nesting grounds of turtles have been destroyed. Even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is reeling under severe environmental and marine damage.
Mangroves in Florida
Mangroves in Florida

Call it being `loved to death', or call it the systematic destruction of our oceans -- the fact is that today our oceans are in danger. From divers touching coral reefs, to people littering on beaches, to boats dropping anchors -- everything affects the marine ecosystem. If we want our grandchildren and their children to enjoy a beach holiday or go snorkeling amongst coral reefs in the Andamans, we have to act now. Marine ecotourism -- responsible tourism along or in the coastal zone that supports the local ecosystem, is economically viable and preservative in nature -- is the need of the hour.

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[edit] Range of Activities Possible

There is a whole range of activities possible in and around the beach, that need not imapct its ecology. The challenge is in always being mindful of the delicate balance on which marine ecology hinges.

  • Sunbathing,
  • Swimming,
  • Snorkeling and Scuba Diving with certified and responsible instructors,
  • Dolphin Spotting,
  • Canoing and
  • Whale Watching, to name some.

[edit] Did You Know?

  • According to a UN report, coastal areas account for almost 60% of the global population making them the most densely populated zones and the most biologically diverse.
  • Almost 80% of the global tourism happens within a 60 km radius of coastal areas. So when unplanned tourism infrastructure and resources increase in these coastal areas, the effects are widespread and devastating.
  • The seven species of marine turtles alive today are all declining in numbers.
  • The popularity of whale watching is increasing due to the attention given to these creatures in movies and recent protection efforts
  • The energy whales spend on responding to vessels is part of an overall energy budget, which includes maintenance and reproduction. Alterations of this energy budget due to human interactions can result in loss of fitness of the animals.
  • Ecotourism is considered the fastest growing sector of the world tourism industry, with an estimated growth rate of between 10% and 30%.

[edit] Significance of Marine Ecotourism

Marine Ecotourism is a large chunk of the global tourism market, which is considered to be the largest industry today, worth billions of dollars and employing more than 10% of the global work force. It is important to accept the fact that this tourism traffic is not going to decrease in the near future. The only way to sustain this growth is to make it as eco-friendly as possible, and to ensure that every beachside vacation also ends up supporting local marine conservation projects along with adequately supporting the local people and their way of life.
  • Marine ecotourism can help raise eco awareness among the general population about the coastal environment and delicate ecosystems.
  • It can raise funds which can be used for various projects dealing with environmental protection.
  • It can provide alternate economic platforms to local people so as to reduce their dependence on the sea for their livelihood. The local population can be encouraged to conduct tours revolving around the appreciation of seascapes and geological features like caves and grottoes. They can also create packages around stories of maritime history and unique local legends.
  • Responsible marine tourism not only helps protect the environment but also has the potential to discover and nurture many resources that do not deal directly with wildlife or nature.

[edit] Dissenting Voices

It is true that despite all efforts, there have been a number of environmental disasters and social problems when it comes to marine areas, which have adversely affected the image of marine ecotourism.

There is a strong lobby that believes that despite all possible safeguards, responsible tourism cannot become a reality. Their point is that as long as there is tourist inflow into sensitive marine areas, there is a strong and unavoidable chance of damage. Case in point is whale watching. They claim that however careful people are, just the presence of humans in the whale territory in any kind of transport such as a mechanized boat, will disturb the mammals which in turn could threaten their natural biological cycle.

[edit] Stakeholders

Marine ecotourism is a fluid term. It can refer to anything from a two-day holiday at a beach to specific expeditions of six weeks or more at eco sensitive locations to volunteering at marine conservation camps. And there are a lot of people involved in effective management of the field ranging from ecotourists to all the other parties involved. The Eco tourists can also be classified under different categories –

  • The Professional tourists who are mainly scientific researchers, experts, activists and such others.
  • The dedicated nature tourists who are interested in holidays, which revolve around, protected areas and endangered species. These are also most often the people who are more geared towards understanding the local environment and history.
  • Mainstream nature tourists who tend to visit nature spots to enjoy a somewhat unusual tourism experience.
  • Casual nature tourists for whom nature tourism is just a part of the wider holiday experience.

The other side of the spectrum involves:

  • Hotel and resort owners who own beach properties.
  • Local fishermen and community members.
  • Members of local marine wildlife protection societies.
  • And all the other people who are involved directly and indirectly with marine ecotourism.

For any Marine Ecotourism project to work, it is important to ensure that the needs of both people on both ends of the spectrum are met.

[edit] Responsible Marine Ccotourism Practices

The Idea of a responsible Marine Ecotourism holiday is that it should allow the visitors to enjoy the surroundings in a way that is minimally intrusive or destructive to the locations. It should also sustains and support the local cultures where one is. Thus it becomes a responsibility of everybody involved- from the tourist to the local service provider and the local population.

  • Do not leave any non biodegradable litter of any kind on the beaches or in the water.
  • Be respectful towards the local customs and beliefs
  • Do not use lights and loud music around nesting areas of animals, especially on the beach or water.
  • As a tourist, do not buy, pick up or encourage in any way, the buying and selling of corals and shells.
  • Always follow prescribed guidelines. Seek information from local eco-tour operator, guide and/or the local authorities on what one should be careful about in a new area.
  • Make informed choices and whenever you can, support operators committed to environmentally responsible business practices.

[edit] How We Can Help

  • Take more interest in knowing about the environment and the delicate balance that exists.
  • Be aware of what the government and other organizations are doing in this field.
  • Do not litter on beaches.
  • Be sensitive to the local people and customs.
  • When diving and snorkeling, never touch the reefs.
  • Do not disturb the marine animals.
  • In case of Whale and Dolphin watching trips, be careful about certain vessels that should not be used, such as personal notarized water crafts like jet ski's, para sails, hovercraft's etc.
  • Always keep the vessels at a minimum distance of 300mt. from a whale and about 50 meters from a dolphin.
  • Never intercept the path of the animals or pursue them.
  • While animal watching, avoid making sudden or loud noise so as not to startle them.

[edit] Some Questions to Ponder Over

  • Is the potential damage and harm to the environment associated with marine ecotourism worth the educational and general amusement benefits for humans?
  • What are some actions that you can take today to help encourage sustainable marine ecotourism?
  • What actions have you previously taken in your life to discourage it?
  • If today’s practices continue, will the same marine ecotourism experiences be available for your grandchildren to experience?
  • The next time you go on vacation and participate in marine ecotourism activities (scuba diving, whale watching, or even a visit to an aquarium) how will you view your experience with regards to the environment and your interactions with it?

[edit] Dangers to Marine Ecotourism

The rise of carbon dioxide emissions and the resultant climate warming from the burning of fossil fuels are making oceans warmer and more acidic. Acidification threatens all marine animals and plants with calcareous skeletons, including corals, snails, clams and crabs. One study shows that levels of CO2 could become unsustainable for coral reefs in as little as five decades. This threat to the coral reef ecosystem can expose people to flooding, coastal erosion and the loss of food and income from reef-based fisheries and tourism.

[edit] References

  • WWF Marine Conservation
  • Responsible Travel

[edit] See Also