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From Fiji to Botswana, Tourism Industry Aiming for a Lighter Carbon Footprint

Increasing numbers of eco-conscious travelers are forcing some tourist operators and resort owners to mitigate and adapt to the risks of climate change

By Lori Tripoli, SolveClimate News

Apr 12, 2011
Elephants in Botswana.

Mangroves protect the shoreline from soil erosion, serve as buffers to stormy seas and absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Wood told SolveClimate News. About 68 percent of Belize's 1,100-mile-long coastline is protected by an estimated 185,000 acres of mangroves, according to a 2009 report from the World Resources Institute.

The group found that Belize's mangroves provide between $111 million and $167 million in avoided damages every year.

The Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), a nonprofit group, estimates that the average net loss of mangroves in Belize is 125 acres a year. While some deforestation is allowed, most mangroves are removed without government approval and are generally cut down to make way for hotels and other infrastructure, or to build shacks in the poorest neighborhoods, Wood said.

A new study suggests that clearing the country's mangroves, which store more carbon than most forests, could also strain the absorptive capacity of the ecosystem.  

Fiji: 'Great' Global Warming Education

For ecotour operators in Fiji, global warming is already severely affecting their livelihoods, though  adaptation programming there remains in its infancy. Ben Keene, founder of Tribewanted, which builds and operates eco-villages for native and foreign visitors on the remote island of Vorovoro, said rising seas have forced him to stop building structures along the beach in recent years.

The elderly people on the island say "where boats are now floating, [those] were our houses," he told SolveClimate News, adding that large trees along the coastline have been enveloped by high tides and sea walls have been breached.

"It's a great [global warming] education from a tourist's point of view," Keene said. "It wakes people up to the reality of what's going on far more than a PowerPoint presentation by a politician ever would."

Indeed, seeing global warming in action and how locals adapt has become a tourist pull especially for young people, said Andrew Motiwalla, the co-founder of the San Diego, Calif.-based Global Leadership Adventures, which runs student service learning programs.

"The fear about the consequences of climate change is motivating some young travelers to go out and learn from non-western communities how to live in harmony with the land," he said. "Students want to learn more in order to become an agent for lasting positive social change. Our participants are scared that the world's natural treasures are going away.

"Consequently, our Galapagos programs sell out consistently," he continued. There, travelers can witness first hand climate change impacts on wildlife, local observers say.

Galapagos: Travel Industry Slow to Adapt

Santiago Dunn, president of the Guayaquil, Ecuador-based cruise ship company Ecoventura, said that global warming is causing more frequent El Niño conditions, referring to the weather pattern that brings higher air temperatures and warmer waters, preventing cooler nutrient-rich water from surfacing and impacting the food chain.

"Sea lions, marine iguanas and some of the marine birds suffer [in the Galapagos], and will suffer even more, due to the lack of ... food," Dunn said.

Higher sea levels can inundate sea turtle nests, explained Scott Henderson, regional director of marine conservation for Conservation International in the Galapagos Islands, which are 600 miles from the coast of mainland Ecuador.

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