Reefs and reforms

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

Reefs and reforms


describes UNEP's work to promote sustainable
tourism in the Caribbean

divers and sharkJust over a quarter of the coastlines of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are potentially highly threatened with degradation from coastal development; just under a further quarter face a moderate threat. The growth of tourism is cited as one cause of increasing stress; others include domestic sewage, coastal erosion, industrial waste, mining and the run-off of sediment.

Tourism has long been recognized as an important part of the social and economic development of the Wider Caribbean. It depends heavily on the health of the region's marine and coastal ecosystems and of the living resources that inhabit them. Caribbean coastal areas enjoy unique levels of biodiversity: a high proportion of species are native ones. The Caribbean hosts the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, stretching some 220 kilometres long, off Belize, and is home to almost 60 per cent of the world's scuba diving tours.

Need for integration

The Caribbean tourist industry has grown rapidly over the last decade. In 1996, it received 25.5 million visitors - of which 10.7 million were passengers on cruises. This growth has shown that tourism must be more integrated into planning and management.

Sustainable tourism development requires the adoption of sound environmental practices. Coordinated approaches are needed to resolve conflicts over resources, involving all stakeholders. Information must be shared, instruction materials made available and incentives provided.

The direct and detrimental impacts of tourism are usually known, but have not been quantified. So better information is needed about the carrying capacity of ecosystems, the impacts of tourism on them - and the benefits gained from environmentally sound practices.

Promoting sound management

Governments in the region established the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) in 1981 as an integral part of UNEP's Regional Seas Programme, to conserve and promote sound management of the marine environment. Through a regional coordinating unit in Kingston, Jamaica, UNEP functions as Secretariat for the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols, as the Caribbean's only regional environmental treaty.

The CEP has embarked on a project to support and improve environmental practices in the tourism industry in the region. The Caribbean Environmental Network project is aimed at achieving the optimal use and maintenance of coastal and marine resources as part of a sustainable tourism strategy. A joint venture with the United States Agency for International Development in Jamaica, it is designed to improve the quality of the environment and protect resources in the Wider Caribbean by promoting the use of environmentally sound practices by the tourism industry and reducing its impacts. To this end, the CEP has developed close partnerships with key organizations, involved in many aspects of tourism, from the private, public and academic sectors in the region.

Among its activities to support the development of tourism as an environmentally sustainable industry are:

- Promoting best management practices and applying clean technologies within the tourism industry, particularly the hotel sector.

- Implementing training programmes, with associated manuals, to strengthen the capacity of people in the tourism industry to manage solid wastes and wastewater, contribute to integrated coastal area management and to site and design tourist facilities appropriately.

- Implementing pilot demonstration studies on minimizing the impact of tourism development in the coastal and marine environment.

- Producing publications like booklets, manuals and technical reports on key topics of interest for disseminating in the tourism industry, and thus building awareness.

Other regional organizations have also begun programmes to improve the environmental practices of the tourism industry. The CEP contributes to these efforts to promote tourism as an industry that is not just environmentally, but also economically and socially, sustainable.

Nelson Andrade is Coordinator of UNEP's Caribbean Environment Programme.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Francesco Frangialli: Preserving paradise (Small Islands) 1999
Billie A. Miller: Looking good, feeling good (Small Islands) 1999
Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel: Making a difference (Small Islands) 1999

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