'Biodiversity and sustainable tourism', that is the theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May. 2017 also happens to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. But what does sustainable tourism have to do with biodiversity?
Biodiversity - the plethora of species and ecosystems on our planet - provides us with a whole host of vital resources including clean water, pollination and medicinal plants. Estimates of its economic value are in the tens of trillions of dollars. However, this rich diversity is being lost at an astonishing rate. It's high time to counteract this loss!
But if nature can provide employment, local residents will be much more inclined to handle their natural environment with care.
Developing countries offer the greatest riches in terms of biodiversity. At the same time, poverty forces inhabitants to chop down trees, burn down large parts of forests, or hunt bush meat. But if nature can provide employment, local residents will be much more inclined to handle their natural environment with care. In Congo, former gorilla poachers have since become forest rangers or nature guides. They can incorporate their knowledge of this unique biotope for the benefit of nature protection. Tourists can also become mindful of the importance of biodiversity for everyone, and the urgent need for protection.
Tourism can lend a helping hand in protecting nature. As an economic sector, it is highly dependent on nature. Indeed, breathtaking nature is part and parcel of the top travel destinations: snorkelling in coral reefs, trekking through equatorial forests, going in search of the 'Big Five' during a safari to Africa… Scientists recently sounded the alarm bell for the Great Barrier Reef, the jewel of Queensland (Australia).
Every year the tourist sector here earns around 5 billion Australian dollars, due to a large extent to the reef.
But even a beach holiday needs clean water, and consequently depends on a properly functioning coastal ecosystem. The tourist sector therefore has every interest in ensuring a healthy natural environment.
Tourists must not disturb fragile ecosystems. Careful attention must be given to ensuring that the limits of nature's beauty are not overstretched. That is why the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has developed an ethical code for tourism, as well as recommendations in the areas of tourism and biodiversity. Among other things, it makes a stand for eco-tourism.
Individual travellers also have their role to play. In our article '17 tips for sustainable travel', we provide a few suggestions (hyperlink). It goes without saying that you should leave animals and plants alone, avoid creating waste, and be frugal with water and energy. The Belgian Development Cooperation also places a lot of emphasis on biodiversity in its initiatives.