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Nurturing biodiversity in travel: what we can do

Amidst the allure of exotic destinations and the thrill of exploring historical sites, the travel industry finds itself at a crossroads to save biodiversity.

Biodiversity plays an irreplaceable role in sustaining our planet's health and resilience.

Besides the ethical imperative, it’s also a matter of long-term survival: over 80% of travel and tourism goods and services directly or indirectly rely on nature’s resources and functioning ecosystems. [1]

What is biodiversity, and why is it so important?

Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, refers to the variety of life on Earth, encompassing the multitude of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity within them, providing a wide range of ecological services that sustain life and contribute to the resilience of ecosystems.

Imagine a lush tropical rainforest teeming with various plant species, insects, birds, mammals, and microorganisms. Each species plays a unique role in the ecosystem, contributing to nutrient cycling, pollination, and ecological balance.

Biodiversity is also evident in less conspicuous ecosystems, such as a coral reef. The myriad coral species, fish, invertebrates, and algae collectively create a dynamic and interconnected community.

In essence, biodiversity preservation is vital for ecological balance, human well-being, and the long-term health of our planet. The tourism industry has the potential to positively impact biodiversity by fostering conservation efforts and supporting local communities. Travellers can contribute by choosing eco-friendly accommodations, participating in wildlife-friendly activities, and respecting natural habitats during their adventures.

It involves mindful practices such as avoiding unnecessary stress on wildlife, refraining from touching or approaching animals, and not disrupting their natural behaviours. Responsible tourism encourages a harmonious coexistence, ensuring that our exploration doesn't harm the delicate ecosystems we visit.

Certifications and standards also play a crucial role in promoting biodiversity-friendly tourism. For example, in activities like whale watching, eco-tourism certifications establish guidelines to minimise disturbances to marine life, fostering ethical and sustainable practices.

Accommodations and tour operators adhering to international standards, such as those of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, showcase a commitment to responsible tourism [2], standing on four pillars: sustainable management for socioeconomic, cultural, and environmental impacts.

As travellers, our collective responsibility extends beyond admiration to active preservation.

Nurturing biodiversity: a call to action

Preserving biodiversity requires integrating sustainable practices into the DNA of the travel industry. This entails promoting eco-friendly accommodations, adopting low-impact tourism activities, and engaging in conservation initiatives.

Collaboration with local communities and authorities can ensure that tourism benefits people and the environment. Many destinations encourage tourists to learn more about biodiversity and encourage them to participate actively in its preservation. While animal-based attractions and experiences remain widespread, travellers have become increasingly aware of the potential harm caused by some practices.

A beautiful success story is the agreement between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda on "transboundary gorillas”. The deal makes tourism a great example of environmental peace-building and collaboration: when a gorilla group crosses the border into another country, and the tourists are taken to see the gorillas, 50% of this tourism income goes back to the country where the gorillas were originally living.

Thanks to this agreement, mountain gorillas are the only great ape subspecies to have increased in number. Total income from tourism was estimated to be over US$300 million, and 10% of national park tourism income goes to local communities [3].

Our Tip: Always research whether tours provide sustainable animal welfare practices, avoid buying souvenirs that hurt animals and the environment or participating in shows and activities with living animals.

Another way to protect biodiversity is by making responsible choices when choosing tourism businesses; some companies make an effort to fund biodiversity protection and restoration projects, adopt compostable packaging, eliminate single-use plastics, or pursue more ambitious plans like increasing investment in renewable energy.

Our Tip: Research certifications and companies that drive a positive change in the tourism industry. Look for international labels that certify such efforts, such as the EU Ecolabel.

Even small actions can make a big difference: choosing eco-friendly accommodations, supporting local conservation initiatives, and opting for guided tours prioritising wildlife welfare. A stellar example is Costa Rica, where initiatives like the Sea Turtle Conservation Program engage tourists in hands-on efforts to protect nesting sites and hatchlings. Whilst on the project, tourists contribute to the welfare of Costa Rica's wildlife through methods such as collecting scientific data, participating in beach clean-ups, and monitoring the animals in the region [4].

Our Tip:  Always make sure to learn about potentially endangered species and risks in the environments of places we visit and how to protect them or make donations to local foundations.

Why the travel industry can drive a positive impact

Costa Rica was a clear example of how the travel industry can catalyse positive change by aligning economic incentives with conservation efforts, fostering a harmonious coexistence between wanderlust and preserving Earth's diverse ecosystems.

Embracing a sustainable ethos in travel is a responsibility and an opportunity to weave a narrative where exploration and preservation go hand in hand. Let our journeys celebrate the diverse wonders of our world, and let every footstep be a commitment to safeguarding the tapestry of life for generations to come.

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