Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people" (TIES, 1990). Nature, low impact, bio, and green tourism are often interchanged with ecotourism, but do not usually meet the principles defined by organizations dedicated to Ecotourism (Briney, 2012).
According to the International Ecotourism Society, “ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles”:
Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate.
If ecotourism is heavily monitored, it can be a good thing and help save bio-sensitive areas by providing income, alternative food opportunities and education for indigenous people; however it can also contribute to the destruction of vital biodiverse areas. Tourism is a rapid destabilizer for healthy ecosystems (Nash, 2009). Poorly managed programs and increased populations in sensitive areas are drivers for biodiversity loss and may be the “last nail in the coffin” (Sandilayan, 2012).
Attitudes of tourists toward the animals, and environment have a large impact. Animals are harassed, plastic and trash is left behind. Cups left behind with sugary drinks attract bees, which become death traps for the bees. Plastic bags can clog the aerial roots of sensitive mangrove trees, resulting in poor air circulation and sometimes leading to the death of young plants. Bags in tree branches produce a uncharacteristic sound during wind flow, annoying and driving away the foraging waterbirds. Boat noise, sunbathing and various other human activities have sometimes subtle but devastating effects on wildlife and ecosystems (Sandilayan, 2012).
Ecotourism is a rapidly growing industry. Careful assessment and continuous monitoring are needed (Sandilayan, 2012). To learn more about ecotourism and how it can be effective; check out the web links below (note not all web resources are peer reviewed).
Briney, A., 2012. Online. http://geography.about.com/od/locateplacesworldwide/a/ecotourism.htm
Nash, S., 2009. Ecotourism and Other Invasions. BioScience 59(2):106-110. 2009
http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2009.59.2.3 (must be logged into FAU network to access)
Sandilyan, S. 2012. Online. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/ecotourism-last-nail-in-the-coffin-of-biodiversity/article4130989.ece
(TEIS) The International Ecotourism Society http://www.ecotourism.org/
Image credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fernando_noronha.jpg