World-renowned environmentalist Prof David Bellamy addressed the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s 2004 conference. The Professor noted that Tourism was part of the world’s environmental solution, rather than the problem, because of its ability to improve understanding about environmental issues. Tourism can be a great storyteller. What better vehicle than to use people’s visits to a country or location to explain the local environmental successes and shortcomings?
A quarter of a century after he coined the phrase New Zealand’s Dinosaur Forest, Professor Bellamy returned to Whirinaki Forest Park in 2009. He was guest of honour at an event marking 25 years since the often-bitter battle to protect the native forest during the Eco Dawn. Fronting the cause at the time, Prof Bellamy’s vision was for the forest to become a Mecca for world ecotourism and thereby provide for the local communities. That vision helped sway opinion to ensure New Zealands’s best remaining tract of lowland podocarp forest - full of giant kahikatea, miro, totara, matai and rimu - was conserved.
I made my own small but similar-type contribution through my 1982 Honours dissertation for my then employer – the New Zealand Forest Service. My dissertation demonstrated that the Kauri Forests of southern Coromandel had more economic value preserved for recreation than sacrificed for mining – an ambition of some at that time.
Numerous other examples could be quoted of how tourism is working as part of the solution for threatened ecosystems. Ecotourism provides employment opportunities for local communities and alternative revenue. This can substitute for more traditional industries that are based on non-sustainable harvesting of natural resources and which cause habitat destruction.
Ecotourism also teaches us, and our visitors, about the importance of looking after our environment. Bank’s Peninsula based Black Cat Cruises’ work to save the Hector’s Dolphin is just one such ecotourism example.
South Island based Wilderness Lodges’ work to protect native forests and their wildlife is another.
New Zealand is home to over half the world’s penguin species, so we are in fact not only the albatross, but also the penguin capital of the world. Efforts like the yellow-eyed penguin reserve Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula provide a wonderful illustration of the conservation opportunities available from tourism. Owner Howard McGrouther decided to turn his farm into a reserve for the birds when they started making their nests there. This conservation project was established in 1985 when there were only 8 breeding pairs of Yellow-eyed Penguins. By 2006 they had 19 pairs breeding in the colony.
Applying famous Kiwi ingenuity, McGrouther pioneered a system using dugouts, like World War 1 trenches (thanks ANZACs), to enable visitors to walk around and observe the birds without frightening them. The visiting humans only have their heads higher than ground level. Penguins are not afraid of things shorter than themselves. The dugouts also channel where the visitors walk so that they don’t get too close to the nesting birds.
This careful management of visitors near penguins is a welcome development. Research at nearby Sandfly Bay, where visitors have free access to the beach and the penguins, suggests that visitor pressure is reducing breeding rates. "People sit on the main penguin highway waiting or get between the birds and their nests, forcing them back into the sea and delaying chick feeding times.
The wealth of movie and TV footage that shows wildlife close up probably isn't helping - it raises unrealistic expectations about how close you can get and doesn't show the space animals need." says researcher Ursula Ellenberg. Ursula is calling for appropriate visitor management at Department of Conservation ecotourism sites. Maybe time for PPPV? Make visitors Pay Per Penguin View and appoint an eco-business person to manage it?
Tourism is part of the eco-solution. See also http://www.greenbranz.org/?cat=22