The United Nations has declared next year the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This is timely, as it comes at an important moment. On the one hand, the international community is preparing to embrace Agenda 2030 and the new Sustainable Development Goals. On the other, we have seen stark news about the state of the natural world in 2016. Even here in the UK, it is clear that the time to act is now.
2017: Year of Sustainable Tourism
In approving the adoption of 2017 as the Year of Sustainable Tourism, the UN resolution underlined the “importance of international tourism, and particularly the designation of an international year of sustainable tourism for development, in fostering better understanding among peoples everywhere, in leading to a greater awareness of the rich heritage of various civilisations and in bringing about a better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, contributing to the strengthening of peace around the world“.
The year is a unique opportunity to advance and promote the contribution tourism can make to the three pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. But as many focus on those sustainable development goals that highlight community and development, it is important to consider how travel and tourism impacts not just on human communities, but also on wildlife around the world (Goals 14 and 15 ‘life below water’ and ‘life on land’).
The State of Nature
During 2016 we have seen worrying news about the state of our natural world. In the UK, the State of Nature Report brought this in to sharp focus with some of our best loved species declared at risk of extinction, like the hedgehog, turtle dove and song thrush. Some 56% of UK species are in decline and 165 are critically endangered in Great Britain alone. Quite simply, our wildlife is in trouble.
At the same time, the Great Barrier Reef is under severe stress. A mass bleaching event in 2016, caused by warming oceans around the world, has damaged coral reefs globally and had a particularly serious effect on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, causing around one quarter of it to die.
2016 was also the warmest year on record, and with this came the troubling news that the extent of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is at a record low. Not only is this a worrying sign of the impact of climate change, but it’s troubling news for wildlife. Arctic animals like the walrus and polar bear feel the effects immediately, as they depend on the sea ice habitat for feeding and breeding.
Role of wildlife in development
A focus on wildlife certainly doesn’t mean neglecting communities. The importance of wildlife to local communities is globally recognised. Wildlife plays a vital ecological role in ecosystems and has cultural significance for human societies in both the developed and the developing world, as well as economic importance as a centre-piece in sustainable tourism initiatives.
Responsible wildlife tourism has the potential to protect wildlife and provide communities with the opportunity to participate in the global economic system, but it comes with many challenges and must be carefully managed to avoid unintended consequences.
Wildlife tourism is an important part of the visitor economy in many African and South American countries, in parts of Asia, Europe and North America. It can result in crucial funding for wildlife conservation efforts, provide an incentive to protect wildlife from poaching, and give local communities an improved livelihood. Some tourism operations also collect wildlife data or transport scientists to remote locations at no cost.
Impact of tourism on wildlife
But not all tourism is wildlife friendly. High volume tourism can damage ecosystems, or disturb feeding and breeding patterns.
For example, in the Galápagos Islands artificial feeding by tourists once led to a breakdown in territorial breeding of iguanas as they abandoned traditional breeding grounds in favour of places where food was readily on offer. And right now, climate change is posing a threat to wildlife around the world.
In Uganda and Rwanda, you can experience some of the most progressive conservation strategies in tourism, with strict limits on visitor numbers, high permit costs for gorilla trekking and the proceeds invested back into the national park. But national parks were established at a high cost to the indigenous Batwa people who were evicted from areas where they had lived and hunted for generations.
So, as you plan your travels for the United Nations Year of Sustainable Tourism, please consider ways you can help both wildlife and communities here in the UK and around the world.
In the UK…
Volunteer with one of many nature conservation organisations. Charities like the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation, or the RSPB always need extra pairs of hands to complete vital conservation tasks that protect British wildlife.
Choose a UK holiday that makes a difference. Why not consider a Wild Days conservation holiday? Wild Days offer active small group conservation holidays with a purpose, which give you an insight into wildlife in the UK and an opportunity to work with nature conservation experts to improve the state of nature.
Talk to your children about wildlife and teach them about the importance of protecting it. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Project Wild Thing. This film is the real-life story of one man’s determination to get children out enjoying nature.
Never participate in activities that exploit wildlife like petting lion cubs, riding elephants, or attending orca displays. Many of these animals have been drugged, or subjected to brutal training techniques. Others will be killed when they get too big to handle or suffer behavioural issues due to their captivity.
Don’t buy souvenirs made from wildlife products such as ivory or turtle shell, and never eat foods that threaten endangered species like shark fin soup or bush meat.
Report examples of animal exploitation to Born Free via their Travellers Alert Hotline on 0845 003 5960.
Don’t touch, provoke or otherwise disturb wild animals. Watch their natural behaviours from a safe distance rather than disrupting it. Avoid disturbing breeding sites such as nests and burrows.
If possible, always give back to the communities or conservation efforts in the places you visit by making a donation to support conservation in the area. Or help spread vital awareness about the cause concerned when you get home instead.
Helping wildlife at home
It’s not only during the holidays that you can give wildlife a helping hand during the Year of Sustainable Tourism.
No matter how small your garden is, it can be a great resource for wildlife if you take a few simple steps to make them feel at home. Hanging bird feeders and providing a water source, building a pond or leaving a log pile, adding a bug hotel or a refuge for pollinators, and hanging a bird nesting box are all great ideas to get started with. For more wildlife gardening inspiration, contact the Wildlife Trusts.
I have used an affiliate link on this page. Please note that if you buy a DVD via this link I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps me to cover the costs of running my blog.