Final Paper: Ecotourism in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas

This discussion topic submitted by Dawn Mann ( at 11:20 am on 6/9/00. Additions were last made on Monday, November 20, 2000.

Ecotourism can be defined as “purposeful travel that creates an
understanding of cultural and natural history , while safeguarding the integrity of
the ecosytem and producing economic benefits that encourages conservation.”
(Goldfarb, 1997) This term ecotourism has been used interchangbly with the
term nature tourism. Each of these terms refers to a type of tourism that has
risen considerably over the last couple of decades. There are two areas in
particular that will be focused on within this discussion, the marine environments
(coral reefs) of the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. Some background
information on ecotourism is pertinent in order to understand positive and
negative effects of this concept within these marine environments.
Ecotourism is often looked at as being a sustainable form of tourism.
Tourism within itself is the second largest industry in the world. The World
Tourism Organization estimates that tourism generates one hundred ninety-five
billion dollars each year. The nature oriented tourism alone accounted for
between two billion and twelve billion dollars in 1988. (Carr, 1993) A number of
countries have established successful ecotourism markets such as Kenya, Costa
Rica, Ecuador (Galapogos Islands), Guatemala and the United States. Many
researchers discuss the rewards of ecotourism for both developed and
developing countries. There are also many negatives to the concept of
The positives of ecotourism have been discussed by many researchers as
being factors for a sustainable environment. Our world concern today is
protecting the environments in which we live in and those that surround us. The
maintenance of a significant proportion of the world’s biodiversity only appears
feasible by maintaining organisms in their wild state. The idea of protected
areas is at the forefront of efforts to conserve biodiversity. The World
Commission on Environment and Development (1987) proposed to preserve
twelve percent of the terrestrial surface, representing all kinds of biomes.
(Gossling, 1999) Ecotourism generates jobs, stimulates incomes, diversifies
economies, and enhances the standard of living. These opportunities allow for
the developing countries and developed countries to sustain a livable
environment. Some researchers believe that the conservation of endangered
environments can be achieved through the concept of ecotourism. This
achievement can be made through the creation of protected wildlife preserves
and the maintaining of national parks/reserves. Not only are the environments
benefiting but also the surrounding culture. These parks and reserves can
generate revenue, if entrance fees or donations are collected, along with the
generation of jobs for local people. Local people can be employed as tour
guides which would allow for the visitors to become more educated about the
contained environments in which they are touring. This idea not allows for
positive effects to take place on the local economy but also allow for the locals to
take more of an interest in their surroundings.
Researchers argue that there are as many negatives to ecotourism as
there are positives. As much as ecotourism promotes the conservation and
protection of environments is also pollutes the environments. Visitors to remote
areas have been known to damage the surrounding flora and wildlife. Many
people travel for recreation not realizing the damage being inflicted upon the
environment in which they are traveling within. Geoffrey Wall of the University of
Waterloo suggested in an article that there four reasons that ecotourism has the
potential to be environmentally disruptive. These reasons are the following:
1. Ecotourism is usually directed to very special places that may have limited
ability to withstand use pressures. The Antarctic is an example. Potential
visitors are encouraged to go before it is too late.
2. Visitation may also occur at critical times, such as in the mating or breeding
seasons or when predators are pursuing their prey.
3. In the absence of information, it is often assumed that the relationship
between volumes of use and associated impacts is linear.
4. Even if the on-site impact is small, the off-site and en route impacts may be
substantial. For example, the considerable distances traveled by ecotourists,
often by plane, consume large amounts of energy per capita and contribute to
global climate change just as much, and perhaps more, than that of the average
mass tourist. (Wall, 1997)
The polluting of environments is another problem that the world is facing.
Some believe that through ecotourism, environments are being protected from
destruction, pollution, the loss of biodiversity however this is not always the
case. Locals along with tourists bring pollution to the areas through the
competing of natural resources and a large amount of non-point pollution. The
Clean Water Act (1977) was implemented to protect areas in which were being
polluted by raw sewage and the illegal dumping of toxic materials into the water.
President Clinton strengthened this law through the Ocean Discharge Executive
Order (5/26/00). The purpose of this order is to protect the significant natural
and cultural resources within the marine environment for the benefit of present
and future generations by strengthening and expanding the nation’s system of
marine protected areas. Marine protected area can be defined as “ any area of
the marine environment that has been reserved by Federal, State, territorial,
tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of
the natural and cultural resources therein.” (EPA, 2000) This order in particular
has focused on coral reefs. The coral reefs located in the Florida Keys and the
Bahamas are in great danger of destruction, as are many other coral reefs in the
world. The Caribbean, which contains fourteen percent of the world’s coral
reefs, is losing its reefs at an accelerating rate. (Hinirichsen, 1996) The Florida
Keys are facing the loss of environment also. Many factors play a role in this
destruction, ecotourism being one of the forerunners. These marine
environments are the hub for recreational diving and deep sea fishing, both
ecotourist activities. More than one million people snorkel/scuba on Molasses
Reef off of Key Largo each year. (Cummins, 2000) These activities are causing
pollution and the loss of biodiversity.
Ecotourism advocates have promoted the concept by discussing the
economical values to the surrounding areas. These protected areas are remote
areas in which not many surrounding people can be found. These are the same
people that are needed, according to ecotourism advocates, that would act as
tour guides and be the entrepreneurs of local businesses catering to ecotourists.
Money is also another factor in generating such businesses, this would be
difficult to do if these are remote areas. The need to turn to private sectors and
the government would come about keeping in mind that it is already difficult to
gain the support of the government for such conservation acts. The idea of
generating revenue from ecotourism would also be difficult due to the traveling
inconsistencies of ecotourists. Many ecotourists travel to a place once and
move on to explore other areas. A majority of these tourists can be found
traveling in organized groups rather than alone. The businesses that organize
such groups receive most of the revenue rather than the visiting area besides
possibly the outside travel needed to arrive at the desired location. Another
problem is the pollution that is being generated through air travel and boat travel
that is used by ecotourists to get to their destination.
The Bahamas rely on tourism for fifty percent of their GDP. Their GDP for
1997 alone was almost four billion dollars. This territory is rich in diversity and
has become one of the most popular places for ecotourists and recreational
diving. The Florida Keys rely heavily on tourism for revenue. Each year many
ecotourists visit the keys to snorkel/dive along with many deep sea fishing. The
need and development of conservation areas and natural preserves has been on
the rise for these marine environments in particular with the help of private
sectors and governmental laws.
Ecotourism is an instigator of change. It has been contended that if
ecotourism is to thrive, then it should be based upon the balanced
understanding of both ecosystems and tourism systems. If this idea behind the
generation of revenue for developed and developing countries and at the same
time protecting environments is to continue to grow more research and planning
needs to be conducted. The concepts behind the ideas of a sustainable
environment and ecotourism have been mixed and discussed separately. It is
important for the future of the many biodiverse environments that these concepts
are planned for differently. Are we concerned with the actual conservation and
preservation of these remote areas or are we concerned with creating a
sustainable environment for the future? The answers to this question must be
researched and plans be carried out accordingly.
It is interesting to think about all of the research scientists that travel and
live within these remote areas for months, sometimes years at a time to conduct
research to find answers to questions like the one proposed above. Are these
people considered to be a type of ecotourist? Aren’t they polluting as much as
any other person traveling to the same area? Are we as researchers adding to
the dilemma?

Ecotourism in the Florida Keys and the
Bahamas: The Positive and Negative Effects

Dawn Mann
GLG 599

Sources Cited:

Ayala, Hana. Resort Ecotourism: a paradigm for the 21st century. Cornell
Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly. Oct. 1996, v 37, n5 p. 46

Beradelli, Phil. People vs. earth is closed case? Insight on the News. Nov 11,
1996 v12 n42 p.38

Carr, Thomas A., Pedersen, H.L., Ramaswamy, S., 1993. Rain Forest
Entrepreneurs. Environment. pp. 12-15, 33-37.

Goldfarb, Theodore. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial
Enviromental Issues, 7th ed. 1997.Dushkin/McGraw-Hill

Gossling, Stefan. 1999. Ecotourism: a means to safeguard biodiversity and
ecosystem functions? Ecological Economics. pp. 303-320.

Hinrichsen, Don. 1996. Computing the Risks. International Wildlife. pp. 22-35.

Wall, Geoffrey. Is Ecotourism Sustainable? Environmental Management Vol.
21, no. 4. pp. 483-491.

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