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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of ecotourism, but what on Earth is “geotourism?”
—Sally Kardaman, Sumter, SC

Geotourism describes tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a given place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of local residents. The idea is that tourism can be a positive force that benefits both travelers and local environments and economies. Pictured: The Rio Tropicales Lodge, a geotourism operator in Costa Rica

Photo © Anjum Malkana, courtesy Flickr

“Geotourism” describes tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a given place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of local residents. The idea is that tourism can be a positive force that benefits both travelers and local environments and economies.

National Geographic Senior Editor Jonathan Tourtellot coined the term in 1997 to distinguish it from “ecotourism” or “sustainable tourism,” both which more narrowly focus on travel’s ecological impacts. In addition to a “do-no-harm” ethic, geotourism seeks to enhance prospects for sustainable development based on the specific character of a given place rather than on standardized international branding, generic architecture and food, etc. In other words, a geotourism tour won’t involve sending you to an exotic locale only to put you up at a Hilton or Marriot and give you discount coupons to Taco Bell and McDonald’s.

“Today the world’s great destinations are under assault as visitor numbers rise exponentially every year,” reports the non-profit National Geographic Society, publisher of National Geographic. “The result is damage to the sites, overcrowding and erosion of the local culture and environment.” The Society hopes to reverse these trends with geotourism. Its Center for Sustainable Destinations (CSD) helps local communities, governments, tourism bureaus and private businesses enhance and sustain their distinct character while harnessing the power of tourism for positive impact: “Residents discover their own heritage by learning that things they take for granted may be interesting to outsiders,” reports CSD. “As local people develop pride and skill in showing off their locale, tourists get more out of their visit.”

The Society’s “Geotourism Charter” lists 13 principles that qualifying sites must adhere to in order to earn a geotourism distinction. The main current running through the Charter is appreciation for the distinctive aspects of a given place and culture, and an eagerness to showcase them to curious and supportive visitors.

The term geotourism is fairly new, but several places have offered “geotourism”-worthy travel for years. Costa Rica’s Rio Tropicales Lodge takes visitors white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking and on other rainforest excursions. It hires and trains locals to manage operations and teach guests about local cultures first-hand—and has launched several reforestation efforts and an education program that teaches elementary students across Costa Rica about the importance of protecting the rainforest in their backyards.

Another organization is 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking in Nepal, which trains local women to be tourism professionals and trekking guides. In just a few short years the group, which promotes low-impact treks in the Himalaya region, has trained 600 women as ambassadors to the outdoors across Nepal and beyond.

Apiring geotourism professionals can learn about their future profession by focusing on it as part of a new concentration within the geography department of Missouri State University.

CONTACTS: CSD; Rio Tropicales; 3 Sisters; Missouri State University Geotourism Concentration.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that climate change is negatively affecting the health of rivers and, by extension, the quality and availability of fresh water?
—Robert Elman, St. Louis, MO

Rivers may well be hard hit by climate change, given the likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread of waterborne diseases. Pictured: The Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, which has lost 14 percent of its water volume since the 1950s due to higher temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns.

Photo © iStockPhoto

Global warming is no doubt going to cause many kinds of problems (and, indeed, already is), and rivers may well be some of the hardest hit geographical features, given the likelihood of increased droughts, floods and the associated spread of waterborne diseases.

For one, rivers are already starting to lose the amount of water they channel. A 2009 study at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that water volume in the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest declined by 14 percent since the 1950s. This trend is similar in major rivers all over the world.

“Many communities will see their water supplies shrink as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift,” reports the nonprofit American Rivers, adding that a rise in severe storms will degrade water quality and increase the risk of catastrophic floods. “Changes in the timing and location of precipitation combined with rising levels of water pollution will strain ecosystems and threaten the survival of many fish and wildlife species.” These shifts will have dramatic impacts, threatening public health, weakening economies and decreasing the quality of life in many places. In the U.S., the number of storms with extreme precipitation has increased 24 percent since the late 1940s—and the trend is expected to continue.

Another certain impact on rivers is more pollution as more frequent and powerful storms increase runoff from urban and agricultural areas that contain fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and motor oil. “In older communities where storm water and sewage are transported together in one pipe, heavy storms can overwhelm the system and send raw sewage and polluted storm water into nearby streams and rivers,” says American Rivers. “These combined sewer overflows will grow more frequent as extreme storms increase.”

Lower water flows and rising temperatures compound problems caused by more runoff. “More frequent droughts and shifting precipitation patterns lower water levels in rivers, lakes and streams, leaving less water to dilute pollutants,” says the group. “Higher temperatures cause more frequent algal blooms and reduce dissolved oxygen levels, both of which can cause fish kills and do significant harm to ecosystems.”
American Rivers reports that the health of our rivers in the face of increasing warming will depend largely on community preparedness. Municipalities that fail to address aging infrastructure “will experience greater increases in storm water runoff and sewer overflows.” And communities that have damaged their wetlands, forests, streams and rivers will have fewer natural defenses to protect against the effects of climate change.

There is much we can do to protect rivers besides reduce our carbon footprints. American Rivers is promoting green infrastructure—an approach to water management that protects, restores or mimics the natural water cycle—as the way to bolster the health of rivers. “It means planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building a new water treatment plant. It means choosing water efficiency instead of building a new water supply dam. It means restoring floodplains instead of building taller levees.”

CONTACTS: NCAR; American Rivers.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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