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The Greater Caribbean This Week
Keeping the right balance
by Jasmin Garraway
Since its inception in 1997, the umbrella theme adopted for the Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism has been “Keeping the Right Balance.”
This simplistic statement represents the primary and core objective of Sustainable Tourism Development.
The importance of developing tourism on a sustainable path evolved from the recognition that the tourism industry has the capacity for self-destruction through the deterioration of the very resources upon which it depends.
Because of the diversified nature of the industry, the impacts of tourism span the social-cultural and environmental realms. There is evidence that uncontrolled tourism development has resulted in pollution of beaches and waterways, degradation of habitat, soil erosion, water shortages due to competing use by hotels and other tourist facilities and the breakdown of coastal reefs, to name a few.
Whether policy makers are concerned about developing sustainable tourism in order to diversify the existing tourism products, or are motivated by what impact degradation of the environment can have on tourism demand, the question of how to reconcile the objectives of tourism and environmental protection, in order to facilitate Sustainable Tourism Development must be answered.
Each year the Sustainable Tourism Conference (STC) presents a unique opportunity for meaningful dialogue between Policy Makers, Tourism Planners, the private tourism sector, civil society and others, on these and related issues affecting sustainable tourism development in the region.
The seventh STC conference held recently in Tobago was developed as a collaborative effort between the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). This year’s conference, “Keeping the Right Balance --- Sustainable Tourism through Diversity,“ featured presentations and panels that deliberated on the development of sustainable tourism products, maintaining biodiversity as a means of sustaining tourism, and balancing revenue generation and conservation.
Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, a representative of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), presented findings on the Reefs at Risk study and on the Biodiversity of the Caribbean Sea.
In terms of its biodiversity, the Caribbean was described as a major migratory route from North America and one of the four “hot spots” in the world, where 50 percent of the species are unique to the region. All together the reefs cover some 26,000 kilometres. 11 percent of the world’s corals are said to be located in the Lesser Antilles and the second largest barrier reef in the world, spanning 220 kilometers, is located in Belize.
The threats evaluated in the Caribbean were marine based --- resulting from coastal development and over fishing, as well as watershed-based sources of sediment and pollution, and while the degree of human pressure on coral reefs varied considerably across the region, the findings were that nearly two-thirds of the Caribbean coral reefs are threatened by human activities.
The study concluded that if “current trends in coral reef degradation continue, coastal communities and national economies are poised to sustain substantial economic losses”.
The value of the reefs in the region has been calculated at an estimated at $50 billion and it is believed that coral degradation could result in two to five pervent reduction in revenues by 2015. The estimated loss of net revenues is projected at between $100 million to $300 million per year by 2015.
Efforts aimed at mitigating the threats to coral reefs have centred on improved management of marine protected areas in general, and in particular, through sustainable fisheries, holistic/integrated management, and management of wastes.
Some examples in the region of balancing revenue generation and conservation through marine protected areas are the Bonaire Marine Park, which, by introducing an annual admission fee of $10 for divers, became self-financing in 1992; the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary generates $18.3 million in annual user value.
These cases demonstrate that tourism can support conservation, provide essential funding, minimize visitor impacts and enhance protection of reefs. Moreover they refute the belief of authors such as Bob McKercher who in his thesis “Fundamental Truths about Tourism” suggests that “Sustainable tourism is a myth to be pursued but never attained.”
Ms. Jasmin Garraway is the Sustainable Tourism Director of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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