Although the word “tourism” often conjures up the positive notion of visiting foreign places and learning about them, something that people don’t often think about is the impact of humans on the environment that they are visiting. This issue is something that has become increasingly important to address, but doesn’t get a lot of play in the news or in public forums. This needs to change, or many of the world’s most popular environmental destinations will be destroyed, and unavailable to future generations.
In 1992, 182 countries signed Agenda 21, which states that “Tourism should contribute to the conservation, protection and restoration of the Earth’s ecosystems.” While this is a nice thought, more often than not, tourism ends up being the exact opposite of Agenda 21’s definition. The major problems that stem from environmental tourism occur in the form of:
· Disruption of the ecosystem’s cycles
· Collection of environmental objects as souvenirs
· Erosion due to foot traffic
· Illegal hunting
By the Number: Tourism Facts & Data
I’ll give you a few examples to bring this into perspective:
· In the New Forest in southern England 25,000 empty bottles are removed each year.
· On Mt. Everest 16,510 kg (36,400 lbs) of trash have been deposited on the mountain between 1952 and 1991. In destinations like Mt. Everest, there is really no easy way for the trash to be removed. Leading a trek to try and haul trash back down the mountainside is just too dangerous.
· On Mt. Kilimanjaro hikers and mountain climbers have caused severe soil erosion because of too much foot traffic.
The destruction of these environments presents a serious challenge to the countries where they are located, and the global community as a whole. For many countries, especially some of the third world nations, tourism is a significant source of revenue. A happy medium has to be found where tourism and protecting the environment can balance out.
Destinations at risk need to be well managed, and the number of people that are allowed to visit needs to be limited to a reasonable number. Furthermore, visitors as a whole need to be more cognizant of how they interact with the environment around them, and also make sure that they are not creating trash. 182 countries have signed the Agenda 21 agreement, but it doesn’t seem to me that many of them are taking their own words to heart. Instead of making Agenda 21 a hollow commitment, it should be seriously addressed in the worldwide forum, and used to create a strategy to realistically combat this problem.