Are you counting the days towards that last working day so you can leave for a well deserved break? Perhaps you’ve got a visit to some of the most beautiful natural sites in the world on your to do list. Here are a few tips, ranging from choosing eco-hotels and being mindful of your carbon footprint to avoiding buying souvenirs made from endangered species and making sure you know that what you’re eating isn’t under threat. The tips come courtesy of the IUCN.
Top ten tips for eco-tourists:
1. Visit destinations which have conservation value, such as protected areas, World Heritage sites or areas where nature and culture is a key attraction. Include in your trip visits and activities related to conservation projects. Visit www.protectedplanet.net. Or take this a step further and plan a “doing” holiday. Many organisations plan expeditions where you can spend time working on a local conservation project. The Khamai Reptile Park near Hoedspruit makes use of volunteers during certain times of the year.
2. Travel light: limit the packaging you bring with you. This will become waste in your holiday destination.
3. Before you travel, learn as much as possible about your destination, about the natural assets, the local people and their culture and any environmental concerns. For example, during the dry season, open fires may cause runaway fires in the Lowveld areas of Southern Africa.
4. Use reputable local tour operators, preferably those who contribute to conservation themselves. Aim to follow any local codes for example regarding behavior or dress if visiting cultural or sacred natural sites.
5. Pick nature-friendly accommodation: ask hotels if they are truly eco, for example do they have an environmental policy? Have they implemented energy and water saving measures? Do they contribute to local conservation efforts and support local communities?
6. If you can, try to get to your destination by train or coach – you’ll see more of the country you’re travelling in as well as reducing your carbon emissions. Consider also offsetting your travel using a Gold Standard supplier.
7. When you’re on holiday, choose wisely what you put on your plate. Choose locally sourced produce that’s in season and be aware that certain endangered species may be on the menu without your knowledge - ask local conservation organisations for a list of what to look out for.
8. Many wild plants and animals are in great danger … you can contribute to protecting them by avoiding buying souvenirs made from endangered species (jewellery made from red coral and turtle carapace, shatoosh and many others). Be careful if you’re bringing plants or seeds back from your travels – check that they couldn’t become invasive species.
9. Wildlife watching can be an incredible experience… but don’t disturb wildlife, for your own safety and theirs. Don’t feed animals in rest camps in the Kruger National Park and other nature reserves, especially the ‘cute’ animals such as monkeys, baboons and warthogs.
10. Maintain a relationship with your new friends in the destination, become a member of local conservation organisations.
“From a development perspective, income from tourism may reduce poverty by creating jobs, which can in turn help with biodiversity conservation. Many conservation organizations are seeing the value of setting up small businesses that are based on or benefit the environment,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “However, if tourism is badly planned and not managed responsibly, it can lead to biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and negative impacts to local communities.”
A full IUCN report on sustainable tourism in natural World Heritage, which shows that tourism, if managed properly, can contribute to both conservation and development goals in or near natural World Heritage Sites can be downloaded at www. iucn.org.
From a conservation point of view, tourism can raise funds for protecting natural areas, enhance awareness amongst locals and tourists of biodiversity and conservation issues, as well as discourage local people from carrying out activities that are harmful to nature. The report sets out a range of factors that support and hinder sustainable tourism development in World Heritage sites.
The report outlines several World Heritage sites which have suffered from the impacts of tourism, one of them being the Belize Barrier Reef System where uncontrolled lease and development of land for tourism within the site has led to it being included on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2009. Some of the environmental impacts of this include mangrove cutting and coral dredging.