The theme for this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May is “sustainable tourism and biodiversity”.
Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is a large part of what makes tourist destinations such as tropical forests, beaches and national parks so attractive. At the same time, visiting nature serves to heighten awareness among tourists of its intrinsic value and also provides local people with an income and an incentive to preserve their natural environment.
With international tourism involving 1.2 billion tourists and generating US$1.5 trillion a year – while also accounting for about 9 per cent of global employment – the potential of tourism to help promote and sustain biodiversity is colossal.
But so are the threats. As human populations and activity expand, animal and plant species are coming under increasing pressure. For example, on the Pacific island of Guam, where birds are pivotal for tree seedlings to germinate, researchers have discovered that an invasive species, in this case a snake, is eating all the birds and this is affecting the growth of new forest.
Biodiversity and tourism targets
The 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity lays out 20 clear targets to safeguard biodiversity and enhance its benefits for all – and sustainable tourism can help meet at least 12 of them, according to Cristiana Pasca Palmer, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The convention has also developed Guidelines on tourism development that can help the development of sustainable tourism.
Then there are initiatives such as the Sustainable Tourism Programme of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, which was adopted in Rio in June 2012.
Tourism revenue protects gorillas
A true conservation success story started to unfold back in the 1990s, when the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda signed an agreement on "transboundary gorillas”. Respecting the natural habitat of mountain gorillas, this groundbreaking agreement caters for safeguarding everyone’s interests, thus making tourism a great example of environmental peace-building and transboundary collaboration.
For many years now, when a gorilla group crosses the border into another country and the new “host” takes tourists to see the gorillas, 50 per cent 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.
In 2015, the Rwandan national park management authority earned more than US$15 million from gorilla tracking permits. Total income from tourism, including secondary income from all the associated services, was estimated to be over US$300 million.
Today 10 per cent of national park tourism income goes to local communities, helping to improve living standards.
For further information please contact Niklas Hagelberg: Niklas.Hagelberg[at]unep.org
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