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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

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up

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The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Dive Guides invited to apply for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship

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Reef-World’s campaign is helping dive guides in need receive Green Fins environmental certification

The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is calling for dive guides to submit their application for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship.

As a result of the Scholarship campaign, dive guides working around the world – including Brazil, the Philippines, Egypt, Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey – have received their certificate proving their status as a Green Fins certified dive guide. Yet, thanks to funding from Reef-World’s partner Paralenz, 149 more scuba diving guides will be able to receive their Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course environmental certification.

Dive guides who meet the criteria (outlined below) can apply for the scholarship at any time through the Green Fins website. To be eligible for the scholarship, guides must:

  • have completed and passed all modules of the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course
  • be able to demonstrate they or their employer are not financially able to purchase the certificate
  • be a national of a country which receives official development assistance from the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Scholarship was created in response to feedback from dive guides who had passed the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course and were keen to download and display their personalised electronic certificate but were not financially able to cover the associated cost (£19 / $25 USD). The personalised electronic certificate can be displayed to entice eco-minded guests by informing them the guide has received this vital environmental certification and is aware of how to reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with diving.

Diving related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or run-off from land containing pollutants and plastic debris as well as the effects of climate change, such as rising sea temperatures. The Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course, created with the support of Professional SCUBA Schools International (PSS) and running on their innovative EVO e-learning platform, teaches dive professionals how to prevent diving-related damage to coral reefs by following the highest environmental standards and better managing their guests to prevent damage to the reef.

Sam Craven, Programmes Manager at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re proud to be offering dive guides around the world the opportunity to become Green Fins certified; no matter their background. Both the e-Course and the Scholarship have been a great success so far and we’re delighted to see so many dive professionals demonstrating their commitment to sustainable tourism by taking the course. We urge dive guides who haven’t yet taken the course to consider taking this step and welcome Scholarship applications from anyone who meets the criteria. Together, we can protect coral reefs through sustainable diving and we’d love as many dive guides as possible to join us.”


Dive guides who want to be considered for scholarship can visit www.greenfins.net/green-fins-dive-guide-scholarship-applications to apply.

To donate to the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship Fund, please visit www.greenfins.net/appeal/sponsor-a-dive-guide.

Supporters who are interested in helping additional dive guides receive their certifications can also donate to Sponsor a Dive Guide.

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