Paradise lost? Travel and the rising threat to popular tourist destinations

So, in a couple of weeks I will be island hopping around Fiji. Words cannot express how utterly excited I am. To me, Fiji has always been a distant paradise reserved for honeymooners or those extravagant holidaymakers with a fair penny to spend. When I was living in London, Fiji could only really be a fantasy as the distance alone made it a mission to get to. But now that I’ve made it to New Zealand, and the flight to Fiji is only a mere three hours, it’s just too good an opportunity to miss!

The destination on many a tourism poster

Despite not being a tropical island New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park is a fair contender for a pocket paradise

To many, Fiji epitomises the perfect island escape holiday with its tropical palm trees, white sandy beaches and clear blue waters. It’s a picture we’re all familiar with and have doubtlessly seen on a poster or billboard advertising a slice of heaven served up “just for you”. To most of us, a place like that is a treat which scarcely even seems tangible until you’ve been.

Tropical island escapes are promoted as tiny pockets of perfection in a busy world, where relaxation takes on a new meaning, and where, for most visitors, your only concern is deciding whether to snorkel or sunbathe that day. It’s bliss, and don’t we all know it.

In recent years, tourism has become Fiji’s biggest industry and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the world’s economy. In 2017 a record of 842,884 tourists visited the country. This trend isn’t just isolated to Fiji. In the same year, the Maldives reported a staggering 1.3 million visitors, and a further 350,000 tourists holidayed in the Seychelles.

For these island escapes and their visitors, tourism (if done responsibly) is mutually beneficial. It both fuels the economy and provides business and revenue for the locals, and we get a precious few weeks of luxurious bliss and relaxation before it’s time for us to head home to our busy lives. It doesn’t feel possible that idyllic islands like these could be under threat but the sad truth is they are.

Trouble in paradise

At the mercy of the sea

To most of us, our island life experience is merely fleeting. Before long the calls of our real lives and responsibilities become too defeaning to ignore so we drift back home with groans of regret that we couldn’t stay longer. Our island stay becomes nothing more than a series of fond memories, stories to tell, and a handful of Instagram-worthy photographs.

Because our lives are based elsewhere, these islands remain a peaceful parallel world to us, but for the locals it’s a different story. It’s not just a rise in tourism which Fiji, the Maldives and the Seychelles have in common, but also, like many other island nations, they are plagued by the threat of rising sea levels due to climate change. For many residents of these islands, the future of their homes and livelihoods hang in the balance.

In Fiji, they are already paying the price as some families have been forced to evacuate their homes and settle further inland. According to the World Bank, over the next decade Fiji will have to spend about $4.5 billion to combat climate change including transportation systems, education, housing and health services.

These islands are in a full-blown war with the ocean that threatens to consume them. For the Solomon Islands it has reached a critical level as the water rising seven millimetres a year since 1994 has caused five islands to be submerged already. With this becoming a very real possibility for all these island nations, they are doing all they can to combat it. The Maldives are currently working to build new islands, and Cape Verde has made the switch to renewable energy.

But not every island is lucky enough to have the necessary funds to fight the oncoming tide. Despite its popularity with tourists, it has been reported that the Seychelles lacks the economic resources to invest in the necessary infrastructure.

We have a global responsibility

Climate change is for all of us to deal with

At this moment in time we’ve reached a crossroads. How we decide to act will design the outcome of our future. Climate change is a global responsibility. We can no longer be apathetic while we let those with the most to lose fight the same battles we will all be fighting eventually. But the future looks far from bright when countries like the US and China (the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases) show little interest in making a change. And it doesn’t help that a climate change denier sits in the White House…

But climate change affects us all whether you believe in it or not. Rising sea levels are just the tip of the melting iceberg of what’s in store, but for some small island nations that’s already enough to destroy homes and lives. If these pockets of paradise, these island escapes are to continue to exist then we need to be more proactive about protecting them.

How you can help combat climate change

Alternative transport is a great way to travel green

Travelling isn’t normally associated with being eco friendly, and with it mainly being centred around long haul flights to far flung places, you can see why. But fear not, you don’t need to hang up your wanderlust boots to do your bit for the planet as there are ways to make travelling greener:

1) Pack light for your trip, it’s that simple! Not only does a lighter suitcase mean less to lug about but it’s also better for the environment. The less kilos you take, the less CO2 the aircraft emits. It may seem small but a little goes a long way.

2) Maximise your trip abroad. Try to avoid flying for short weekend getaways and instead combine them to make one big holiday. If it means more time travelling then I’m game!

3) Instead of flying for short trips away to closer destinations, consider using alternative transport like trains or ferries. In addition, use public transport on holiday instead of hiring a car. Not only is this greener but can also make the act of travelling more adventurous and fun as you increase your chances of immersing yourself in the country and culture.

4) Offset your carbon when you fly. Yes, you still produce CO2 when you travel but you can pay a company to invest in a project that reduces your carbon emissions elsewhere.

Companies like Carbon Footprint Ltd can calculate your carbon emissions from your journey and give you a range of optional projects you can donate to.

Donating to reforestation projects is a great way to offset your carbon footprint

And here are some green tips for when you’re not on the road:

1) Consider car-sharing, cycling or public transport instead of driving on your commute to work.

2) Use energy efficient lightbulbs and switch off all electrical items when they’re not in use.

3) Register to vote and then go out and vote! Make your voice heard, and fight to have politicians that represents your views in office. Make sure climate change is being talked about in your area.

4) Use your social media platform to share stories and spread the word. The more people know about climate change, the effects, and the measures we can all take to try to reverse or soften them, the bigger the chance we have at succeeding.

***

Thanks for reading,

F x

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