[Coral-List] Sustainable tourism!?

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 29 16:58:20 EST 2011

     I agree that the consumption of fossil fuels in flying to tropical resorts is a major problem for dive tourism.  Trying to reduce fossil fuel burning is also a major problem for a lot of aspects of our lives, not just dive tourism, and one we must solve, but most governments don't want to act, and most individuals don't want to reduce their consumption or pay extra to change to more sustainable ways.  It is a major problem for the whole world, and of course the world is warming which is threatening mass coral mortality from bleaching and acidification that will increasingly slow coral and coralline algae calcification, and together these threaten to end coral reefs as we know them.

     I think we are going to have trouble getting traction just asking people not to take vacations to go diving in the tropics, I doubt just asking people not to do that will make much of a dent, and if it did it would be a major economic hardship to many poor countries in the tropics that depend heavily on tourism.  But I think we might have better prospects for trying to reduce fossil fuel consumption without reducing dive tourism.  (dive tourism, in spite of all the limitations, still provides an economic incentive for people to protect reefs)  One thought I have long had is that if I could take half as many trips, but stay twice as long, I could have as much diving fun and yet use half as much fossil fuel flying there and back, which would also save me money.  Another idea is that we can fly carbon-neutral.  There are companies that provide the service of reducing greenhouse gas emissions somewhere in an amount equal to that produced by
 your part of a flight.  They do things like reduce methane emissions from land fills, which provides a relatively large effect for the cost (I was tempted to say "bang for the buck" but with methane, maybe I won't light that match!  grin).  Anyhow, the cost is surprisingly little for a fairly long flight.  The trick is to somehow get people to do this, because it is an extra cost for their trip, and even though it is a small cost, the traveler doesn't experience any immediate direct benefit themselves, other than perhaps feeling a bit less guilty.  But it has the potential to neutralize the effect of flying on greenhouse gas production.
    Resorts certainly use fossil fuels as well.  One major form of this is electricity for air conditioning, because the electricity is almost always produced by burning fossil fuels.  But there are alternatives, and one is highly cost effective.  Right offshore from most dive resorts there is cold water only 1000 feet deep.  A pipe and pump can bring that water up, distribute it through heat exchangers to cool rooms, using a tiny amount of electricity for the pump for the amount of cooling produced.  The system saves so much money that it quickly pays for itself, and then goes on saving money and CO2 emissions long long after.  A resort in Tahiti that uses it loves it.  I'm told that such a system is planned for Honolulu.  The piping is clearly the main hurdle.  But unlike renewables like solar, wind, and ocean thermal electricity generation, it is much less expensive to run than current practice.

    My point is, that there are ways of greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by dive tourism.  We can do much better than we have been doing without killing dive tourism.  Dive tourism helps build a natural constituency of people who love reefs and will stand up for them.  Doesn't seeing them first hand give us motivation to want to save them?

    Cheers,  Doug

Douglas Fenner
Coral Reef Monitoring Ecologist
Dept Marine & Wildlife Resources
American Samoa

Mailing address:
PO Box 3730
Pago Pago, AS 96799

work phone 684  633 4456

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 From: Juergen Herler <juergen.herler at univie.ac.at>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Sunday, November 27, 2011 6:05 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] Sustainable tourism!?
Dear listers!

I really like some of the ideas, especially that well-managed coral reef
destinations should be certified and financially rewarded by visitors.
However, the main problem why I believe that tourism cannot contribute
much for sustaining ecosystems in general is that tourism in itself is
highly unsustainable. If you fly across half the world to spent one or two
nice weeks in one of the luxury resorts of the Maldives, which takes an
enormous amount of gasoline every day to be run in a comfortable way, how
can that ever save their coral reefs in the long term and not do major
damage to these and other ecosystems in the world?
It of course would be great if tourism would become more 'eco' (based for
example on some of the good suggestions in previous posts) but in terms of
energy consumption, there is no such thing as 'eco'-tourism. Sustainable
holidays will unfortunately only be the ones that are spent in the own
garden. But since people will certainly not accept that, it is of course
good if they prefer short- versus long-distance trips and destinations,
which perform good conservation and are highly efficient in terms of water
and energy consumption, but such destinations are usually expensive and
restricted to the more wealthy people, which do not represent the majority
of tourists. I have been doing research in the Red Sea of Egypt for more
than seven years and this country has experienced a tremendous tourism
boom, especially along the Red Sea coast, but unfortunately they receive
many tourists which carry little money to Egypt and do not care much about
corals reefs at all. The great majority are even not divers and do not
like corals (because it hurts when they step on them during swimming). I
also doubt that it is is a very humane approach that we preserve
ecosystems (especially those of third world countries) because wealthy
people from other countries - who can afford to travel there - would like
to see them untouched. Very often you meet tourists who wish that, for
example, fishing is banned from reefs so that they can see more fish while
diving, but this fish very often feeds the local people (although they
very often also do not fish sustainably).
This all may apply less to destinations (just for example) like the
Caribbean, when visited by US-tourists from the southern USA or to the
Great Barrier Reef, visited by eastern Australians, but what I want to say
is that it is just not correct to tell people that they do something good
for an ecosystem if they travel a long distance to see it, instead of not
visiting it, at least as long as tourism is run the way as it currently is
(usually starting in pristine areas and degrading those areas quickly). I
know this is a dilemma, but Ulf’s suggestion of a sustainability index
could be applied to holiday trips also, and tax the travel and service
providers according to that would be a necessary thing. So people could
not easily shift to cheaper and unsustainable travels or destinations (and
there are far too many of those in the world), if the sustainable ones
become even more expensive (and some of the previous suggestions would of
course cause that). People with less money would probably have to make
shorter-distance trips and stay there longer, which for sure would still
enable nice holidays. Today, people are 'fined' if they decide for more
sustainable holidays. From my point of view, this cannot be the right

Best wishes

Dr. Juergen Herler
Faculty of Life Sciences
University of Vienna
Althanstraße 14
A-1090 Vienna/Austria/Europe
e-mail: Juergen.Herler at univie.ac.at

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