Animal species and wildlife habitats are disappearing and deteriorating at an alarming rate
The increasing emphasis on the importance of the natural environment by schools and the continuing exposure of environmental issues by the media, have enhanced people's appreciation of the natural world and increased awareness of environmental problems globally.
A new reason to travel was born, with a certain urgency, to see natural habitats and their wildlife before they forever vanish from the surface of the Earth (like for instance the Golden Toad (Sappo Dorado de Monteverde) Bufo periglenes on the left). Ecotourism or eco-travel usually is travel to exotic destinations specifically to admire and enjoy wildlife and undeveloped, relatively undisturbed natural areas, as well as indigenous cultures. The development and increasing popularity of ecotourism is a clear outgrowth of escalating concern for conservation of the world's natural resources and biodiversity (the different types of animals, plants, and other life forms found within a region).
There are actually two purposes for eco-travel: First, people want adventure, challenging, educational trips to exotic places, wet tropical rainforests, high mountains, and coral reefs. They want to enjoy scenery, animals and the nearby local cultures. But the second major goal of ecotourism is as important. The travellers want to help conserve the very places - their habitats and wildlife - that they visit.
That is through a portion of their tour cost and spending into the local economy of destination countries such as paying for park admissions, engaging local guides, staying at local hotels, eating at local restaurants and using local transportation services. Eco-tourists help to preserve natural areas. Ecotourism helps because local people benefit economically as much or more by preserving habitats and wildlife for continuing use by eco-travellers than they could by "harvesting" the habitats for short-term gain.
For most people, there is something irreplaceably satisfying about journeying to a new place: the sense of being in completely novel situations and surroundings, seeing things never before encountered, engaging in new and different activities, plus the very human desire to want to see undisturbed habitats and wild animals before they are gone. Those with the time and resources increasingly are becoming the so called Eco-tourists.
Costa Rica, with several hundred-thousand visitors a year to their national parks, is among the best and the most popular ecotourism destinations in the world. The benefits for the traveller are substantial: exciting, adventurous trips to stunning wild areas; viewing never-before-seen wildlife and plants. The disadvantages are minor: bad roads (by the way our actual President Oscar Arias managed in a very short time that we can enjoy the best road Costa Rica ever had. Congratulations!), less-than-deluxe transportation and accommodations. But what are the actual benefits of ecotourism to local economies and to helping preserve habitats and wildlife? The pluses of eco-tourism are considerable, but some negatives also have been noticed.
Ecotourism benefits visited sites in a number of ways. Most importantly from the visitor's point of view, through park admission fees, guide fees, etc., ecotourism generates money locally that can be used directly to manage and protect wild areas. Ecotourism allows local people to earn livings from areas they live in or near that have been set aside for ecological protection. Allowing local participation is important because people will want to protect the sites for their livelihoods. (Cahuita National Park is a good example where the local community and is taking care of their park.)
Finally, most eco-tour destinations are in rural areas, regions that ordinarily would not warrant much attention, much less development money from central governments for services such as road building and maintenance. But all governments realize that a popular tourist site is a valuable commodity, one that it is smart to cater to and protect.
Ecotourism benefits education and research. As people, both local and foreign, visit wild areas, they learn more about the sites - from books, from guides, from exhibits, from their own observations, and of course from our website (see
fauna). They come away with an enhanced appreciation of nature and ecology, an increased understanding of the need for preservation, and perhaps a greater likelihood to support conservation measures. Also, a percentage of eco-tourist dollars are usually funnelled into research in ecology and conservation, work that will in the future lead to more and better conservation solutions.
Ecotourism can also be an attractive development option for developing countries. Investment costs to develop small, relatively rustic eco-tourist facilities are minor compared with the costs involved in trying to develop traditional tourist facilities, such as beach resorts. Also, it has been estimated that, at least in Central America, eco-tourists spend more per person in the destination countries than any other kind of tourists.
A conscientious eco-traveller can take several steps to maximize his or her positive impact on visited areas. First and foremost, if travelling with a tour group, is to select an ecologically committed tour company. Basic guidelines for ecotourism have been established by various international conservation organizations. These are a set of ethics that tour operators should follow if they are truly concerned with conservation. Travellers wishing to adhere to eco tour ethics, before committing to a tour, should ascertain whether tour operators conform to the following guidelines (or at least to some of them), and choose a company accordingly.
Some tour operators in their brochures and sales pitches conspicuously trumpet their eco-tour credentials and commitments. A large, glossy brochure that fails to mention how a company fulfils some of the eco-tour ethics may indicate an operator that is not especially environmentally concerned. Resorts, lodges, and travel agencies that specialize in ecotourism likewise can be evaluated for their dedication to eco-ethics.
Basic eco-tour guidelines, as put forth by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the World Resources Institute (WRI), are that tours and tour operators should:
1 Provide significant benefits for local residents; involve local communities in tour planning and implementation.
2 Contribute to the sustainable management of natural resources.
3 Incorporate environmental education for tourists and residents.
4 Manage tours to minimize negative impacts on the environment and local culture.
5 Make contributions to the parks or areas visited; support or sponsor small, local environmental projects.
6 Provide employment to local residents as tour assistants, local guides, or local naturalists.
7 Whenever possible, use local products, transportation, food, and locally owned lodging and other services.
8 Keep tour groups small to minimize negative impacts on visited sites; educate Eco-tourists about local cultures as well as habitats and wildlife.
9 When possible, cooperate with researchers. For instance, Costa Rican researchers are now making good use of the elevated forest canopy walkways in tropical forests that several ecotourism facility operators have erected on their properties for the enjoyment and education of their guests.
Committed eco-travellers can also adhere to the ecotourism ethic by disturbing habitats and wildlife as little as possible, by staying on trails, by being informed about the historical and present conservation concerns of destination countries, by respecting local cultures and rules, and even by actions as simple as picking up litter on trails.
Have a happy day