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Adventure Travel in Tahiti

February 28, 2016

I’m excited about my vacation to Tahiti in less than 30 days.  French Polynesia is an amazing, historically significant place on the planet.  As one of the last places to ever be originally habituated by humans, the country has been relatively unspoiled from the beginning.

After becoming a French colony, Tahiti became a center of ecological controversy for decades due to nuclear testing in the area.

The country consists of 130 islands scattered across the Pacific —a total land area roughly equivalent to that of metropolitan Paris and London combined but spread across a swath of ocean five times as large as France.

Tahiti has become more environmentally sensitive due to awareness of envorinmental issues, and concerns, like all island nations, of sea levels rising due to global warming and climate change concerns.

Three decades of French nuclear testing had led to increased atmospheric plutonium and radiation, several destroyed coral reefs, a landslide and related tsunami, and radiation poisoning found in fish in the area. (Source: http://canterbury.cyberplace.org.nz/peace/nukenviro.html)

Because of the isolation of the islands, there is little biodiversity in plants, most of which were introduced by the first Polynesians, and many others were introduced by Europeans centuries later.

On the limestone soils of the island atolls, desert-type plants are commonly found. On the high volcanic islands plant life is more diversified; ferns have conquered many hills and plateaus, whereas rainforests are established in the upper valley areas. On coastal plains coconut, breadfruit, and various fruit trees flourish.

No mammals are indigenous to the islands, but you can find feral goats, pigs, horses, cattle, and rats introduced by prior settlers. A fish called nato and a variety of shrimp are found in the islands’ freshwater streams. The marine life in the lagoons and surrounding seas is varied and plentiful.

Current tourism on the islands focuses on minimal impact sailing, snorkeling and scuba, hiking, and responsibly exploring the natural beautiful environment and surroundings of not only Tahiti, but all the surrounding islands that make up French Polynesia (including the Marquesas Islands.

Eco friendly adventure travel outfitters include the following:

http://tahitiecotourism.com/

http://www.adventurefinder.com/adventure-travel/french-polynesia-adventures/south-pacific-tuamotu-the-marquesas-islands-adventure-life-tidadlv5691.html

Having been fascinated by the artists that have lived in French Polynesia, and the amazing stories relayed by James Michener in the Pulitzer winning novel,”Tales of the South Pacific”, which became a popular Rogers & Hammerstein musical and film.

Look for more photographs and adventures coming up!

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Eco-tourism coming to Goa

January 14, 2016

Although Goa, in India, is known for nightlife, beaches, and a “hippie” vibe, eco friendly travel is coming soon.  The forest ministry in Goa is looking to develop eco-villages in that city, in a bid to decongest the beaches and divert tourists to the beautiful, more rural, areas of the region.

Talking about the future of eco-tourism in the region, Goa Forest Minister Rajendra Arlekar was recently quoted, “We have to balance revenue generation as well as keeping the environmental balance of the state. Setting up eco-villages will help us greatly promote eco-tourism in rural areas.”

Hopefully those plans will become a reality soon.

Lonesome George Dies, Ecotourism Companies pay tribute

July 6, 2012

Naturalist Journeys, an Arizona-based, nature travel company, joins the world in honoring the passing of a conservation icon, Lonesome George, famous tortoise of Galapagos. If he had a Facebook timeline, several parts of this reptilian celebrity’s story would stand out. Called the rarest animal on earth, at one time the government of Ecuador offered a $10,000 reward for anyone finding a genetic match. Thousands of tourists viewed Lonesome George every year. “Seeing George was pivotal,” says Peg Abbott, owner of the company and veteran host of Galapagos cruises. “He inspired ongoing conversations about the challenges and pitfalls of saving endangered species. Seeing the last remaining individual of a species or subspecies, particularly in the Galapagos where nature is so vibrant, was moving every time.” Visits by ecotourism groups, for Naturalist Journeys scheduled next year January 18-28, will help to ensure that his story is told, and the legacy of the island’s most famous mascot lives on.

Portal, Arizona (PRWEB) June 29, 2012

Naturalist Journeys joins the world in honoring the passing of a conservation icon, Lonesome George, the tortoise celebrity of Galapagos. Groups from the Arizona-based natural history travel company have been visiting George for nearly twenty years. “Seeing George was pivotal,” says Peg Abbott, owner of the company and veteran host of Galapagos cruises. “He inspired ongoing conversations about the challenges and pitfalls of saving endangered species. Seeing the last remaining individual of a species, particularly in the Galapagos where nature is so vibrant, was moving every time.” Abbott describes that groups over the years would joke about George’s lack of interest in females after years in isolation, but find sobering the reality that his subspecies’ existence rested on his failed sexuality.

Thousands of tourists viewed Lonesome George every year. If he had a Facebook timeline, several parts of his story would stand out. Called the rarest animal on earth, at one time the government of Ecuador offered a $10,000 reward for anyone finding a genetic match. In previous centuries, sailors and pirates captured tortoises, carrying them alive – sometimes for years – Flipped up on their backs with bound limbs, to supply fresh meat as they traveled. It was hoped that somewhere, in a port near or far away from the Galapagos Islands, there might have been a suitable female tortoise offloaded from one of those boats. Sadly, the money went unclaimed despite years of searching.

In 1992, with tourism on the rise, George was moved to a new pen along the public route through the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), and his new lodgings came with company – two females. Acknowledging that no survivors of his kind remained, a mating with closely-related individuals seemed the only possible choice. Naturalist Journeys clients watched for several years as this attempt at captive breeding failed due to George’s lack of interest, and then cheered when in the year fifteen, he got inspired. One year, participants met a young Swiss graduate student assigned by the CDRS to help George find that interest in females, or to get familiar enough with him to collect semen – the only way his subspecies could survive. Through tourism, members of the group got caught up with his ongoing story; several joined CDRS or the Galapagos Conservancy. Clients kept in touch, and cheered when Lonesome George finally mated with a female, and then sighed with sadness when the eggs proved to be infertile – twice.

In 2008, National Geographic issued an article entitled, “Extinct Tortoise Could Be Reconstructed.” On tours, Naturalist Journeys clients learned that new techniques were making it possible to test some of the tortoises that did not seem to match their specific island prototype, and scientists were finding some of the lost genes. Remote Wolf Volcano to the north, the last island ahead of setting sail for the open sea, showed promise for such finds. Scientists decoding the genomes of the various subspecies of Giant Tortoises (once 15, now 10, and all but four very rare) thought they might be able to devise a breeding program, using molecular markers, to bring diluted genes from individuals of these mixed subspecies to a more pure form.

Giant Tortoises (Galapagos in Spanish) gave the fabled islands their name. Lonesome George acquired his from the popular 1950’s comedian television star, George Gobel, who inspired laughter in his role as a beleaguered, misunderstood husband. It is estimated that George Gobel’s namesake lived for over 100 years, forty of them at CDRS.

Space is still available on the Naturalist Journeys’ January 18-28, 2013 voyage to the turquoise-rimmed, World Heritage islands of the Galapagos. There, for the first time, Lonesome George’s story will be told in the past tense. Abbott is counting on positive news from a scheduled 2012 meeting of experts, held to work out a plan for breeding, repatriating, and managing tortoises over the next ten years to offset his loss. In this way, the island’s most famous mascot and his legacy will live on. Full details of the voyage can be found on the Naturalist Journeys website.

The Darker Side of EcoTourism Thrills

June 13, 2012

Mention Chernobyl and you will get a reaction from people.  For those interested in Eco-Tourism, however, there is an intrigue about places not visited by man in a long time.  The New York Times recently (as in this week) had an article about Ecotourism in Chernobyl.

As they note, for

English: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

English: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

many people, ecotourism evokes a picnic in Muir Woods in California, perhaps, or counting endangered sea turtles on a Costa Rican beach or spending the night in a tree house with gibbons in Laos. Andrew Blackwell, a Brooklyn-based author and journalist, sees it differently. His idea of an interesting trip is less about beauty than environmental devastation.

Taking the idea to an extreme, he set out to chronicle some of the world’s most spoiled places for his book, just released, “Visit Sunny Chernobyl.”

The journey began several years ago when Mr. Blackwell visited Kanpur, India’s most polluted city. He spent three days slogging through illegal industrial dumps, toxic tanneries, overflowing sewage treatment plants and feces-laden beaches. The experience stuck with him, with his thoughts incessantly returning to that horribly contaminated but “inscrutably, mystifyingly beautiful” place. An idea began to blossom, and before long he was booking travel to some unusual destinations.

“On a more philosophic level, I’d gotten frustrated with how tightly our environmental values are tied into our sense of what’s pretty and beautiful and supposedly pure and wild,” he said in an interview. “I also became aware that, although I care about environmental issues, I had very little direct experience of them.”

Chernobyl, the site of the nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, ranked as an obvious first choice.

With a radiation detector in hand, Mr. Blackwell convinced Ukrainian locals to take him on a behind-the-scenes tour of the exclusion zone surrounding the reactors. He slunk through the decaying ruins of kindergartens and amusement parks in Pripyat, once a city of 50,000 but now a weedy, crumbling ghost town. He drove through tracts of deserted wilderness and breathed in the “sweet, sunny air” of the radioactive red forest.

Although the exclusion zone epitomized humankind’s heedless impact on the environment, he could not help thinking that, in a paradoxical way, it might have been good for nature: the disaster created what might be viewed as a giant radioactive national park that would be spared from major human intrusions for decades.

His improbable itinerary kept growing. He surveyed Alberta’s oil sands strip mines, where a boomtown of about 61,000 people produces double the carbon dioxide emissions of Los Angeles and supplies over a million barrels of oil per day headed for the United States. He spent weeks on a 150-foot-long brigantine combing the Pacific for the Great Garbage Patch, an area about twice the size of France where marine currents accumulate the world’s discarded and degraded plastic rubbish. He drank caipirinhas with boisterous Brazilian locals in clear-cut swaths of the Amazon rainforest.

He came out of the experience with a few nuggets of insight. “I really was struck by how much gray area there is in terms of what we know about the problems associated with these places,” he said. “What are the effects of having so much plastic floating around in the ocean, for example, and what can we definitively say about the health effects of Chernobyl’s radioactive environment on the people and animals that remain there? I’m not a scientist, but it didn’t take me long to get to the limits of what science could confidently say about these places.”

“I’d gotten frustrated with how tightly our environmental values are tied into our sense of what’s pretty and beautiful and supposedly pure and wild.”

— Andrew Blackwell

For anyone looking to delve into forsaken places, Mr. Blackwell points out that overseas travel is not a must. In New York City, for example, there’s the infamousGowanus Canal, where he often canoes. “There are still things floating in there that I don’t know what they are and I don’t want to know what they are, but at the same time if you hold your nose a little bit, it actually is a lovely place to go canoeing,” he said. “Every city has its underappreciated Superfund sites.”

Mr. Blackwell wants to convey a simple message: Just because a place is polluted does not mean it is not interesting or fun to visit, or not worth caring about. People still live in these places, he reminds us, and nature persists.

To value only the few pristine, unadulterated tracts of wilderness remaining on the planet is to ignore the reality that we have created for ourselves, he argues. Although he does support conservation, Mr. Blackwell said he hoped that environmentalism could find a way to embrace “the fact of all of these places, and the fact of human presence on the world.”

“I was trying to find a way to engage with the world that was not just based on purity and beauty,” he said. “It’s a love letter to polluted places.”

Sunset on the Pripyat River, within the radioactive exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Sunset on the Pripyat River, within the radioactive exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Eco-Tourism grows in Patagonian Chile

April 24, 2012

The following article was published in the London Globe and Mail, and was written by Gordon Pitts, regarding eco-tourism in the Patagonia region of Chile.  

In the dark dense rain forest of Chilean Patagonia, I am retracing the steps of Charles Darwin, in a search for the freak of a frog that bears his name.

The charming quirk of Darwin’s Frog is the male’s proclivity for carrying tadpole eggs in his vocal sac before disgorging the tykes into the world. The frogs come in hues of brown to green, making the tiny creatures almost impossible to see in their swampy habitat.

But Diego Stock, my exuberant Chilean guide, insists that he has spotted one hopping around this squishy bog a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. It looks like a fluttering brown leaf, but as I bend closer, I catch the outline of one of the world’s most endangered species.

Darwin, the 19th-century father of evolutionary theory, encountered the frog in his voyages around South America in the 1830s. Now, 180 years later, I have come to Patagonia to witness another evolution – not just in this embattled frog, but in the new concept of capitalist conservation.

We are tramping through the forests around Melimoyu, a remote speck on the map 1,200 kilometres south of Santiago, Chile’s capital. It is a living laboratory of frogs, birds, trees, flowers, blue whales, penguins and a sea lion that plays hide and seek with our rafts and kayaks as we glide down the Marchant River.

Just as Darwin’s voyage expanded the understanding of life, Patagonia, one of the last vast empty places, is a test site for grafting protection of natural lands on to profit-driven ecotourism and real estate.

Melimoyu lies about halfway down the narrow ribbon of Chilean Patagonia, a region 1,800 kilometres long and fewer than 200 kilometres wide – from the Pacific to the Argentine border. Much of the land around Melimoyu is owned by Patagonia Sur, a company founded by U.S. social-media millionaire Warren Adams.

It is one of his six Patagonian properties, comprising 25,000 hectares, spanning ocean rain forest, gaucho grasslands in deep Andean valleys, and majestic glaciers on the ragged edge of South America. So far, two of these properties, coastal Melimoyu and inland Valle California, contain small luxury resorts, and a third, Lago Espolon, has more Spartan hostel accommodation.

“We are buying ecosystems under threat by development,” explains Adams, a Harvard MBA who sold his tech company to Amazon in 1998 for $100-million in shares. He was mesmerized by a trip to Patagonia with his wife, Megan, but he also observed a region that was in danger of a development landslide more transformative than any earthquake. It was poised to be overwhelmed by new roads, airstrips and potential transmission lines transporting power from planned hydro dams in the south.

He set out to save space for creatures like Darwin’s Frog, whose numbers have been devastated by viruses. And on this day in early April, Stock, who oversees guiding at Melimoyu’s eco-resort, is encouraged by the discovery of even a single specimen. He records the sighting on a clipboard – grist for a research foundation set up by Adams to study the region’s flora and fauna.

But make no mistake: Patagonia Sur (sur means south in Spanish) is a hard-nosed start-up in the tradition of the high-tech world where Adams earned his entrepreneurial stripes. It comprises a real-estate brokerage (catering to green-minded clientele), sustainable property development, carbon-offset trading and reforestation, as well as ecotourism targeted at affluent consumers who will spend $6,000 (U.S.) or more on a week that melds fly-fishing, sumptuous dining and a clear conscience.

Adams’s idea is that ecologically based tourism and real estate are not just beneficiaries of conservation – they can be drivers of preservation. He aims to attract investors by the potential for healthy rates of return earned on Patagonia’s still relatively inexpensive land. The funds will underwrite the acquisition of more and more property, to be protected by tough land-use covenants in perpetuity.

Adams could be building a model for saving other beautiful places – say, in rural Newfoundland, New Zealand or Africa. The old model was based on government-funded parks or non-profit groups wringing donations out of philanthropists. But Adams says there is only so much money available to non-profits – and governments are stretched.

Eco-Tourism in Louisiana

April 24, 2012

EcoTourism takes a major step forward in Louisiana

A series of maps and guides promoting Louisiana as a world-class eco-tourism destination are appearing  in tourism centers across the State.  With new technology in GPS and guides, tourists can now be able to find their way through parts of the state.

The publishers believe they’ve tapped a prosperous new market in the Gulf South, and that Louisiana is behind in this area.  “We’re very behind here in Louisiana, and in the United States.  In Europe it’s a huge draw”, says the publisher.

Looks like ‘Green’ is the universal symbol for sustaining the planet for future generations.

Eco-friendly Gourmet Inclusive Resorts are Karisma’s niche

April 17, 2012

From Forbes magazine:

Luxury resort chain Karisma chose their moniker correctly, and they’re living up to it.

As the owner of 8 green, “gourmet inclusive” resorts in Mexico, Karisma is a pioneer in the country’s ecotourism sector, taking innovative strides in unexpected and impressive ways.  For travelers interested in planning an Earth Day expedition, Karisma resorts are an enlightened and sustainable option.

El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels by Karisma are all strategically placed along Mexico’s Riviera Maya.  Their luxurious resorts are steps above the tried and true “all inclusive” framework, with a “gourmet inclusive” policy, sustainable practices, and their very own, massive greenhouse.

The newly expanded 100,000 square foot greenhouse grows all of the produce for the hotel chain, sustainably.  Garnering its first harvest in 2009, the Greenhouse saw a 40% expansion in 2011.  The Greenhouse is on-site at El Dorado Royale, yielding 120 tons of crops annually.  El Dorado Royale delivers fresh produce to all 8 sister properties within the Karisma family and holds the reputation for reaping some of the freshest produce in the region.  Even neighboring high-profile resorts receive deliveries from the Greenhouse for fresh herbs and vegetables.

Gourmet inclusive impresses guests with top-notch meals in well appointed accommodations – a rare find in the gamut of all inclusive resorts worldwide.  The gourmet inclusive dictum is unique and to be admired, as all inclusive resort food typically leads to mediocre meals.

“Our Gourmet Inclusive philosophy is rooted in culinary excellence and we feel these enhancements heighten the dining experience at El Dorado Royale while educating others about the Greenhouse’s impact on the environment.  The hope is that visitors will appreciate the benefits, practicality and enjoyment of going green just as we have on-property,” says Jeroen Hanlo, the vice president food and beverage operations for El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels.

The Greenhouse grows a variety of hydroponic vegetables – a process where plants grow in gravel, liquid or sand with added nutrients but without soil – such as heirloom tomatoes, chilies, bell peppers, cherry grape tomatoes, arugula, mint and cucumbers.

Locals and employees can purchase any of the fresh produce grown on-site, take learning tours – which explain environmental impact and the organic growth processes that take place in the Greenhouse – participate in organic cooking seminars and taste fresh fruit right off the vine.

The cooking seminar program is a series of interactive cooking demonstrations that show visitors how to prepare fresh dishes and learn the health and taste benefits of cooking with organic ingredients.  El Dorado Royale’s famed Chef Pierre Mourez – who has prepared meals for the likes of Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey – oversees the program and the gourmet inclusive a la carte menu.

The Greenhouse is the newest component of El Dorado’s sizable Pasión por el Medio Ambiente (Passion for the Environment) program, which “includes solar heated water, tree plantings and major recycling efforts in the Riviera Maya.”  The assurance of quality food throughout the resorts brings travelers in and likely motivates them to return.

Other resorts with a similar model should consider the benefits of a guaranteed delectable dining experience.  An out-of-this-world, organic and all inclusive feast may be just the ticket to keep tourists coming back for more.