Tourism’s Important Role in Conservation Projects
Conservation projects are currently taking the world by storm due to greater awareness and the unstoppable growth of global tourism. Did you know that tourism is one of the planet’s biggest industries and one of the largest drivers of economic growth all over the world? You may be surprised to learn that tourism is also one of the biggest driving forces of conservation efforts – spurred by the sheer volume of travelers circulating the globe and visiting sensitive natural areas. Conservation programs are being put into place to capitalize on tourism’s economic promise to ensure that natural resources endure for years to come.
What is Conservation?
First, let’s take a moment to define what conservation is. Conservation is the act of preserving or protecting the environment, natural resources, and biodiversity. Oftentimes, we see locations with underdeveloped economies struggle with conservation because resources are limited. An unwitting local population may sometimes exploit the natural areas and wildlife populations in order to make ends meet. It’s an understandable scenario, but with dangerous consequences to the long-term viability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.
Tourism is a solution, not the problem.
How does tourism tie into this, you ask? Well, tourism, when planned accordingly, can actually help developing economies by preserving the resources that communities rely on, rather than depleting them. Tourism generates economic growth by creating sustainable, non-consumptive means of income for the community such as tours. When done correctly, tourism can entice conscious travelers to visit, who in turn bring cash to communities. Tourism also has the benefit of unifying community stakeholders around a common goal with tangible outcomes.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
In many African nations, biodiversity conservation has always been important. In Namibia, we see the effects poaching can have on decreasing the populations of big game animals, like lions, elephants, and rhinos. Of the 1,750 black rhinos that live in Namibia, about 120 were killed in 2014 alone. Local communities have historically felt the need to hunt and kill these animals either for food, or because they believe the animals are destroying their own precious resources, like their grass-filled land, or preying on their livestock. Eventually, though, if populations continue using these endangered species for food, these animals will go extinct, and so will the communities’ food source. Additionally, the illegal export of rare animals to the black market in other areas is a brutal detriment to communities
What tourism has the power to do, is reverse the view that wildlife is a threat and demonstrate that there is an economic value to conservation. Instead of viewing lions and rhinos as a danger to their homes, or the pangolin as a wealth-inducing export, Namibians can let these animals provide for them. People across the world are willing to travel great distances and pay significant amounts of money to see these great creatures. For example, along with continued North American and European travelers, Chinese visitors to African safaris will grow to about 180,000 by 2017. Increased interest has developed in India as well. And as the world becomes ever more connected, through the power of the internet, tourism and a desire to visit these unique locations will only continue to grow. By investing in the conservation of preserving its wildlife, Namibia is ensuring that travelers (and their money) will continue to flow into the country for years to come.
The documentary Virunga, has brought attention to the endangered mountain gorillas residing in the Virunga Mountain Region. On the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of Congo, the mountains are the only place on earth where you can find these magnificent primates. As the documentary highlights, oil drilling has posed an imminent threat to the lives of these endangered gorillas. However, oil is a limited resource, whereas investing in tourism will attract visitors – and funding – for generations to come.
Saving the sea turtles is another great example of how conservation not only benefits wildlife, but the entire world. A sea turtle is worth way more alive to us, than dead. Sea turtles help control the growth of sea grass beds on the ocean floor, which are breeding grounds for many species of fish and crustaceans. Without sea turtles, we would see an incredible decrease in sea grass beds, leading to a decline in the other species who depend on it for their survival. Not only do sea turtles help the marine ecosystem, but they also help recycle nutrients from the water to the land when they lay their eggs along beaches every summer. Without sea turtle eggs, our beaches’ ecosystems would be harmed, sand dunes would erode, and we can say goodbye to the precious, pristine beaches we enjoy today. Solimar has also done some work in the past to save sea turtles on a previous project in Nicaragua.
To do any of the above, conservation is of the utmost importance. Tourism can help ensure sustainable income for the future.
While tourism and conservation make an excellent duo, there are many challenges to overcome predisposed ideas of economic growth in countries where poverty and corruption run rampant. With the right methods and planning, tourism can help preserve beautiful locations, like the Virunga Mountains and Namibia, for generations to come.
Check out Solimar’s latest conservation effort project in Peak Park, Colombia.
Interested in learning more about tourism and conservation? Download our Sustainable Models and Strategies Toolkit!