Making a Difference with Sustainable Ecotourism

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to witness policy change – real movement by governments – to protect and preserve the planet. What was most exciting was the hand that sustainable ecotourism had in speeding up this sometimes glacier-like process, gathering a group of committed souls calling attention to the need of an indigenous people, of a long-ignored endangered species, in shouting out the imperative for change loud and clear. Sustainable ecotourism has become a powerful tool for enacting change. Anyone – everyone – can participate.

Sustainable ecotourism is when travelers keep an eye on the environmental footprint, or impact of their travels. This can be as simple as using refillable water bottles during a biking trip. Sustainable ecotourism not only helps the planet, it helps people living in a community as well. These are truly unique opportunities to use your travels to provide sustainable means for indigenous peoples to maintain a way of life. For instance, the people of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, depend on fishing for their livelihood. However, theirs is a fragile reef environment that must maintain a crucial balance of marine life in order to provide a sustainable income for the community not just now, but over time. Retraining Islanders to guide guests for catch and

release sport fishing, snorkeling and swimming with the whale sharks as a way of making a

living helps to preserve both their culture and their waters for generations to come.

In Isla Mujeres, we spearheaded a tremendous Whale Shark Festival this past summer. Sponsored by several environmental leaders, the Whale Shark Festival showcased the achievements, traditions and environmental splendor of Isla Mujeres while championing the need to preserve the

marine ecosystem. Thousands of guests showed up for the Festival, taking part in whale shark tours, swimming with whale sharks and other unique and thrilling ecotourism adventures. Not only did we bring in significant revenue for this tiny Isla, but through the Festival we were able

to focus international media attention on the cause. The whale sharks themselves offered a little

help: just prior to the Festival we witnessed one of the largest aggregations of these graceful creatures – the largest fish in the ocean, with many growing to 40 feet in length – as hundreds gathered to swim in a single group, all heading to the beautiful blue waters off of Isla Mujeres together.

It was a sight to behold; and one that helped focus more attention on this region as scientists are now looking at Isla Mujeres as a significant area of whale shark research. In fact, the Festival itself swayed the Mexican government to step up surveillance and enforcement of new policies aimed at the preservation of whale sharks in Isla Mujeres. HAS THE GOVERNMENT



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