Why I want to be a responsible traveller

Tourists have got a bad rep for being, quite frankly, terrible people. Remembering the incident on a Spanish beach in August 2017 where tourists killed a baby dolphin by passing it around for selfies, it’s easy to see why. They demonstrated a heart-breaking lack of respect for the world we inhabit. Unfortunately, tourism is no stranger to this feat and has indeed taken its toll on the environment.

In particular, many popular tourist beachfront destinations have had a detrimental impact on the surrounding marine life, with noise pollution from boating tours, beachfront hotels, and simply tonnes of litter being washed into the sea every year. So great is the damage to Maya Bay’s coral reefs in Thailand, the authorities have decided to implement a ban on all tourist visits from June to September of this year to allow them some time to recover.

maya bay beach
On many a backpacker’s bucket list, Thailand’s Maya Bay Beach

This hugely popular tourist destination made famous by Leonardo di Caprio’s film The Beach (2000) has been on many a backpacker’s bucket list for its stunning rock formations and crystal blue waters. However, the sheer number of tourists arriving and leaving floating flotillas of waste pollution in their wake has not only damaged its untouched beauty but also destroyed much of the marine life there. In fact, over the past couple of decades, Thailand has lost a staggering 80% of its coral reefs and the effects of unsustainable tourism are primarily to blame.

It’s unfortunate that the only way the natural world can be preserved is if it’s closed off from those eager to explore it. But the Thai authorities have every right to do so as the preservation of wildlife must always come first if it is to continue to exist. After all, Maya Bay beach is first and foremost a habitat with a carefully constructed ecosystem. It must be protected against the selfish trending belief that nature is for personal pleasure. Drained of empathy and disregard for future visitors, it is this belief that left a young dolphin dead and many a beach paradise choked with rubbish. Such a sentiment is not sustainable for a world on the brink of climate change and mass extinction.

manta ray 3
Barefoot Manta island resort, Fiji, plays host to the annual manta ray migration which visits its waters between May and October.

Fortunately, tourism can be made sustainable through conscientious travelling, as proven by The Ecotourism Society. It has a worldwide membership of tourist companies which work to balance the preservation of the environment with travel by using tourism to fund conservation. When I looked at Fiji as a possible destination to visit after New Zealand, I found that Barefoot Manta and Barefoot Kuata, two island resorts off its coast do just this. As well as being exotic tourist getaways, they are home to a large marine reserve and a host of resident scientists to monitor it.

The resorts encourage travellers to immerse themselves in the location and learn about what it has to offer. There are opportunities to work alongside some of the scientists in the conservation effort, and although they don’t claim to be eco-resorts, they believe that a healthy wildlife encourages tourism which in turn provides revenue for the local communities. It’s a beneficial cycle which preserves a high quality of life for generations to come.

It would be unrealistic to believe that travelling can generate a zero-negative impact on the environment, particularly as it relies on polluting methods of transport to succeed. However, with The Ecotourism Society leading by example, steps can be taken to ensure that tourism is beneficial to the welfare of the environment so that destinations can continue to be accessible. It is important to travel as it opens a world of cultural understanding. It is an educational and enriching experience, but to be successful it must be unobtrusive. As a traveller, the only marks we should be making on the Earth are temporary footprints in the sand as we stroll across the beach.

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Thanks for reading,

F x

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