Eco-Tourism and Nature Reserves
Eco-tourism is an emerging industry
Keeping Vast Regions Natural, Green and Policed
There is much discourse on preserving large parts of Africa and the Amazon pristine to protect endangered species and First Nations, but beyond the talk, little is done to protect these regions from human expansion, resource development and poaching. We hear storeys constantly on the news about the constant erosion of these resources, some of which are vital to the very health and survival of all life on earth. Among these, the most threatened is the Amazon, especially since the discovery of vast reserves of crude oil under the very jungles that are now endangered for other reasons, such as slash and burn agriculture and mono-culture cash crops. Many are the plans and ideas to place vast areas into a natural reserve to keep them as they are. This includes the idea of selling acreage with the idea that it is not to be developed. Governments get into the act by setting aside large tracts of land under international pressure, but governments often do the bidding of their real bosses, the bankers and super powerful tycoons. In all of this, there is lacking one crucial element. Who is monitoring the situation to watch out for poachers and surreptitious “moonlight” activity. Policing and security for the vast reserves is very much on the back burner. There is a way however, to put policing in place that will actually be a source of income as well. This way is Eco-tourism, a new and developing trend in some areas of the world.
Eco-tourism can be done in such a manner as to give people an unforgettable experience of life in the wild with minimum impact on the regions that are under intentional protection. It has been done in some areas already. Five main regions and destinations for eco-tourism exist today and these are in the Alaskan panhandle in the coast rainforest, the jungles of Central America, Kenya Africa, Saudi Arabia and the jungles surrounding a region in eastern Brazil. In Brazil, one project has been going on for two decades and is worth noting as an example of what can be done.
“The world's largest wetlands were rapidly becoming grazing ground for the beef industry until Caiman Ecological Refuge, a working cattle station on 132,000 acres (53,419 hectares) of forest, fields, and meandering waterways, took a novel tack: protecting the Pantanal region with a sustainable approach to ranching. The 21-year-old refuge's four ecolodges are setting international standards in a place where ramshackle hunting camps were once the norm..... Canoe on the caiman-packed rivers, horseback ride with Pantaneiros, and nature walk in search of over 60 mammal and 380 bird species, including tapirs and wood ibis.
Spend a night or two in each of the four lodges, located throughout the refuge...“(1)
There are many ecologically sensitive regions in the world that would qualify for protection like this and to sell tour packages where the money can be used to enhance protection of these regions on land and sea. Picture some of the following proposals.
Vast stretches of the Amazon River and surrounding jungle can be set aside where tour boats, such as we can find in the canals of Europe, ply the mighty Amazon river while tourists watch the wildlife, wonderful birds and even some of the indigenous peoples of the region. These boats can be fully self contained like the great ocean cruise ships so that there is a minimum impact in the ecological reserves. As there are many tributaries in the Amazon basin, there is plenty to explore and the more that is left in the wild state, the more fulfilling and interesting these tours will be. It would be a rule of practice not to feed the wildlife and the
indigenous people to keep it all in a natural and pristine state as possible. It would be in the best interest of the tourist industry to protect these areas and police them due to their presence.
Saudi Arabia also boasts eco-tourism. “Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is home to the Arabian oryx, one of the rarest animals on the planet, has put almost 5 percent of the emirate under official eco-protection and created the first national park. The 40-room ultra-luxe resort draws heavily on Bedouin heritage, recycles 100 percent of its water, and grows a seed bank of 6,000 indigenous trees, shrubs, and grasses.”(1) Here we actually have input to improve and maintain an ecological heritage site. This is an example that can be followed worldwide.
The same would be true of any other rainforest, such as we can find the remains of in northern California up to the Alaskan panhandle. In fact, one of the eco-tours offered is in northern BC and southern Alaska. “When the largest copper mine in history was given a green light to develop the Tatshenshini-Alsek River watershed back in 1987, rafters reached for their paddles and fought back. "Our goal was to bring people down the river to be touched by its magic," says adventurer Richard Bangs, who made the first rafting descent of the Tatshenshini and helped lead the campaign to protect it. The Canadian government rescinded the mine permit and created a 2.5-million-acre (1-million-hectare) protected area connected to Alaska's Glacier Bay. It now forms one of the largest trans-border national parks in the world.”(1)
A video of eco-tourism
This eco-setting offers a raft trip that is some 212 kilometres long that winds its way among icebergs, grizzlies, moose, and osprey for the cost of $3,350 for a nine day trip. This is one of the more exciting adventures that are offered. This kind of eco-tourism can be extended to include rainforests from there to northern California. The west coast of Vancouver Island offers a lengthy trail, called the West Coast Trail through first growth forest that needs to be promoted further in order to protect it against encroaching development from the east. At this point, people who are into long hikes, travel the length of the trail mainly in the summer months, observing whales, seals and eagles all along the coast. Currently, one of the shames of the region was the privatization of vast tracts of first growth rainforest for logging and development. This was done from 2001 to 2004 under the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell. Protesters were jailed when they tried to protect various ecologically sensitive regions. The rainforests have been a battleground for the last quarter century. Many of these same regions could have been wonderful eco-tourism opportunities.
In Belize there is a reef eco-system that is being protected with eco-tourism. “Gladden is now a marine reserve where critically endangered Nassau grouper and massive schools of snapper continue to spawn. This is also one of the few places on Earth where divers and snorkelers can predictably swim with whale sharks; the elusive giants arrive like clockwork during full moons from April to June.”(1) Kayaking tours are offered over the clear waters so people can view the corals and natural marine setting from above as well as snorkeling and scuba diving.
Kenya boasts a million-acre reserve of African savanna where eco-tourism is the main source of income and protection. People are even offered the opportunity to learn traditional bush lore from local tribes that remain in their traditional ways and are supported in this eco-tourism location with minimal interference. Wild animals, plants and indigenous people can remain in the same condition as they were before development threatened the location as elsewhere.
From pole to pole, the planet boasts many unique eco-systems that can be preserved with eco-tourism. The approach would be minimal impact with maximum experience of living in the context of a natural setting. Many people who need to find their real roots, could have a wonderful experience on an eco-tour. Certain precautions would have to be taken. Rules such as leaving nothing behind by the wake of the kayak, or ones carefully placed footprints and taking nothing out but photographs are encouraged. In order to participate, people would have to pass a clean bill of health so as to not present diseases to First Nations people that may be encountered. Conversely, getting one's shots from the family physician before travelling to far offeco-tours would be a good thing to do. Eco-tours would have a travel at your own risk policy and the requirement of some education to orient the traveller to the experience.
Aside from policing and eco-tours, these regions would be off limits for any other reason, no matter what. For waterways and ocean reserves, there is boating, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. Boats and ships would have to be designed to have minimal impact. An exciting detail could include something from a bygone era where large sailing ships plied the oceans. The modern ones would have a different purpose in life; to observe and not exploit. Tourists could have the double thrill of experience of nature in the raw as well as learning teamwork on a large sailing ship. As sailing cruises are already offered, to combine some of these with ec-tourism would be a relatively minor adjustment. Jungles could offer a hotel setting with raised walkways above the forest floor, much like the Capilano tourist attraction in North Vancouver. (2) From this vantage point, the eco-tourist can watch wildlife on the forest floor and birds in the trees and sky. The walkways could extend for many kilometres offering a wide range of experiences.
Included in these packages are ideas, such as that in Kenya. Enough remains of First Nations experience where eco-tourism could offer experiences of living like First Nations in long houses, teepees and joining in on potlatches and pow-wows all without the modern conveniences that we have become all to addicted to in the developed world. We send our kids to summer camp. Eco-tourism can offer similar experience to adults and whole families. The possibilities of eco-tourism is limited only by the vast array of eco-systems still healthy enough to protect and to enhance ones that can be salvaged. The practice of eco-tourism has to be extended to far more vast regions in every conceivable eco-system; to explore and watch, but not interfere.