Don’t let new age puritans kybosh ecotourism: it gets a qualified tick
Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day
To me one of the nicest bits of Christmas is a chance to sing the Australian carols of the old ABC’s William G. James, including Carol of the Birds. Orana, by the way, means welcome.
I don’t like to boast, but one of my achievements this year was to see a brolga. Several, in fact. Flying rather than dancing but, even so, one to cross off my bucket list. I’ve also seen jabirus, magpie geese, comb-crested jacana, osprey, white-bellied sea eagles, red-tailed black cockatoos and crocodiles, fresh and salty.
I’ve also seen Timorese ponies, Asian buffalo and – more surprising – Indonesian banteng cattle. By now the banteng are endangered in Indonesia, but going strong in northern Australia.
All during a 12-day tour of Arnhem Land, bouncing along unsealed roads in a truck converted to a bus, to visit remote Aboriginal communities (complete with permits) and cave paintings. An unforgettable experience, one moneyed Baby Boomers should consider before they jet off on yet another exploration of other people’s homelands.
Actually, I sometimes wonder whether the day is coming when – because of the damage it does to the atmosphere – we will look back with amazement and envy on the relatively brief golden age when flying for tourism was not only permitted but dirt cheap, so we roamed the globe whenever we could get away.
It’s a terrible thought. Let’s hope it never happens, thanks to some technological advance in aircraft fuel. But while it lasts, let’s not forget what a privileged generation we are.
But what of ecotourism? Is it as virtuous as we wilderness wanderers like to imagine, or will the new age puritans put the kybosh on that, too?
Well, I’ve been checking what the academic experts are saying – courtesy of my second-favourite website, The Conversation – and, though you can find the killjoys if you look, I think ecotourism gets a qualified tick.
It’s true that, in an ideal world, we’d all stay at home admiring nature from afar and insisting the politicians keep the outback – and other continents’ backblocks – locked up and in pristine condition. Where damage had already been done, we’d happily pay high taxes to compensate farmers, miners and tour operators for closing their businesses, and to restore the land to its former state.
No, not going to happen. Those who live in far-flung parts aren’t going to renounce the material ambitions that drive the rest of us. They’ll continue finding ways to make a buck. If so, ecotourism – whatever its downsides – will do a lot less harm than many other ways for bushies to earn a living.
Dr Guy Castley and two other researchers at Griffith University find ecotourism can contribute to conservation or adversely affect wildlife, or both. Attitudes of local communities towards wildlife influence whether they support or oppose poaching. Income from ecotourism may be used for conservation and local community development, but not always.
But for seven of the nine threatened species they studied – the great green macaw in Costa Rica, Egyptian vultures in Spain, hoolock gibbons in India, penguins, wild dogs and cheetahs in Africa, and golden lion tamarins in Brazil – ecotourism provided net conservation gains.
This was achieved through establishing private conservation reserves, restoring habitat or by reducing habitat damage. Removing feral predators, increasing anti-poaching patrols, captive breeding and supplementary feeding also helped.
For orang-utans in Sumatra, however, small-scale ecotourism couldn’t overcome the negative effects of logging. And for New Zealand’s sea lions, ecotourism only compounded the effects of intensive fishing because it increased the number of pups dying as a result of direct disturbance at sites where the sea lions came ashore.
Michele Barnes and Sarah Sutcliffe, of James Cook University, studied the effect of a shark education and conservation tour off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. Sharks are crucial to our marine ecosystems, yet many shark populations are in decline because of fishing (particularly for shark-fin soup), fisheries bycatch, habitat destruction, and climate change.
Sharks have a PR problem. They are feared by many, demonised by the evil media, treated as human-hunting monsters, and cast as the villains in blockbuster movies. In many places, governments cull sharks in the name of beachgoers’ safety.
The researchers found that the program gave participants significantly more knowledge of the ecological role of sharks and a more favourable attitude towards them. It also had a significantly positive effect on people’s intentions to engage in shark conservation behaviour. This remained true even after allowing for the participants’ greater initial positive attitudes towards sharks than the public generally.
Even when not off somewhere exotic, my family almost always ends up holidaying in or near some national park. But what about all the damage done to parks to accommodate the needs of tourists?
Dr Susan Moore, of Murdoch University, and others from Southern Cross University, argue sensibly that parks need visitors to get vital community and political support.
“We need people in parks because people vote and parks don’t,” they say. “Strong advocacy from park visitors for environmentally friendly experiences, like wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, swimming, canoeing and camping, can counterbalance pressures for environmentally destructive activities such as hunting and grazing.” Amen to that.
Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.
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Source: Thanks smh.com