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Australia asks tourists to only use eco-certified tour companies

June 2, 2010
The green turtle is common in Watamu Marine Park
Image via Wikipedia

Australia‘s marine park authority is encouraging international travellers to use only eco-certified operators when visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

Speaking to e-Travel Blackboard at ATE 2010 yesterday, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Hilary Skeat said two million tourists visit the iconic site each year.

Of those tourists, around 50 percent experience the GBR with operators that have been independently certified by Ecotourism Australia, she said.

However, the marine park authority is trying to encourage more tourists to do the same.

In a partner stand with Ecotourism Australia at ATE this year, it has handed out flyers and fish-shaped stress balls inked with small reminders to visiting international buyers to book with eco-certified operators.

Skeat said that the marine authority also encouraged their own set of best practices on the reef including the use of moorings by marine park vessel operators wherever possible.

“The industry relies on a healthy Great Barrier Reef” she said.

Ecotourism Australia chief executive Kym Cheatham expressed similar sentiments, saying the “whole industry needs to worry about these things.”

Nature is the most compelling aspect of our country. Our natural environment is the main driver for people to come here,” said Cheatham, “We all have a responsibility.”

Ecotourism Australia released earlier this week at ATE 2010 its Green Travel Guide Australia 2010/2011 which features more than 1000 Australian tourism experiences that offer responsible, ethical and sustainable tourism experiences.

“Environmentally responsible travel has huge potential for growth, as increasing numbers of domestic and international travellers choose ‘green’ holiday experiences.

“Ecotourism destinations now attract about 15% of the global tourist market and that number is climbing fast.”

Some 20 percent of tourism businesses exhibiting at ATE 2010 this year are eco-certified.
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New Mexico looking for a few good ecotourists

June 2, 2010
San Geronimo bell tower
Image by BaylorBear78 via Flickr

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico wants to join the ecotourism trend, promoting not only the state’s natural beauty but also outdoor adventure, cultural heritage preservation and access to wild places.

New Mexico’s ecotourism venture was launched early last year, but the actual pilot programs begin this summer around the Gila Wilderness near Silver City and Taos in northern New Mexico.

Tourism is New Mexico’s No. 2 industry, behind oil and gas production, and brings in an estimated $5.7 billion annually. And if ecotourism can be fairly described as nature-based specialty travel or wilderness experiences that enrich and educate, the state thinks it has something to offer.

Visitors are attracted by “that sense of place we have here in New Mexico,” said Deputy Tourism Secretary Jennifer Hobson, who oversees the initiative. “They want to go someplace where they can learn something, have a story to tell, meet the local people.”

In describing ecotourism, Hobson has adopted the definition of the 25-year-old International Ecotourism Society: responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.

She said New Mexico is ahead of other states in developing a statewide program.

Ecotourism can be hiking and camping with a local guide far into the wilderness, spending a day working on a cattle ranch with a rancher or taking a photography trip on that ranch, or watching a pueblo artist create a pot during a tour with a Native American guide.

Outfitters, guides and others around New Mexico already have been doing ecotourism but “didn’t know there was a name for it,” said Sandy Cunningham of EcoNewMexico, which has a $250,000 contract with the Department of Tourism to develop the program.

Smaller communities will benefit most from the state’s effort, said Arturo Sandoval, president of the 19-year-old Center of Southwest Culture Inc., dedicated to preserving northern New Mexico’s traditional land-based communities.

Sandoval’s organization is in the third year of what he calls “heritage and cultural tourism,” recruiting people to spend a weekend cleaning out irrigation canals — known as acequias — alongside the people who use them to irrigate small farms.

This June’s effort will include a traditional matanza, or feast, a talk by an acequia expert and an evening of New Mexico music.

“Heritage and cultural tourism is tied to the real purpose of trying to help small farmers make a 21st-century income in a global economy,” Sandoval said. It brings in tourists in an unobtrusive way “that doesn’t end up with people building resort hotels.”

Cunningham said the state initiative wants to attract tourists to places that need economic development who will hire locals who “love guiding, who love hosting people.”

Currently, the average tourist spends 2.2 days in New Mexico. Cunningham said ecotourism brings in fewer people who stay longer and spend more.

Everyone from organic growers to artists and conservation groups stands to benefit “from a new and different type of traveller” who becomes passionate about something and wants to return, she said.

The program also will promote New Mexico to its residents.

Cunningham is working on a summer trip aimed at New Mexicans — two days rafting in Chama, two days llama trekking near Taos and two days camping in northern New Mexico, with such extras as fishing, mountain biking and catered meals.

The trip will highlight cultural preservation, rivers and wildlife habitat, plus local guides.

“We have the most incredible state and things you can do here, but the guides can really bring it to life,” Cunningham said.

Hobson and Cunningham see ecotourism as broadening the tourism market.

More ranchers, for example, are embracing the idea, Cunningham said. Some already open up their land during hunting season, so adding other programs offers another way to make money.

“They already have wildlife. Whether you’re shooting with a gun or a camera, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

The Silver City and Taos areas were chosen for the pilot projects after workshops that brought together groups ranging from outfitters and guides to ranchers and organic farmers.

While tourists already go to Taos and Silver City and those communities will benefit from the ecotourism pilot project, it emphasizes the rural backcountry — “not what the typical tourist is doing,” Hobson said.

“We hope to be in more rural areas in the future,” she said.

___

If You Go…

New Mexico Ecotourism: http://www.newmexico.org/ecotourism/

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Families looking for Eco-Friendly Travel

April 14, 2010
Dois Irmãos - Fernando de Noronha, Brazil.
Image via Wikipedia

More families want to get away on eco-friendly breaks, according to an expert, who believes that travel companies still need to be doing more to market low-carbon trips. Laura Greenman, director of Ecoescape, said that at the moment more people are trying to get away on family breaks which do not impact negatively on the surrounding environment.

“There are many great options for sustainable holidays” she stated.

Ms Greenman added that the tourism industry should always be looking for ways to offer green breaks and make this appealing to the mass market.

Over in Australia, the Samurai Beach Resort is leading the way in environmental sustainability.

The holiday resort is the first accommodation provider in the Hunter to be awarded an advanced Eco Tourism accreditation by Ecotourism Australia.

The accreditation is designed to act as a guide to assist travellers in selecting accommodation that is environmentally sustainable.

Manager Simon Beckett said the accreditation was proof the resort was heading in the right direction.

“We’re really proud of our environmental initiatives,” he said

“We like to think we are leading the charge in eco-friendly accommodation in this region and now we’ve got the certificate to prove it.”

The resort recently planted 275 swamp mahogany trees throughout the resort and adjoining wetlands to boost koala food stocks and also turned its lights off for two hours as part of Earth Hour. It’s reported that this resort is losing $13,000 per week, so we’ll see if these changes are long lasting or not.

-Robert Louis Miller

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Green Living Project and Filming Sustainable Travel

April 13, 2010
Coppery-headed Emerald
Image via Wikipedia

The indie media production company Green Living Project (GLP) is building a good reputation when it comes to documenting the globe’s sustainable travel sector–covering the best practices in eco-tourism, wildlife conservation, geo-tourism, eco-lodges, community development and education.

The latest location on their push-pin map? Central America–specifically Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. Whether you feel a strong connection to the region or are perhaps curious about the strand of rich, biodiverse countries connecting the Americas, you’ll want to tune in. Wanderlusts like me will delight into the bounty of do-good, low-impact projects and companies to see and support. And the tourism industry will hopefully follow suit!

Fresh from the field, GLP’s journey can be tracked on their blog. From the crews romp at Rios Tropicales, a Costa Rican low-impact river rafting company supporting the sustainable development of a local community, to their flight on Nature Air to destination Leatherback Trust, an organization working to protect the leatherback turtles nesting on the beaches around Playa Grand–it’s an adventurous read chock full of inspiring companies and people making a difference.

“As we document more regional projects across North America, Central America has become a popular request due to it’s close proximity and the breadth and depth of compelling sustainability initiatives,” said Rob Holmes, president of Green Living Project. “These issues along with strong leadership and diversity with these cutting-edge projects means consumers will be very excited to get involved with the projects and visit the featured destinations. Businesses and organizations will also learn first hand about these important best practices with sustainability initiatives…”

Some of the sponsors showing GLP some love and support just happen to be eco-cool too like Nature Air, Rainforest Alliance, Patagonia, and PACT.

Check GLP’s website and Facebook page for ongoing updates and stay tuned for video from their Central American voyage.

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The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) opens the way to eco-tourism

March 24, 2010
Korean Demilitarized Zone
Image by http2007 via Flickr

In 1953, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established to provide a buffer between the conflicting Northern and Southern nations–and today it is the most heavily militarized border in the world. But amid this icon of armed standoffs, in the narrow strip that divides the Korean Peninsula where no one is allowed, a highly diverse ecosystem has blossomed. And now, in a rare putting-aside of differences between the two countries squared off along the DMZ, the two Koreas will work together for the preservation of the corridor that has so long divided them.

The Korean DMZ, 155 miles long and roughly 2 miles wide, has been a literal ‘no man’s land’ for 57 years–and that means its been a virtual haven for wildlife. The heavily fortified strip of land is home to some of Korea’s most endangered species, like the Korean Tiger, Asiatic Black bear, and the extreme rare Red-crowned and White-naped cranes.

After years of speculation, today it was announced that after a meeting between cabinet-level agencies in South Korea, that the gem that lies between their two nations would be transformed into an ecological corridor to promote tourism and the preservation of the DMZ’s rich ecosystems.

According to Folha, the project will include a bicycle routes and an observation center within limited sections of the ecological corridor, still heavily guarded on both sides by the North and South Korean military. Further details about the project will be announced in September by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism of South Korea.

The lessons that can be garnered from the situation along Korea’s DMZ are two-fold. On one hand, the fact that two otherwise feuding nations could come together peacefully to ensure the preservation of their shared ecological heritage is encouraging. On the other hand, that the corridor has become so naturally diverse simply because no humans were there to muddle with it speaks wonders to the significance of our presence in other regions of the world.

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Costa Rica designated BioGen by NRDC

March 24, 2010
Coppery-headed Emerald
Image via Wikipedia

As written by Alexandra Marks of the Christian Science Monitor–

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Costa Rica, fresh from a yoga retreat and heading back home to Sheep Dog Hollow, the 100-year-old farmhouse we’re trying to renovate in as green a manner as is economically practical. (Think: from calming, tropical paradise to construction mayhem.)

I confess, I’m not quite ready yet to tackle the questions that I know are waiting for me – from timing on when we can start spraying our foam insulation to worries about our fast-draining checking account and whether we can really afford those $7-a-square-foot reclaimed wide board floors (that’s $7 a square foot not including installation or refinishing.

No, in my mind I’m still hearing the gentle roar of the ocean waves, the morning’s orchestral array of bird songs, and the rustling of palm fronds in the wind.

And so, since I won’t get to Sheep Dog to check on progress and attack some of those questions until Wednesday, I thought I’d just take a moment to reflect on how lovely it is to spend time in a genuine “BioGem.”

Yes, Costa Rica is the first country in the world to be designated a BioGem by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The reason for the designation, says the NRDC, is the government’s commitment to “becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral nation by 2021.”

For years, it’s also pushed sustainability and eco-tourism and expanded its natural parks to preserve its biodiversity. To say nothing of the fact that Costa Rica one of the hemisphere’s oldest, most stable democracies, which ranks pretty high in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and the UN’s Human Development Index.

Yes, it’s an extraordinary place.

When you arrive, you experience it in subtle ways. The people have gentleness about them, or, as they say in Spanish, are they are “mui amable” – very amiable. The food you buy in the supermarkets, such as the tomatoes, have that sweet, home-grown taste that here in the States you can only get from a home garden.

And then, of course, there’s the pure air and the abundance of birds, iguanas, and little lizards you frequently see lazing in the sun. Yeah, there’s heat and dust – as well as pollution in the big cities – but compared to the other Latin American countries I’ve visited, it’s a veritable ecological Eden.

But there’s another reason the NRDC designated Costa Rica a BioGem: Because it’s potentially threatened. As the website Earth Explore notes:

Pressures to open coastlines to oil and gas exploration and drilling, and exploit virgin rainforest for timber and mining are ramping up. All too easily, this small nation could be directed down the path seen so often in the tropics; of slash and burn and quick profit.

To help the country stay on its current ecological path, the NRDC is “working with the Energy and Environment Ministry to identify measures to help the country meet its [goal to be carbon neutral.

The NRDC also just signed an agreement with the national electric utility, Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. In collaboration with other Latin American environment agencies, it’s also launched “a rainforest rejuvenation project to plant 30,000 trees to restore a natural rainforest.”

So, as I head back home from that tropical ecological paradise, my Sheep Dog Hollow worries and questions have been put into a new perspective.

Yes, this green renovation is costing us more in the short term – in cash and headaches – but I again realize that if I can do a little bit now to help future generations enjoy the natural beauties of our country as I just have enjoyed Costa Rica’s, I know it’s worth the cost.

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Dive with Great White Sharks

March 15, 2010
Great white shark. Photo by Terry Goss, copyri...
Image via Wikipedia

Cue the theme to Jaws: volunteer travel specialist, i-to-i has launched a new research project for volunteers to help research Great White Sharks in South Africa.

Volunteers are needed to help monitor Great White Sharks and the rest of the ‘Marine Big Five’ – whales, seals, dolphins and penguins – on a new, two-week project based in Kleinbaai, 180km southeast of Cape Town.

The Western Cape is known as the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks in their natural habitat. Working with local ecotourism operators, volunteers will have the chance to see the sharks from both boat-side and from a submerged protective cage.

Their primary task will be to record data and observations on the sharks and other marine animals, learning how to identify individual animals through dorsal fin markings and other measurements. The aim of the project is to collect and collate data to inform efforts to arrest the decline of this threatened species.

Shark education is a prominent part of the project, with lectures by marine biologists, and volunteers will also gain insights into the workings of ecotourism, as they will be assisting the ecotourism operators during their daily shark-viewing tours.
The project cost of $2549 includes airport pickup, orientation, training in ecotourism operations and data collection, 24-hour emergency support, services of an in-country co-ordinator and a contribution to the project. Additional weeks cost $800, up to a maximum of four weeks.

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