International Biodiversity Day 2017 – why we need sustainable tourism to protect biodiversity
Each year the UN tie a theme to the International Day of Biodiversity, falling on 22nd May each year, to help us identify the importance of our impact on the environment. This year’s theme is sustainable tourism.
Tourism notoriously has a negative impact on the environment: mountains are degraded by ski resorts, forests are degraded by tourist explorations and big chain hotels are popping up on remote islands everywhere. As one of the most wasteful industries in the world, tourism consumes huge volumes of energy, water and food and produces an enormous quantity of waste.
How does this impact biodiversity?
- Habitat is degraded: species are either ousted from their native habitat or are unable to settle in proximity to tourist activities. This causes a reduction in species numbers from both death and reduced reproduction.
- Natural cycles are disrupted: planting of year-round flowering plants or trees for aesthetics, watering of landscapes and, particularly in remote areas, the introduction of 24-hour lighting can change species’ natural cycles. Whether this be sleeping hours or feeding and mating seasons their natural cycles are disrupted which can cause negative impacts such as reduced reproduction and over- or under-feeding.
- Resilience is reduced: increased human contact, either just existing alongside populated areas or being fed or petted by humans reduces animals’ ability to detect danger. Being comfortable around large species, such as humans, makes animals less fearful of their own predators.
How does this impact the tourism industry?
- Selective booking: many tourists are now much better informed about tourism’s impacts on the environment and are looking for companies and destinations that are more responsible. In fact, a recent Deloitte Consulting study found that as high as 90% of people are looking for “greener holidays”.
- If environments are not cared for appropriately, they will continue to degrade making some locations undesirable for tourists and eventually closing business.
- In the end, protecting biodiversity and the environment will induce cost savings (avoiding regulatory fines) and better business (safari wouldn’t be quite the same without the animals).
What can we do?
- Choose eco-tourism companies such as Responsible Travel, Natural Discovery or Good Travel Company.
- Travel with more responsible companies such as those under the TUI Group which includes First Choice Holidays and Thomson Holidays who although have previously been criticised for poor sustainability are now vastly improved thanks to overarching TUI policies.
- Offset our footprint: air travel is a huge polluter and is likely the biggest impact of your holiday so you can use any number of online carbon footprint calculators to offset that footprint and contribute to renewable energy and reforestation projects.
- Be aware: take care on your travels, don’t litter (obvious, I know), try not to walk through natural landscapes and if you do, stick to marked paths, and make use of your hotel’s environmental initiatives such as refraining from putting your towels out for washing each day.
To get an idea of whether where you’re going and where you’re staying is suitably sustainable you can find out whether they are featured on Travelife‘s index of locations.