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International Year of Ecotourism - 2002

EcotourismThe global importance of ecotourism, its benefits as well as its impacts, was recognized with the launching of the International Year of Ecotourism by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette on January 28, 2002 in New York.

The state of our planet is a cause for concern for many environmentalists the world over and efforts to stem the damage are gaining momentum by the day. Earlier on, scant attention was paid to the conservation of the ecosystem, abusing it with gay abandon, but today, we realize that unless the ecosystem we live in is preserved, there is a slim chance of our own existence. In other words, ecotourism stems from a worldview that the human species is no longer necessarily at the center of the universe. A somewhat selfish realization, but true nevertheless.

EcotourismStrictly speaking, ecotourism provides an opportunity to develop tourism in ways that minimize the industry's negative impacts and to actively promote the conservation of the earth's unique biodiversity. In other words, it means 'responsible tourism' to any destination. It can be divided into three segments: Nature Tourism - based on the web of life or life forms, Adventure Tourism - dealing with sports activities in various natural environs, and Culture Tourism - dealing with aspects of social and cultural heritage

EcotourismTo understand the true depth of ecotourism, we need to take a look at tourism as a whole. Tourism is known to have caused untold harm to the environment. Look at the hotels mushrooming in all the hill stations and beach resorts, plastic and polythene bags choking rivers, lakes and streams, the growing mountain of waste in the pilgrim towns and heritage sites. All of these and more have been choking the ecology.

Ecotourism took shape to counteract this scenario. It not only strives to protect the rapidly disappearing ecosystems that house most of the remaining biodiversity on earth, but is one of the few feasible economic tools to finance conservation of sensitive ecosystems.Unlike what most of us think, ecotourism is not about forcing oneself to live in uncomfortable bare huts and cleaning the countryside to atone for the pollution that we cause back in the cities. In fact, ecotours are all about having a great time but responsibly, causing minimum harm to the physical, cultural and social environment. In other words, it's a holiday out in the wild, which tells you facts that may change the way you look at things and allows you to do small things that go a long way in making this earth a safer and cleaner home for us all.

Today, ecotourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry the world over and is being promoted as travel to nature destinations. It's believed to be the world's largest industry, larger than petroleum, ammunition and automobiles. Carefully planned and implemented tourism development can play an important role in conservation.

Did you know that:

  • Orange or banana peels that we throw out of car windows takes almost 2 years to decompose.
  • Plastic bags and aluminum cans take a whole 100 years to become biodegradable.
  • Glass bottles take a million years to biodegrade, and we still don’t know how long plastic containers take.
  • Three times as much rubbish is dumped into the oceans as the weight of fish caught.
  • Discarded fishing nets and bait ties trap and drown birds.
  • Turtles swallow plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish.
  • Cigarette butts thrown in forests and parks can cause forest fires; less than 20% of India’s land is under forest cover.

Thumb rules for ecotravel:

  • Learn about your destination before you get there. Being sensitive to the local customs and norms will increase acceptance of you and enrich your experience.
  • Follow the rules. Staying on trails, packing up your trash, and keeping specifed distances away from wildlife are a few ways to minimize your impact in sensitive areas
  • Patronize local businesses to ensure maximum community and conservation benefits.
  • Do nothing that will harm the social, environmental and ecological wealth of a place
  • Walk, walk and walk – it’s the best way to enjoy nature. Besides nothing can be more ecofriendly. (And think of all the calories you will be burning up!)
  • Mix leftover food, peels, paper, etc. with soil before burying them to ensure faster decomposition.
  • Wash away from the stream and throw the dirty water over a wide area so it gets filtered through the soil.
  • Detergents and soaps are best avoided while camping as the chemicals in them harm fish and other water life.
  • While choosing hotels, go for those that support the green cause.
  • When buying exotic plants or animals, make sure trade in them is not banned.
  • Buying animal skin, ivory products and products made from endangered species is illegal and will land you in prison.

To ensure that ecotourism follows a truly sustainable path will require increased cooperation—and partnerships —among the tourism industry, Governments, local people and the tourists themselves


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