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Marine Life & Conservation

How do you know a business is TRUE eco-tourism?

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A guest article from marine biologist María Laura Marcías…

Given the current environmental problems we can all pretty much agree that we are facing a crisis. That is not something we want to think about when making plans for our next vacation. But you can help when planning your next holiday by considering choosing ecotourism activities. It is the best way to truly know a place. Exploring its natural and cultural resources, all while reducing your ecological footprint to a minimum in the process, or even better, having a positive impact.

Baja California Sur (BCS) is a Mexican state with a strong touristic component from its foundation given that it has a beautiful and diverse natural and cultural heritage. With so many offers, sometimes it’s difficult to choose a good company for your trip. How do you know they behave well to the environment? In many countries there are eco-labels provided by international regulations or local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but this is rarely the case here. Moreover, there is an abuse of the word “eco” for marketing purposes.

To begin, ecotourism activities must meet the following principles:

1. involve travel to natural destinations, 2. minimize negative impacts in both the environment and the local communities, 3. build environmental awareness, 4. provide direct benefits for conservation, 5. provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people, 6. respect local culture.

My name is Maru. I’m a biologist & science communicator from Argentina, who is currently working on a master’s degree in Marine Sciences with ecotourism in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. I’d like to share a few concepts and tips for you to help make your decision, based on my experience in numerous ecotourism areas:

  • As mentioned before, ecotourism is any recreational activity that involves appreciation and knowledge of nature with an attitude and commitment to know, respect, enjoy and actively participate in conservation of natural and cultural resources. This works for the tourists as well as the service providers. Regarding the latter, you should ask your company of choice about local conservation programs and how can you get involved.

  • The company should try to reduce its impact to the environment to a minimum. This involves noise disturbances, pollution, food wraps, local production of merchandising, avoiding single use plastics, and so forth. Their whole operation has to have sustainable standards.
  • Of course, tour operators should approach wild animals following current regulations with extra care and with precautionary principles in mind when new situations arrive. In addition, wild animals are just that, wild. This means they will interact with us as long as they want to, so we should not interfere with their normal behavior… this includes feeding them to attract them! With enough patience and a bit of luck, sometimes you will see things you might not have even imagined, and it is always a privilege to interact with nature in its purest form.

  • In the best scenario, the company should have an interpretative educational program designed to increase people’s environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviors towards the environment, not only in the place they visit, but also to take and implement back home. With social media these days, post-visit action resources can now be more easily implemented.

  • When delivering the information, they should not “press the play button” and vomit it to you (sorry for the image) like a robot. They should take into account your personal experience, background and interests. They do not know more than you, they know different things. It’s this shared knowledge that enriches both sides of the communication process.
  • Foreign companies have every right to work in the place, but must involve local people in some part of their operation. This could be done by buying local food for tourist’s meals, having local captains, or part of the tour guided by or with information provided by locals. This can certainly prove to be a plus for the tourist’s experience! Remember that ecotourism also involves cultural heritage.

  • Frequently we believe that having a biologist guide is the best option. Although sometimes this could be a plus, tourist guides with proper certifications, training and/or experience can be just as good or even better. Biology is a career where we are mostly trained to do research, and sometimes biologists don’t have the training, or even interest in science outreach or in guiding, so our degree is no warranty of quality interpretation. A well-trained tourist guide is someone that knows the proper sources of information and can deliver it to you in an accurate and serious, but fun way.

  • Above all, passion is the key. Tourist guides should love and have passion for what they do. This is the best way to conserve, protect and transmit cultural and natural heritage to others.

While working on research this past winter I was able to meet and experience firsthand how some of the operators in Baja work. As an example of the above, one of the operators that welcomed me into their groups was Dive Ninja Expeditions in Cabo San Lucas. My experience with them showed they went above and beyond these requirements. They have well-experienced tour guides. They care about the local area and propose different solutions in trying to achieve zero waste policies and sustainable standards. They promote and help local businesses and people. They are involved in creating and actively participating in citizen science projects. And of course, they are very passionate and love what they do.

Ultimately what defines a true eco-tourism company is an organization that does not strive to be the best in the market, but instead they strive to be the best for the environment where they are. And so, I ask you, do you recall the last time you went on a trip with a true eco-tourism company?

Disclosure: Please bear in mind that this is my personal opinion and does not represent the institution I study in. If you have any doubts or comments, please feel free to contact me.

References

Ballantyne, R., & Packer, J. (2011). Using tourism free‐choice learning experiences to promote environmentally sustainable behaviour: the role of post‐visit ‘action resources’. Environmental Education Research, 17(2), 201-215.

Brochu, L., & Merriman, T. (2008). Personal interpretation: Connecting your audience to heritage resources.

Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE), (1997). Programa de ecoturismo en áreas naturales de México. SEMARNAP-SECTUR.

SEMARNAT. (2019). Retrieved 7 September 2019, from http://aplicaciones.semarnat.gob.mx/estadisticas/compendio2010/10.100.13.5_8080/ibi_apps/WFServlet6b1e.html

María Laura Marcías is a biologist and science communicator from Argentina living in Mexico. Her research focuses on the impact of ecotourism with gray whales and whale sharks on people's environmental awareness.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Join Reef-World’s sustainability webinar at the first ever Scuba.Digital

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Reef-WorldJoin Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world.

 The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is pleased to invite its supporters to its Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020 (3pm BST on Friday 23 October 2020). At this virtual Q&A, members of the public will hear from industry leaders about the steps they’re taking towards sustainability, particularly in light of the current pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed plans and caused uncertainty across the dive industry: not least when it comes to sustainability. It has also led to a surge in the volume of plastic waste – particularly from single-use and hard-to-recycle products – with masks and gloves being found washed up on beaches. So, what now for green tourism? In this session, attendees will discover the unexpected environmental challenges that have been caused by the pandemic, how sustainability leaders are overcoming those obstacles and the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

Reef-World and the United Nations Environment Programme will host a lively virtual discussion with PADI, Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet, Scuba.Digital, Paralenz, ZuBlu and Bubbles Dive Centre. Together, they will talk about how the sustainability of the diving industry has been impacted by Covid-19 and predictions for the future of green tourism. Attendees will learn:

  • Why is coral so important and how they can be protected through sustainable diving practices
  • What sustainability leaders across the industry are doing to protect coral reefs
  • And how they’ve adjusted their plans in light of the current pandemic
  • What the future of sustainable tourism might look like, according to the expert panel
  • & the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

The panel discussion will be available to watch on the Scuba.Digital main stage at 3-3.30pm and 4-4.30pm BST (with a short break in between the two sessions) on Friday 23 October 2020. Attendees will be able to submit their own questions to the panel too.

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Reef-World’s sustainable diving events have been gaining momentum in previous years so we’re delighted to be able to host this exciting panel event despite current travel restrictions. While the pandemic is causing challenges across the industry, it also offers the opportunity for us to pause, regroup and plan to build back better with a more sustainable tourism industry. We must act now to protect our coral reefs – the very asset upon which our industry depends – and we must work together. So, we’re thrilled to be shining a light on the future of sustainability and help both recreational and professional divers around the world understand how they can support the cause.”

Natalie Harms, Marine Litter Focal Point, COBSEA Secretariat, UNEP – who will be chairing the event – said: “This crisis is hitting marine tourism and the people who depend on it hard. It has showed us once more that our health and the health of our ecosystems are inextricably linked. There is no silver lining for nature – now more than ever the diving community can lead by example and join hands for a sound environmental response to the crisis.”

The 2020 panel represent a range of companies who are innovating when it comes to sustainability:

Reef-World – the leader in marine tourism sustainability – aims to make sustainable diving and snorkelling the social norm.

The UN Environment Programme – the leading authority setting the global environmental agenda, which provides technical advice, support and funding for Reef-World’s Green Fins programme

Scuba.Digital – run by the team at ScubaClick Ltd – was created to help the diving industry network, collaborate and innovate in a way that won’t be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

PADI – The world’s largest diving organisation made a proclamation for the planet in 2019: shifting its brand tagline to “Seek Adventure. Save the Ocean” in order to expand its mission to include a deeper commitment to taking action to protect people and planet.

Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet – is enhancing environmental operations through a customised management strategy, starting with its Caribbean vessels. It is also helping The Reef-World Foundation establish targeted liveaboard protocols as part of the Green Fins initiative with the hope of improving dive operator and liveaboard policies worldwide.

ZuBlu – is a travel platform helping scuba divers and marine enthusiasts discover and book their next underwater adventure in Asia

Paralenz – has developed a camera that enable divers to capture and share the state and life of the Ocean as a seamless part of the dive

Bubbles Dive Centre – in Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia, is one of the global Top 10 Green Fins members.

This online panel event is relevant to representatives from all segments of the diving industry: recreational divers, dive professionals, dive operators, liveaboards, resorts, travel providers, diver training organisations, manufacturers, photographers, the media and more.

Jason Haiselden, Marketing & Sales Director at ScubaClick Ltd and Scuba.Digital, said: “It is great that Reef-World has grabbed the opportunity that Scuba.Digital presents to tell the industry and the diving and snorkelling public how they can make what we do more sustainable. Covid is forcing change upon us so why not take the opportunity to make sustainable changes.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org / www.greenfins.net or come and meet The Reef-World Foundation team at Scuba.Digital.

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