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Ecotourism and the Environment

Ecotourism is defined as a "form of tourism that attempts to take responsibility for its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, by looking at the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities," (Statista). It is a large global industry that was worth about $185.87 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow approximately 15.2% from 2022 to 2030. The reason for this jump is due to increased popularity in outdoor recreational activities, immersive travel, as well as an increase in negative environmental impacts from traditional forms of tourism (Grand View Research). Some prominent examples of ecotourism include whale watching, hiking, kayaking, volunteering with local wildlife conservatories, participating in cleanup projects, and more.

There are plenty of economic benefits of ecotourism for the areas in which sustainable travelers visit. Ecotourism helps communities create jobs and promote local culture and products. These two aspects play a big role in deciding which way the economy will go, as having a sizable paycheck allows residents to inject their own money back into their economy and also helps small, local businesses make more profits to again be put back in the same economy. Additionally, it helps visitors learn the value of respecting wildlife and culture by immersing them in it, instead of just treating the area like an overcrowded theme park. Furthermore, ecotourism is a more profitable use of land in the long run than industries who profit off non-renewable resources such as the timber, oil, and coal industries. When the non-renewable resources have run out, no more money can be made, but ecotourism aims to keep resources renewable and continues to make profit off of the natural beauty of the world without intentionally damaging any natural habitats (faunalytics). For instance, some smaller communities such as small island developing states (SIDS) and coastal least developed countries (LDCs), coastal and ocean-related tourism make up vital sectors of the economy (UN). In other words, the bulk of their economy is built on the success of ecotourism.

Depicted is a group of travelers on a guided hike. Photo from iExplore.

Ecotourism also benefits the habitats in which travelers visit because it focuses on environmental sustainability and responsible travel practices. In this way, it focuses not only on where you travel, but how you travel. It promotes renewable energy such as solar and wind, limiting the use of single-use plastics, refraining from littering, and more which helps to protect key ecosystems. Education is also a large part of ecotourism. Travelers are able to learn the importance of taking care of one’s environment and can take that knowledge back to their local communities, helping to preserve habitats back home. Ecotourists are able to learn much about the ecosystems and wildlife they are visiting and can even participate in several different conservation projects such as tree planting or beach cleanups that truly help the surrounding environment (Worldpackers).

While ecotourism does support the maintenance of the natural environment, if it is not properly regulated, it can have several negative impacts. For instance, native vegetation may be stepped on, trash may still be left behind, and soil erosion may occur on overused pathways. Having a regular flow of visitors may also disturb native wildlife, causing them to change their natural behaviors and habitats. This may then result in them becoming dependent on humans or displacing themselves into an entirely new habitat (Reader's Digest). Additionally, once certain areas become more popular for ecotourists to visit, developments and accommodations such as hotels, stores, businesses, etc. need to be constructed to support the jump in tourism. In turn, this can harm the surrounding environment, sometimes reversing the intended environmental benefits for the natural habitat (The Ecologist).

Using bikes instead of gas-powered vehicles is a form of sustainable travel. Photo from The Stupid Bear.

While ecotourism can have some negative impacts, there are plenty of ways that travelers can ensure that they are having the most positive impact possible. Hikers can stick to designated trails and pathways so as not to disturb wildlife or endangered plants. Refraining from accidently leaving waste behind is also key to maintaining an environment as trash can directly harm local wildlife, as well as contributing to multiple forms of pollution. Ecotourists can also refrain from taking natural souvenirs such as shells and rocks from habitats that can affect ecosystems on a large scale. Additionally, using more sustainable transportation such as bikes and public transportation is better in terms of limiting carbon emissions (Worldpackers). Thus, there are plenty of ways to ensure that travelers are leaving their destinations better than they found them.

Photo taken from a whale watching excursion in Orange County, CA. Photo from Davey’s Locker.

The state of California is a large tourist destination because of its incredible environmental diversity. California’s beautiful weather also encourages tourists as well as locals to spend time recreating outdoors. There are countless opportunities for visitors to learn about the local wildlife through ecotourism activities such as guided hikes, beach cleanups, shopping at sustainable stores, eco tours, and more. However, California is also a large tourist destination because of its high volume of tourist attractions. Visitors can go to Disneyland, Sea World, Hollywood, San Francisco, Coachella, and countless other destinations that are designed to make a profit off manufactured fun. Orange County, California is one of the most popular places to visit in California because it also has a high volume of tourist activities in a smaller area. In fact, Orange County welcomed a record breaking 50.16 million tourists in 2018, bringing in over $13 billion dollars (Travel Daily News). Orange County is home to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Angel’s Stadium, Honda Center, and South Coast Plaza, just to name a few. These destinations make up a large portion of Orange County tourism and can take away business from more environmentally conscious tourist options. Alternatively, tourists can participate in sustainable tourism as countless fun activities and volunteer opportunities are available. Visitors can go whale watching out of Newport Bay with Newport Landing, visit the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, join a guided hike with OC Habitats in Laguna Canyon, attend an eco tour on Catalina Island with Catalina Conservancy, and much more. These fun opportunities allow tourists to learn about local wildlife and the importance of taking care of the environment. It also helps preserve Orange County’s diverse habitats and species. For these reasons, those who decide to travel to Orange County should be encouraged to try new activities that give them the chance to learn a little bit more about the area they choose to visit and to take up opportunities to help preserve its natural beauty. These activities also provide the ability to make lifelong memories connecting with nature.

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