Friday, 13 April 2012

Forest management and ecotourism: helping conservation and improving local economy

by Sanja Jovanovic 

Covering less than two percent of the Earth's total surface area, the world's rainforests are home to 50 percent of the Earth's plants and animals. Thanks to the flora and fauna found in the rainforests we have clean water, breathable air, food and medicines. However, rainforests are threatened by unsustainable agricultural, ranching, mining and logging practices. 

Originally, six million square miles of tropical rainforest existed worldwide. But as a result of deforestation, only 2.6 million square miles remain. Destroying a rainforest means harming the ecosystem. This is why many plants and animals such as pandas and orangutans are disappearing. 

Orangutan Land Trust is a UK based organisation which works on preserving orangutans in Indonesia. A representative of this organisation Michelle Desilets says that majority of people does not understand that by helping preserve species and rainforests we are helping ecosystems and ourselves. “The orangutans are the major seed dispersers in the tropical forests that they live in. If they are not there certain seeds cannot be dispersed because they are only dispersed by passing through the gut of the orangutan. If we don’t protect them we will disrupt the ecosystem”, explains Michelle. 

Conservation is important because the ecosystem is an interconnected web that is our life support system. Preserving these species means preserving the rainforests which are crucial in combating climate change. 

One of the solutions for the conservation of animals is sustainable forest management. The concept of sustainable forest management is to selectively log from a certain forest area, only the most mature trees, allowing the less mature trees to continue to grow, and to extract trees in a sustainable way. For example, in Brazil trees are lifted up in the air with the helicopter. This way there is no disruption and the ecosystem can survive. 

Cutting trees. Photo by Sanja Jovanovic.
 Another good example of preserving the environment is ecotourism. The founder of Green Global Travel Bret Love thinks that ecotourism is the best solution for endangered areas. “Take a look at the Galapagos islands. They saw the population of species dwindling to near extinction levels so now Galapagos islands are a national park. Out of all Galapagos islands people can only live on two. And if you want to travel there you need to go with a licensed tour operator”, says Bret.

Galapagos tortoise on Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy of Green Global Travel.
However, this means strict rules for tourists - the marked paths are very narrow and you have to stay on them, you are not allowed to touch the wildlife, you can literally only take pictures and only leave footprints.

Still, what has to happen for tourism to be truly eco-friendly and sustainable is that it has to economically benefit the local people. They could be hired as guides, as ships captains, and one needs to make sure that the money that`s being invested by outsiders coming to these locations is invested there.

The truth is people would pay huge amounts of money for a travel experience that is unique. Then, why not bring money into the local economy and help preserve nature.

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