For ecotourism to thrive, locals need new income sources: expert

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Friday, February 21, 2014


FOR ecotourism to work, the local community should have a bigger participation, stakeholders observed.

Dr. Philip Dearden of the marine protected areas research group under the University of Victoria’s geography department said providing alternative livelihood for locals is an important strategy in ecotourism, or else they will refuse to cooperate and continue exploiting the environment to feed their families.

Dearden said 30 percent of the world’s seas are fully exploited and 40 are overexploited. But these figures won’t matter to fishermen if they need money to feed their families.

“If people are hungry, they do what they have to do to survive,” he told participants of the fifth World Ecotourism Conference.

Establishing national parks is also a good way to make sure the natural environment is preserved, Dearden said, especially if it is done the way the United States developed the Yellowstone National Park, which was established to protect the endangered population of bison.

Marine ecosystems will benefit if they are protected in a similar manner. However, he said marine protected areas have to be large for things to work.

With fishermen dependent on fishing as their livelihood, Dearden said the best way to give them an alternative is in tourism. He said that if fishermen continue to overfish in their waters, there will come a time when there will be no fish available and they will also have trouble finding ways to earn money.

Worth more alive

But if marine ecosystems stay beautiful and untouched, tourism becomes vibrant and services that tourists require such as transportation can be provided by displaced fishermen. “We have to make them (marine creatures) worth more alive than dead.”

Dearden, however, warned against drawing in too many tourists to one location, saying overcrowding leads to dissatisfied tourists and potential damage to the environment.

He admitted that they still do not know what numbers are acceptable and that further study needs to be done to determine how many tourists the ecosystem can handle.

He added that for the case of the whaleshark tours in Oslob, further study needs to be made to determine if feeding them affects their behaviors and affect their ability to look for food on their own.

For Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, chief executive officer and vice president of the World Wildlife Fund-Philippines trustee board, ecotourism should be part of a wider development strategy and properly regulated. “It should not be a contrivance of commercialization gone haywire.”

Tan said all development decisions should take into account the country’s natural resources and that it is important to keep track of these resources because development decisions should take into account anything that could affect an area’s resilience in case of calamities.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 22, 2014.

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