Archive for the ‘Conservation’ category

How to lower your carbon footprint

March 26, 2020

Robert here, with a short article on how to lower your carbon footprint – including some ideas and fresh takes. The UN has created a program where individuals or companies can contribute to Carbon Offset Credits to help limit the worldwide total of carbon emissions.  Their website is

This platform features UNFCCC certified projects that reduce, avoid or remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
The projects are implemented in developing countries and are rewarded with Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), a type of carbon offset measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The CERs are available for everyone to purchase to offset emissions or in support of the projects. The full contributions go directly to the projects.

In 2007, under the leadership of then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a meeting of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the Executive Heads of UN agencies, funds, and programs committed to moving their respective organizations towards climate neutrality, and developed the UN Climate Neutral Strategy.

Specifically, they committed to:

  •     Estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of UN system organizations consistent with accepted international standards;
  •     Undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  •     Analyze the cost implications and explore budgetary modalities of purchasing carbon offsets to eventually reach climate neutrality.

The UN Climate Neutral Strategy highlights the advantages of harmonization. A common approach across the UN system brings greater impact, lowers transaction costs, facilitates practical action on the ground through the development of common tools, ensures comparability of data across organizations, and pooling of results for better-informed decisions and knowledge-sharing. See

How can I find out what my Carbon Footprint is?

Use the calculator at this site:

Some updates from the world of responsible travel:

Responsible Eco-Tourism encouraged. “…for outdoor recreation, it’s important to remember that walking or biking to a destination rather than driving can reduce the carbon footprint of a visit…”

Four Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint. “Four actions can help you travel with a lower carbon footprint:

  1. Travel light;
  2. Go direct and stay longer;
  3. Choose your airplane carefully; and
  4. Travel by Train.

The article also recommends traveling by train specifically in The Netherlands, Japan, Toronto and Norway, which have electric or completely carbon-neutral sources of energy powering travel in those countries.

How Instagram Influencers are Ruining Small Towns:

“While the travel muse that is Instagram may be fantastic news for Philippine economic development, the truth is that it doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate a leap in tourism. Instagram’s persistent global reach creates a constant influx of tourists and influencers and a nightmare for island nations such as the Philippines.”

“Mindful tourism is under the umbrella of sustainable tourism, which hasn’t quite been attained. If we want to attain a future where sustainable tourism is the norm, we must start with ourselves. Trying to minimize our tourist footprint is a selfless act that will benefit our collective travel experiences as humans.”

UN Environmental Agencies walk the walk when it comes to Carbon Neutrality

“Carbon neutrality, or having a net-zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset.

In 2007, the United Nations principals endorsed the UN Climate Neutral Strategy asking each UN entity to measure, reduce and offset their unavoidable Greenhouse Gas emissions. UN Environment was given the task by the UN Secretary-General to lead the UN system in implementing the strategy. The Sustainable United Nations Initiative was then created to develop methodologies, coordinate inter-agency action and catalyze United Nations-wide efforts to mitigate and offset its climate footprint and practice greener operations.

Carbon dioxide emissions account for 82 percent of global warming, with the rest coming mainly from the much more potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide.”


This week in Ecotourism (1 Sept 2017)

September 3, 2017

A few stories entered my awareness this week related to Ecotourism

A quick look at the state of ecologically aware travel around the world shows the planet emerging from the economic slump in some areas, coupled with an awareness of the need to protect vulnerable areas of the planet. A few highlights I found appear below:

Costa Rica - Carribean Sea - Parismina (Eco-Tourism)

  1.  From Fiji: In Fiji, the Momoan Park is going to become a center for eco-tourism, and ecotourism activities, according to an article published in the Fiji Sun.
  2. From India:  An article in The relates that in India, the Telangana State Forest Development Corporation has proposed projects specifically to attract visitors looking to appreciate nature and wildlife. The backwaters of Nagarjuna Sagar Reservoir in Nalgonda district have been acquired and a proposal has been submitted for transfer of land to the TSFDC, selected for fishing and views. Independent cottages, common dormitories, restaurant and other amenities would come up and a tourism circuit connecting nearby interesting places is planned, Mr. Mitra said.Another eco-tourism project has been proposed near the Kawal Tiger Reserve. About six acres of land would be purchased to serve as visitor amenity center for those planning to go on a jungle safari.
  3. From New Zealand:  A new aquarium and marine center will open in 2021, which has been designed to educate and provide information related to local eco-tourism.

    It is hoped this expansion of the Marine Parade aquarium will generate jobs, grow the local economy, creating a unique eco tourism destination, and deliver a landmark conservation center of excellence. The aquarium and center have a cost of $45 million, with a $7m investment from the council over three years, and the balance sought through a mix of private, and public investment.

  4. From Delaware, USA: An online newspaper in Delaware reported that various companies have different tours that allow tourists to gently observe nature.  Those include “floating yoga mats”, LED lit stand-up paddle tours, full moon excursion tours, and kayaking, on which tourists can observe wild horses, eagles, osprey, pelicans, herons, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, and end up with a stop at a local brewery.
  5. From Indonesia:  The Asia Sentinel had a story about ecologically conscious travel in the rainforests of Sumatra.  It mentions the Hadabuan Hills as one of many locally-recognized conservation areas (according to the article, it is not a national park, a wildlife sanctuary, or anything else, just an unmanaged area that happens to contain some of the rarest wildlife in the world).  While discussing Sumatra and the effects of the 1997 World Economic Crisis, the article’s author also mentions the  “gargantuan and magical Gunung Leuser National Park”, which made me want to plan travel there right away.
  6. Thenmala_Ecotourism_bridge

“One could even combine a visit to Hadabuan Hills with a trip to nearby Lake Toba, the volcanoes of Beristagi, and a foodie trip to tasty Medan. [They] can even arrange for you to have some tuak or palm wine as you sit on your bungalow balcony watching bats flit against the stars.”

Sounds wonderful.


Contact Attorney Robert Miller for any questions about international travel related to eco-tourism.

Volunteering in Costa Rica and Protecting Wildlife

June 8, 2012

Reporter Jane from the Brisbane Times had the following account of working as a volunteer taking care of wildlife in Costa Rica.  It’s a great read and makes me want to return to Costa Rica.


Tapir (Photo credit: FrogMiller)

By 8am we’re sitting on upturned buckets on the floor of a concrete shed, up to our elbows in bananas, plantains, papayas and a curious tuberous vegetable called yucca. It has very hard, pure white flesh and tough, brown skin and it takes a good whack with a lethally sharp knife to break into bite-size pieces – just the way a hungry tapir likes it.

Later we’ll load two big buckets of this concoction into a wheelbarrow and march it down a short track to four hungry tapirs.

Animal rescue... tapirs are cared for at La MarinaWildlife Rescue Centre.Animal rescue… tapirs are cared for at La MarinaWildlife Rescue Centre. Photo: Jane Mundy

Preparing food for the animals is the first task of the day at La Marina, a privately funded animal rescue centre in the central valley of Costa Rica. Animals as diverse as spider monkeys, capuchins, kinkajous, pythons, scarlet macaws, ocelots, eagles and vultures, crocodiles and even a pair of lions find homes here. Some are injured, some have lost their habitats or are handed in by people who have kept them as pets. Some will be nursed back to health and released into their natural habitat – but most will not. They will see out their days at La Marina, cared for and protected.

The small team of volunteers busy chopping, slicing and dicing is like a mini European Union. Tinoos is a thirtysomething Danish opera singer-turned-carpenter. Elias is a Belgian university dropout. Romy is undertaking field work for the biology course she studies in the Netherlands. There is someone from Russia, someone from Germany. They all seem younger than us and must wonder why a couple of oldies from Australia choose to spend a week of their Central American holiday in a place like this.

Yes, we could have opted for something cleaner, safer and more fragrant. But that’s one of the things about volunteering – you get all kinds.

As we come along the track with our wheelbarrow, the tapirs – three adults and an adolescent who has just grown out of his stripy juvenile coat – wait and watch. Tapirs are extraordinary-looking creatures, rather like a large pig with an extended nose-cum-trunk. It’s as though the animal thought for a while about being an elephant, then changed its mind. They come to the gate of their large, leafy enclosure, hungry and curious, sniffing the air, teeth bared.

I have a healthy respect for wild animals and the need to keep one’s distance so I tread cautiously. Two hundred kilograms of angry tapir can make a mess of your arm. Yet although they are equipped with a formidable set of teeth, these tapirs are docile and affectionate – seemingly not just because they’re hungry. They appear to be fond of being stroked, scratched and cuddled. Yes, cuddled. Arms around their necks, cheeks pressed against coarse hide. The full love-in.

Around the middle of the day we make our way to the lunch room where volunteers compare the contents of lunch boxes prepared for us by our hosts.

Part of the deal at La Marina is that volunteers are billeted with Costa Rican families and our “mother”, Xinia, takes the job of feeding us seriously. Today it is rice and beans. Yesterday it was beans and rice. Xinia speaks barely a word of English but we can more or less make ourselves understood and as well as feeding us and washing our filthy work clothes, Xinia makes us feel part of her wonderful extended family.

It’s usual for family members to live next door to one another; living next to Xinia is one of her five sisters and family, and next door again is a brother.

In Costa Rica, where more than 25 per cent of the country is dedicated national park, there’s no shortage of animal-viewing opportunities: by river, horse-back ride to the base of a volcano or guided walk through a forest.

Eco-tourism is a big earner but viewing opportunities in the wild, although plentiful, must be from a distance: scarlet macaws flash across a clear blue sky; a sloth is curled high in the tree tops; rustling branches denote a troupe of howler monkeys on the move.

You need luck, patience and good binoculars. At La Marina you get to see animals at close range, for longer, and can touch some of them.

But volunteering here is not all about cuddling tapirs, however. There is hard work to be done and it’s not glamorous: bird cages cleaned; building materials carried; paths swept. The wild pigs’ enclosure is cleaned daily – not a popular task.

However, there is something satisfying about these hands-on experiences and I find that I don’t want to leave. I have become attached to the animals. Even to tapirs.


Getting there

United Airlines has a fare to San Jose from Los Angeles for about $600 low-season round trip, including tax. Flight is about 8hr,s including transit time in Houston).

Volunteering there

La Marina Wildlife Rescue Centre is in San Carlos, Alajuela, 60 kilometres north-west of San Jose. A bus ($2.50, about 3hr) operates from downtown San Jose to Ciudad Quesada (8½ kilometres from La Marina).

A flat fee of $US250 ($256) applies regardless of the length of stay, including airport pick-up and introduction to a host family. An extra $US13 a day covers a room and meals; see

Read more:

Snowy Owls and Eco Tourism and Travel in Montana

April 4, 2012
Young Snowy Owl on the tundra at Barrow Alaska.

Young Snowy Owl on the tundra at Barrow Alaska. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denver Holt arrived in Montana as the featured speaker at the Greater Polson Community Foundation event in mid-March with a topic at hand, and a title for his lecture.

“Ecotourism and the Unique Opportunities in the Mission Valley,” it was called.

Within 60 seconds he had tossed it out in favor of a slideshow and lecture on snowy owls.

Give ’em what they want, Holt figured.

For three months, snowy owls have been just about all anyone has wanted Holt, director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, to talk about.

Which was the whole point of his discarded ecotourism lecture to begin with. People are interested. They’ll come. They’ll spend money while they’re here.

Up to 25 of the large, magnificent birds congregated in the Mission Valley this winter. The visitors from the Arctic lured more visitors – the human kind – not only from Montana, but from approximately 25 other states, at a time of year when you’d normally swear the closest tourist was in Hawaii.

Everyone from serious birdwatchers, to Harry Potter fans (the popular fictional character kept one as a pet), to the merely curious was drawn to the Polson area this winter by the snowy owls.


The irruption – a dramatic, irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t normally found – wasn’t confined to Polson.

Snowy owls showed up across the United States, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in what Holt calls “the biggest wildlife viewing event in this country in decades.”

The Mission Valley was perfectly positioned to cash in on the local interest.

But tourists who could have found snowy owls closer to home came to Montana, in the dead of winter (and minus skis and snowboards), from South Carolina, Texas, Washington, New Mexico and more.

“It’s been the craziest January and February I’ve ever seen,” says Mary Edelman, restaurant manager at Ninepipes Lodge south of Ronan. “Our February was better than our October, which never happens. We’re lucky if we book a room a week for overnight guests in February and January, but we had 12 to 15 rooms booked every weekend this year.”

Two things helped.

For one, most of the blizzard of birds conveniently parked themselves on rooftops, chimneys and fence posts smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood on the southern edge of Polson. The big white owls with the 5-foot wingspans were easy to find.

Perhaps more importantly, though he won’t admit to it, one of the world’s leading experts in snowy owls is parked right here in the valley at the Owl Research Institute.

Holt has spent years traveling to the Arctic in the summertime to study the birds in their native habitat, and when media from across the country went looking for someone to explain the appearance of snowy owls across the United States this winter, Holt was often the person they turned to.

He was able to not only answer their questions, but note that lots of the snowy owls had shown up here, too.

“I really don’t want to take credit for it,” Holt says. “The truth is the Mission Valley has one of the highest numbers of wintering birds of prey in the Northwest.”


And that’s one of the points Holt wanted to make about the potential of ecotourism right here in the valley.

The area, perhaps naturally, aims most of its promotional efforts around the summer months, Flathead Lake, the Mission Mountains and more mainstream tourist activities.

But Holt points to a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report – the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – that says wildlife watching was a $45.7 billion-a-year industry in the United States.

That’s more than fishing ($42 billion) or hunting ($22.9 billion).

Furthermore, the report estimates that more than 71 million Americans take part in wildlife watching activities, compared with 30 million who fish or 12.5 million who hunt.

The majority of wildlife watchers, Holt says, are birdwatchers.

“Waterfowl is No. 1, and birds of prey are No. 2,” he says. “It’s an interesting demographic. The average age of birders is 50, and their average salary is more than $75,000. They typically have a higher income and education.”

Those 71.1 million wildlife watchers, Holt says, “is four times more than NFL attendance, but it’s like no one even knows about it.”


Holt does, of course.

A longtime part-time guide for Texas-based Victor Emanuel Nature Tours – he led a Montana snowy owl tour for the Texas-based firm in February – Holt and Megan Fylling have started Wild Planet Nature Tours locally.

Of the half-dozen tours on its website currently taking registrants, three are for trips to Alaska, Mexico and Guatemala.

The other three are in Montana.

Holt suggests those who rely on, and promote, tourism, should consider using some resources to attracting more wildlife watchers.

It’s not just the snowy owls.

The area teems with raptors, including golden and bald eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons. The Owl Research Institute is here for a reason: long-eared, short-eared, great-horned, barn, northern pygmy, northern saw-whet, western screech. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have reintroduced trumpeter swans.

The National Bison Range at Moiese has documented more than 200 species of birds that live there or drop by, from great blue herons to black-billed cuckoos.

It also has a pretty impressive list of wingless wildlife as well that starts, but certainly does not end, with bison – elk, deer, pronghorns, coyotes, black bears and more.

The Mission Valley, Holt says, need not wait for the irregular irruptions of snowy owls to capitalize on ecotourism.


When, or if, snowy owls return in such large numbers is anyone’s guess.

They’re likely to begin their return journey to their nesting grounds in the Arctic virtually any second.

“If we could figure out a way to keep them here, it’d be fantastic,” Heather Knutson, president of the Polson Chamber of Commerce, says with a laugh. “Our number of visitors, and calls we’ve gotten, is significantly up from last year. If anyone has any ideas on how to keep them here that are legal, let me know.”

The truth is that there’s almost always a snowy owl or two that show up in the Mission Valley in the winter. The birds usually aren’t as visible, and in such great numbers, as this year, is all.

They are an attraction like no other, Holt admits.

“No. 1, it’s because they’re owls,” he says. “Only certain groups generate so much interest – owls, penguins, whales, koala bears.”

“Snowy owls are in the top tier” of owls, he goes on. “There’s something about white animals that takes it to another level, and really fascinates people – not just birdwatchers, but doctors, lawyers, secretaries, bartenders, carpenters. It’s true with polar bears, Arctic foxes, beluga whales and white bison, too. There’s something about them – do they seem magical? Angelic? I don’t know. But people love them.”

They’ll also travel long distances to see them.

What Denver Holt started to tell that audience in mid-March is that they’ve got lots of other species people will come to look at and photograph as well. Maybe not in the numbers that the snowy owls attract.

But wildlife watching is still a multibillion-dollar industry.

Kenyan Wildlife Service CEO arrested

April 4, 2012

Ecotourism Kenya has refuted claims by the Kenya Wildlife Service that they are not responsible for the arrest of their CEO Kahindi Lekalhaile last Thursday.

Kahindi had contributed to an article in the Nation newspaper suggesting that 2,000 elephants a year were being killed in Kenya. He was arrested but released on cash bail of Sh30,000 from Langata police station until March 29, when he has to report back to CID.

On Saturday, the Nation ran a short story saying that Kahindi was never arrested and the KWS did not instigate any arrest. That prompted Ecotourism to challenge the KWS denial. “Kenya Wildlife Service has no basis to deny that the arrest of Mr Kahindi occurred. The police cash bail receipt (which clearly states that Kahindi was arrested for ‘undermining the authority of a public officer’ i.e. the complainant, KWS Director), together with Mr Kahindi’s statement written in the presence of KWS officers and and the occurrence book record attest to and confirms Kahindi’s arrest, interrogation and detention related to a complaint by the KWS Director, Julius Kipngetich about Mr Kahindi’s published opinion,” Ecotourism Kenya said in a statement yesterday.

“The cash bail period extension was signed last Tuesday morning by the Divisional Criminal Investigations Officer at Langata police station in the presence of two investigations officers from Kenya Wildlife Service,” they added. “Ecotourism Kenya still agrees with Mr Kahindi that last year witnessed one of the worst episodes of ivory poaching in recent times, which may have resulted in the death of hundreds of elephants,” said the statement.

“The poaching menace has been continued since the beginning of this year and the situation is growing worse daily, given the high number of poaching incidents reported by KWS and other wildlife stakeholders, including tour operators countrywide. This is a big threat to tourism”, Ecotourism said.

The Coat of arms of Kenya

The Coat of arms of Kenya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does Ecotourism Cause Stress to Orangutans?

April 4, 2012

Scientific American has an article online

Pongo pygmaeus (Linnaeus, 1760) Dansk: Orangut...

Pongo pygmaeus (Linnaeus, 1760) Dansk: Orangutang i Ålborg Zoo, Danmark Deutsch: Orang-Utan English: Orangutan in Aalborg Zoo, Denmark Español: Orangután Français : Orang-outan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

asking, what can poop tell us about orangutans? Well, for one thing, a study of wild orangutan feces has revealed that these great apes, unlike some other species, are not chronically stressed by ecotourism.

Scat shows no scare in a study, published March 15 in PLoS One, that analyzed fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGM) levels of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in in the Malaysian state of Sabah between 2008 and 2009. The community-operated organization Red Ape Encounters, which operates there, maintains strict ecotourism guidelines designed to protect the apes.

The research team collected feces samples 24 hours before ecotourism visits, as well as the day of and the day after. Many of the samples came from two orangutans—Jenny, a then-32-year-old female, and Etin, her 11-year-old offspring—both of whom were gradually habituated to encounters with ecotourists over a period of several years. The rest came from four other unidentified orangutans that were not habituated to humans. In each case, the samples collected the day after the encounters showed elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“An elevated cortisol level in response to ecotourists would be completely natural and expected,” says the study’s lead author, Michael P. Muehlenbein, professor of anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington. “It just means an activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Short-term fluctuation of cortisol levels is completely to be expected under most circumstances.”

Muehlenbein and his fellow researchers were concerned that the orangutans might have shown extremely elevated levels of cortisol or none at all. That would have indicated levels of chronic stress and a systemic breakdown in the animals, as has occurred in some other species regularly encountered by ecotourists. For example, yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) have exhibited significantly lowered breeding success in populations exposed to tourism, while ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) showed degraded fur coats. (The paper equates these reactions to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans.)

But short-term fluctuations showed, at least on an fGM level, that the orangutans were not exhibiting signs of chronic stress. “You need the fight-or-flight response,” Muehlenbein says. “If you become habituated to a process, and you don’t react accordingly when there’s a danger, then you have a problem.”

Muehlenbein says the fGM test is just one more item in the veterinary or conservation toolbox to make sure that animals encountering humans are healthy. “Cortisol metabolites are very sensitive to a number of things, such as disease, diet and sexual activity. It’s not a perfect measure. It should be combined with the other tools that we already have.”

According to the paper, tourism accounts for 9 percent of world GDP and can contribute greatly to conservation efforts for rare species. In the case of orangutans, at least, ecotourism done right does not appear to be harming the apes in the process. Red Ape Encounters’s guidelines limit visitations to groups of seven and a period of one hour. Sick tourists are excluded, and all visitors must keep a 10-meter minimum distance between themselves and the orangutans.

Muehlenbein is now working at a nearby orangutan rehabilitation center, where he is interviewing ecotourists about their behavior to try to calculate the risk for disease transmission from humans to animals. Apes have been known to catch coughs, colds and other viruses from humans, which can prove fatal. Although this human-to-primate transmission has been documented, there is no conclusive evidence to date of disease transmission from tourists to apes. “We know that a significant number of travelers visit ecotourist sites even though they haven’t been well-enough vaccinated or they show signs of illness,” Muehlenbein says. Some orangutan tourism sites might habituate their animals more rapidly, overexpose them to humans or even allow people to touch or feed the apes, all of which could contribute to chronic stress and, in turn, make the orangutans more susceptible to human diseases. “Humans pose an undocumented risk. We should put time, money and effort into hiring health professionals at these primate-based destinations and educating tourists about the risk of disease transmission.”

The North/South Korea Demilitarized Zone could be the next new frontier for Eco-Tourism?

March 27, 2012
A South Korean checkpoint in the Korean Demili...

A South Korean checkpoint in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Tensions between North Korea and South Korea have not improved since the signing of the armistice in 1953. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gun-toting soldiers patrol guard posts overlooking North Korean territory beyond a barbed-wire fence. Hundreds of red flags with a skull motif dot roadsides, warning of mines. This is the area which South Korea hopes to turn into a major eco-tourism attraction. Untouched by developers for six decades due to the military standoff, the scenic areas surrounding the world’s last Cold War frontier have paradoxically become a peaceful haven for wildlife. The 155-mile-long borderline which bisects the peninsula was fixed when the 1950-53 war ended with an armistice. A Demilitarized Zone extending for two kilometres each side of the line was designated as a buffer zone. Thousands of tourists who visit the truce village of Panmunjom within the DMZ each year get a grim reminder of the peninsula’s tragic past. Now Seoul is trying to put a more positive spin on the border region, by promoting its ecological value and opening trekking routes which will also give visitors a glimpse of the secretive North. “The DMZ has been no man’s land for decades, making its well-preserved natural surroundings a perfect site for eco-tourism,” Park Mee-Ja, a director of the environment ministry’s nature policy division, told AFP. “There is so much more to this area than just the sad history and the war.” The DMZ and surrounding area are home to nearly 3,000 plants and animals — including otters, mountain sheep, musk deer and dozens of other species — nearly extinct elsewhere in the crowded South, according to the government. Civilians are barred from entering the DMZ except at Panmunjom. The South’s military also restricts civilian access to the strip of land immediately south of the zone. The DMZ itself will remain off-limits to visitors. But after long deliberation the South’s army is finally set to sign an agreement this month to open up its outskirts — and to help develop routes free of mines. Nature trails seven to nine kilometres long, each of which generally takes six to eight hours to walk, are set to open next year in the east of the country. “You will be able to walk right alongside the barbed wire of the DMZ, look over North Korean territory from hills, or see battlefield relics that have been left untouched for decades,” said Park. Several areas already offer small-scale nature-watching programmes near the DMZ. But the trails to open next year will be the longest through the area south of the DMZ, said Park. The routes were initially developed by the army years ago to patrol the areas and troops will accompany trekking teams to prevent hikers from deviating from the mine-free paths. Seoul is also asking the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO to designate the DMZ as one of some 500 global Biosphere Reserves. Efforts began in 2005 to open up the southern approaches to the DMZ. But Park said periodic cross-border tensions delayed the plan, with the military squeamish about letting civilians into sensitive areas. Relations have been icy since Seoul accused of Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its warships with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010. The North angrily denied involvement but went on to shell a border island in November that year, killing four South Koreans and briefly sparking fears of war. Park was speaking during a recent media trip to the hillside observatory at Dora, a crowded tourist site near Panmunjom which overlooks the DMZ and the North’s territory. President Barack Obama is expected to visit the zone during his visit to South Korea this weekend to attend a nuclear security summit, becoming the latest in a series of US leaders to make the trip. Bill Clinton in 1993 described the DMZ as “the scariest place on earth.” “I think he (Obama) should come. I think he will be greatly inspired here,” Jennifer Seif, an American and an executive director of South Africa’s Fair Trade in Tourism, told AFP at Dora. “This place has a message…about trying not to resolve things through military options and about building bridges between countries. “I think this is something he stands for and he can bring the message back to America,” she said.

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Jordan’s Biosphere Reserve is an Oasis in the Desert

February 22, 2012

Dana (Photo credit: sharnik)

Up in the Ottoman-era labyrinth of Dana village, the RSCN is shepherding a groundbreaking restoration project with U.S. Agency for International Development funds. The developers who have despoiled the Dead Sea coast with large, unsympathetic resorts are being kept at bay, in favor of boutique hotels that complement the region’s rich heritage.

Though not as spectacular or wellpreserved as some other Jordanian ruins — Dana’s main site, the Byzantine citadel of Khirbet Feynan, was reduced to rubble by an earthquake in the 8th century — Dana’s ruins lay claim to being as valuable, for some of them are infinitely older. On a stony hillside overlooking the desert plains, I spend hours picking through the animal bones and limestone crockery of a Stone Age settlement believed to date back 11,000 years.

It’s little wonder that the locals should feel a potent sense of ownership. Yet all the people I talk to seem to have embraced the influx of low-level tourism. The old indigenous life perseveres, but interactions between tourists and locals seem unjaded. My trip is punctuated by invitations to share a cup of Arabic coffee — a spicy brew infused with cardamom — and handshakes with grizzled farmers driving their herds in search of meager pasture.

According to Tarazi, this honest cultural exchange has become one of Dana’s main drawing cards. “What started as a project aimed at benefiting the local community has traveled full circle,” he says. “Now, the opportunity to interact with local people is one of the main reasons for Feynan’s success.” From the outset, conserving Dana has meant conserving this timeless human presence.

Mohammad epitomizes the way this coming together of old and new has served to enrich the tourist experience here. Born in a cave not far from where the lodge now stands, he lived his childhood on the knife-edge of subsistence. From age 6 he worked as a goatherd, camping out at night among the rocky pinnacles with only his flute for comfort.

After he finished school, the opportunity to go to university lured him away from Dana — just one migrant in a wider diaspora, as the countryside’s young people, disillusioned by the traditional life, headed for the cities — until the prospect of a job with the ecolodge enticed him back. Today, that job, well-paying by Jordanian standards, means a better life for his young family and a small home in a village on the reserve’s western periphery.

And the job comes easy. Mohammad is a natural guide, as deeply reverent of the old ways as he is proud of his work. “Some visitors have said that this is the best trip of their lives,” he claims, later sending me the TripAdvisor testimonials of former Feynan guests to prove it. “This makes me very happy.”

Together, in pleasant springtime temperatures, we meander along the tracks that radiate from the lodge. Barely a minute goes by without Mohammad stopping to point out things that my less keen eyes might have missed, such as the pattern of a plant fossil high on a wind-polished wall, or a brief cameo from the reserve’s shy wildlife: a blue lizard darting across the pebbles or a griffon vulture wheeling against the lapis sky.

Of the reserve’s stellar cast of mammals — several of which are endangered — we find little, save for the gaggles of domesticated camels that we see often, their forelegs fettered to stop them from striding off into the shimmering desert.

Over at the pioneering copper mines, we spend a whole morning peering into the crab-holes that perforate the bedrock, attempting to imagine the files of blinking men emerging from below, laden with ore chipped from the seams that begin 100 feet down and run for 300 feet underground. In between sites, we walk along gulches scattered with shards of green malachite, where Mohammad demonstrates the knowledge that develops where harsh conditions demand ingenuity: that the white-flowered artemisia can be used as an antiseptic and that marjoram, when crushed, behaves like soap.

But our most memorable foray takes us into the famously beautiful slot canyon of Wadi Ghwayr. The scenery gets better the deeper we go. The walls gradually narrow, until we are burrowing into a gullet of granular rock that rises in raspberry-ripple dips and bulges, blocking out the sun. An hour in, rivulets of water appear at our feet, running in braided channels before disappearing back underground — a sign that up on the Shobak plateau, the rains are beginning.

“Where you find the water you can make the life,” Mohammad counsels happily, hopping from boulder to sandbank before pushing on up the gorge. Five hundred generations have done just that in Dana. And as Jordan sets the standard for eco-tourism in the Middle East, it seems likely that people will be living here for generations to come.

Is Egypt ready for eco travel and eco tourism yet?

January 5, 2012
Česky: Klášter svaté Kateřiny pod horou Sinaj ...

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With the “Arab Spring” protests and revolution in Egypt, travel has nearly stopped to the fabled country, and that has hurt tourism.  Regulations in Egypt are a mess, and were even before the revolution, but unregulated development is threatening many natural areas in Egypt.

Egypt in the past has had a “mass tourism” model – trying to get as many people into Egypt to spend as much money in aggregate as possible.  But some developments, like the Desert Lodge in El Qasr, and efforts to protect dolphins and sharks in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as a new eco-village in upper Egypt, the Hermopolis Eco Village, could change that.

I have never been to Egypt, although I have always wanted to.  I hope Egypt grows and learns how best to protect their natural treasures.

Australia puts more into eco-tourism

October 20, 2011
Satelite image of the Great Barrier Reef

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As the strong dollar in Australia drive Aussies overseas, many in that country believe that Australia could benefit from building its ecotourism sector and attract more international visitors.

According to Tourism Conference for Ecotourism Australia organiser Tony Charters, eco-tourism arrivals in Australia have remained steady over the past 20 years and a boost in the sector could fill the void left behind by domestic travel.

“We know Australians have developed a taste for international holidays and that growing international visitor numbers is now critical,” Mr Charter stated.

Not much has changed since the sector launched down under two decades ago, according to Mr Charters, with The Great Barrier Reef still hosting 1.3 visitors per year, Fraser Island and Shark Bay seeing small rises since the 1990’s while Kakadu witnesses a drop in visitor numbers.

He suggests Australia look at utilises one of its key unique qualities in the industry, offering travellers the opportunity to meet Indigenous Australians and learn from them.

“Maybe Australia needs to re-read the book on ecotourism – the book it wrote in the early 1990’s,” Mr Charters added.

He stressed the sector could become Australia’s ‘Swiss watch’ with focus on quality, reliability and reputation.

“Currently the opportunities are too few and far between.”

Mr Charters will be speaking at the upcoming Global Eco Conference to be held in Sydney this year from 7-10 November.