Many governments in developed and developing countries have set up national parks to conserve and protect their fragile environments as well as profit from tourists. This is in response to declining environmental and economic conditions throughout the World.
All forms of tourism have impacts on the natural environment and the environmental impacts of ecotourism cannot be left undiscussed to put stringent solutions to its impacts.
Ecotourism is described as a multi-dimensional and complex practice that has a low or merger impact on the environment, contributes to the local economy, promotes cross-cultural exchange, and fosters environmental education.
Since the idea of ecotourism began, many governments within the Developing World have embraced and encouraged ecotourism as a means of attracting foreign investment and exchange. Limited numbers of people are allowed to visit certain places. For example, daily numbers are limited on The Inca Trail in Peru to conserve the beautiful landscape and ancient dwellings.
However, the question remains, does this practice wholistically sustain the environment? Is there more to this practice as regards the sustainability of the environment?
The purpose of this write-up is to explore these questions, answer them, and thereby facilitate a clearer understanding of the complexity of this phenomenon. Specifically, this article examines the impacts of ecotourism on the environment.
What Is Ecotourism?
Ecotourism is a concept that originated in the early 1960s, at a time when significant criticism was being levied against traditional tourism, otherwise known as mass tourism.
Essentially, critics believed that mass tourism characterized by package deals to familiar destinations, limited interaction with local populations, high levels of security, and a contrived experience with local life and culture was resulting in adverse ecological and socio-cultural effects, the results of which were only beginning to be observed.
Therefore, ecotourism can be defined as “tourism that aims at developing and maintaining an area (community, environment) in such a manner and at such a scale that it remains viable over an indefinite period and does not degrade or alter the environment.”
It is a unique subset of the tourism industry and means different things to different individuals, it is focused on the enhancement or maintenance of natural systems through tourism.
It is also a form of alternative tourism which aims to achieve economic gain through natural resource preservation. Ecotourism typically involves travel to destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. It is nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment.
Generally, ecotourism deals with interaction with biotic components of the natural environments. It proffers the sustainable use of environmental resources, as well as generating economic opportunities for the local people. Ecotourism tries to raise environmental consciousness by exploring ecology and ecosystems and by providing environmental type experiences
This Environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, usually have low visitor impact, which we are going to discuss on some of the low visitor’s impact on the environment.
Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism
Listed and discussed below are the impacts of ecotourism on the environment.
- Climate Change
- Impact on Ecosystem
- Loss of Species and Wildlife
- Environmental Damage
- Demand in Energy
- Wildlife Behavior
1. Climate Change
Many consider the term “ecotourism”, like “sustainable tourism” (which is a related concept but broader), an oxymoron. It has been discovered that tourism produces about 8% of the overall CO2 emissions and the percentage has been found constantly increasing.
A study published in Nature Climate Change in 2018 predicts that the emission will constantly increase by 4% every year which contributes to climate change. Like most long-distance travel, ecotourism often depends on transportation. Transportation is the main cause of global warming in ecotourism which leads to climate change. Research shows that about 49% of emissions are produced during travel.
The most polluting means of transportation are airplanes, which are followed by vehicles, tourist buses, trains, and ferries. Therefore, the tourism business should make efforts to reduce atmospheric emissions, especially now that we have consistently seen an increase in global ecotourism.
Better still, one should forgo the standard airfare and road trip in favor of one closer to their backyard. Instead of staying at a hotel, it can mean camping, climbing, hiking, backpacking, or biking.
2. Impact on the Ecosystem
Ecotourism is a form of environmentally friendly tourism that involves people visiting fragile, unspoiled areas that are usually protected, however, people tend to engage in certain activities in their diverse tourist areas.
High-volume tourism can damage the environment, and excessive entry into protected areas, especially when combined with activities such as hiking and camping, off-road vehicles, and recreational boats, can be significantly harmful to certain ecosystems, e.g., marine environments, polar coasts, and mountain environments. Environmental stress can also arise from accommodating the needs of the tourist.
Alternatively, ecotourism could lead to forest loss because it triggers economic development and engenders processes that lead to deforestation. For example, the destruction of local resources to make room for ecotourism is a problem; e.g., trees are felled to make lodges for tourists, and tourism requires improved transportation networks such as roads and trains, which are strongly associated with deforestation.
4. Loss of Species and Wildlife
Rare species are hunted down to use as tourist attractions. Increased competition for resources between invading tourist activity and indigenous populations both locals and wildlife means wildlife and certain ways of life disappear. In their place, these cultures and environments take on the same features and characteristics of previous popular sites.
Indigenous cultures are distorted to consumer culture to keep tourists coming, which leads to the exploitation of resources and wildlife that’s currently destroying destinations like the Bahamas and the Philippines.
Tourists can also impact populations of wild animals as a result of deaths, e.g., vehicle strikes, and by providing food to attract charismatic species, this can alter the long-term distribution and social structure by degrading crucial habitats through infrastructure development and pollution. Ecotourism, according to research, may be harming the environments and wildlife that it is supposed to protect.
5. Environmental Damage
Ecotourism can put enormous pressure on an area, which can lead to the destruction of natural features, e.g., overused tracks lead to soil erosion and damage to vegetation, increased pollution, discharges into water bodies, natural habitat loss, high vulnerability to forest fires, and increased pressure on endangered species. There is a real danger of some areas becoming overused.
6. Environmental Pollution
Eco-tourism can cause the same types of pollution as other industries, such as air pollution, noise, waste generation, the release of sewage, oil, chemicals, and even visual pollution.
In some places around the world, tourists produce up to twice the waste of residents, which can put an incredible strain on local waste management systems, leading to the overflow of landfills and sewage plants. In some cases, tourist hotels sometimes dump waste into rivers causing water pollution.
7. Demand in Energy
There’s also been an increase in the demand for energy-efficient hotels and resorts that benefit the local cultures as well as the environment. Tourist activities like boat rides, scenic flights, and heli-sking also use huge amounts of energy. As if that were not enough, gases are also used for heating and gasoline for transportation. However, a large part of this energy demand is not necessary as it drains more of our already-drained resources.
8. Wildlife Behavior
But a growing body of scientific research has found that the disturbances that tourism brings can affect wildlife behavior and biology with potentially serious effects. Animals in protected areas may face stress due to ecotourism
Several studies have shown that animal behavior is affected by the proximity of tourists through the alteration of their habitat and feeding patterns. How these changes affect the health of individual animals is unclear.
In Kenya, the activity pattern of female cheetahs is affected by tourism, and this can be harmful to the animals if, e.g., the ability to hunt or to flee from enemies is thereby reduced.
Study shows that white sharks are more active and likely to use more energy when interacting with tourism operators compared to when operators are absent, raising behavioral changes maybe be caused by tourism. In hoatzins, a bird found in the Amazon rain forest, 50% of nests in restricted areas had at least one fledgling compared with only 15% in tourist zones in research by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
And in Africa, while the International Gorilla Conservation Program recognizes that gorillas and tourism are now inextricably linked, with tourism providing the funds needed for conservation, gorillas are closely related enough to humans to suffer many of the same diseases.
With first-time exposure to an illness or virus that is relatively innocuous to humans being able to devastate an entire gorilla population, very strict rules have had to be put in place to minimize the health risks.
Eco-tourism has had an impact on the way people think about leisure and how they feel about vacations. However, the fun doesn’t have to be sacrificed for sustainability and a greener planet. These lifestyles open up more opportunities to see the world and make every vacation an adventure.
Always keep the environment in mind. As long as you are keeping the health of the environment in mind when you plan your vacation, you’ll be doing your part as a responsible traveler.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.