Case Studies The Caribbean Hawaii and Nepal

The environmental and economic impacts of tourism in the Caribbean Sea varies as widely as the highly uneven development of the industry and its facilities throughout the region. The rapidly expanding tourist industry is highly seasonal, and its fluctuating supply and demand are heavily subject to unpredictable boom-and-bust cycles. A sudden downturn in business because of hurricanes or tropical storms, rising airline prices, recession, unfavorable exchange rates, or uncertain political events can mean a sharp drop in local fortunes, leading to layoffs and closures and devastating island economies. Several small island countries including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, St. Kitts and

Nevis, St. Lucia, Turks and Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands depend on tourism for between 50 and 90 percent of their annual gross domestic product.

Environmental problems stemming from tourism tend to be small-scale, intensive, multiple, and scattered among distant sites. Even localized problems, however, can cause disruptions to the wider marine and land ecosystem. Loss of mangrove swamps—dense biomass that naturally regulates atmospheric carbon levels—to overdevelopment may have far-reaching consequences for global warming. Degradation of coastlines from erosion and sedimentation, caused by overbuilding and construction of solid waste or sewage facilities, is a major contributor to water pollution in tourist hot spots like Aruba, Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Runoff from cruise ships, yachts, and passenger ferries is the main source of oil and fertilizer pollution in some of the relatively wealthier playgrounds, including the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In many places, the main attractions are land- and marine-based activities such as reef snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. In those areas the protection of fragile coral reefs from overexposure to manmade pollution, erosion, and overharvesting of seafood (including conch, lobster, and grouper) is crucial to maintaining a viable marine habitat for fish and aquatic wildlife. Living coral reefs provide vital feeding grounds and shelter for a wide variety of tropical fish species. Corals are killed off or have their growth slowed down by cooling waters affected by global climate change, as well as by sediment and fertilizer running off of deforested slopes. Corals are also damaged and destroyed by pleasure boats and commercial ships dropping anchor and trawling the seafloor for seafood, or they are worn down by currents and contact from boating and diving activity. They are silt-laden by increased runoff in storms because of construction or the loss of buffer zones such as estuaries, salt ponds, and mangrove swamps. Finally, corals succumb to cooling ocean temperatures and diseases associated with environmental stressors. The loss of reef areas also removes an important protective barrier from shorelines in the Caribbean region, which suffers annual tropical storms and devastating hurricanes.

Hawaii's economy depends heavily on the state's promotion to tourists as an island paradise. As fewer and fewer sugar and fruit plantations remain in operation, a steady influx of visitors is more important than ever to its economic health. Hawaii ranks first among the U.S. states in number of species on the endangered and threatened list, with 317 animal and plant species, more than 25 percent of the U.S. total. The humpbacked whale, monk seal, and green sea turtle are among the larger aquatic creatures whose habitats are being adversely affected by shoreline development (especially of hotel and resort complexes) and marine pollution. Numerous bird species disappeared from Hawaii's forests during the twentieth century, including the Hawaii 'O'o, a long-tailed forest-dwelling bird. The short-tailed albatross, Newell's shearwater, Hawaiian crow, and common moorhen are on the list of endangered or threatened birds. Through strict fishing regulations, the state is charged with ensuring the maintenance of viable populations of near-shore fish, including the bonito, mullet, red snapper, yellow-fin tuna, and other food species that are popular menu items at restaurants and resorts.

Since the late 1970s the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries, has become a major destination for its spectacular mountain ranges and semipermanent urban colonies of international travelers and trekkers. Once far off the beaten trail, the small nation now plays host to hundreds of thousands of European, American, Australian, New Zealander, and Japanese guests each year. Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange; yet rural Nepali villagers see scant revenue from trekkers passing through, while urban businesses catering to more than 300,000 travelers per year face a high overhead in imported goods and make little profit. Drug trafficking, corruption, and political turmoil are destabilizing factors accompanying the uneven development of the tourism-dependent Nepalese economy.

In the Himalayas, the world's tallest mountain range, trekking and mountaineering spur development in the form of agricultural production, lodging houses, trails, and jobs. However, most of the currency spent by trekkers goes to pay for costly imports, with less than 2 percent going to local communities, according to a World Wildlife Fund estimate. These modest gains at the village level are being offset by the environmental damage of human and nonbiodegradable waste disposal, increased firewood consumption, forest clearing and accelerated erosion on the slopes, and the need for foraging land. The country is heavily dependent on gathered firewood, which provides 83 percent of fuel in urban areas and 98 percent in rural areas (Sattaur, 1996, p. 54), and it is severely lacking in adequate public health facilities and clean drinking water. Even though local practices generally remain at an appropriately modest scale, the heavy influx of foreign visitors can place a heavy strain on the ecosystem. Deforestation of the slopes is an urgent concern. A traveler taking hot showers, having relatively elaborate meals cooked, and burning bonfires for warmth uses as much firewood in a day as a typical Nepali uses in a week. Voluntary efforts to tie conservation into development in the Annapurna area are now getting trekkers organizing expeditions to pack in their own kerosene for fuel.

Endangered animal species in Nepal include tigers in the southern Tarai plains, red panda in the hill country, and snow leopards in the high mountains. Pollution generated by visitors is a growing threat to Nepalese biodiversity. The Mount Everest base camp has become home to a large amount of litter left by international climbing expeditions, with as much as 50 tons of garbage dumped over the past four decades, although the effects so far have been limited mostly to the immediate area. Conservation surcharges, replanting of trees, legislation facilitating community forest management, and restricted tourist access to the most fragile areas have helped to ease the environmental strain of tourism somewhat in Nepal. As elsewhere, sustainable tourism planning requires the cooperation of government, international agencies, local communities, travelers and sportsmen, and the travel industry to boost local benefits while minimizing environmental impact.

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