“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone?”
The words of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” seemed particularly poignant last month when an international research expedition concluded a six-week search for the 20-million-year-old Yangtze river dolphin, the Baiji, with these words:
“We have to accept the fact that the Baiji is functionally extinct. It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world.”
The dolphin, one of the world’s oldest species and one of only five freshwater dolphins species in the world (all of which are on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species), was driven to extinction by a combination of habitat destruction, illegal fishing and boat collisions.
But while many would have been saddened by news of the Baiji’s passing, how many had ever heard of the dolphin’s existence before the announcement?
Can my choice of holiday make a positive contribution and help to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future?
There has been much debate in the press recently about the value of ecotourism both to the environment and to local economies, and particularly about the dangers of “greenwashing” – the labelling of a particular product or experience as “eco-friendly”, when the reality may be very different. How, then, does ecotourism work in Sweden and is it having a positive effect?
At its best, ecotourism should provide some or all of the following benefits:
– Give threatened natural and cultural heritage an economic value. In short, protecting and conserving should become the right thing to do financially, not just ethically.
– Create access to unique and unforgettable nature experiences which would be difficult, if not impossible, for a traveller to organise independently.
– Increase awareness of the need for environmental and cultural conservation by turning visitors and guests into informal ambassadors who leave the country inspired and motivated to continue the principals of ecotourism and to encourage others to do so.
– Generate funds which can be used for ongoing conservation work of habitats, species and cultural heritage.
– Ecotourism can be part of the mix and a strategic partner to other forms of sustainable development and a viable alternative to unsustainable commercial exploitation of natural and cultural resources.
– With its focus on local products and services, ecotourism can generate far more employment possibilities than traditional nature tourism.
What has ecotourism already achieved in Sweden?
– Financial assistance for the preservation of species such as the critically endangered arctic fox, the European otter and a number of hunting falcons. In the archipelago, funds have been vital for the conservation of river mussels and the reintroduction of the sea eagle.
– The Ecopark in the centre of the Swedish capital Stockholm is an excellent example of how ecotourism can be used to defend nature under threat.
– The success of ecotourism in the northern regions of Sweden has helped the Sami people save their traditional way of life from extinction and to preserve their cultural heritage.
In a 2003 report entitled “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Maine Initiatives and Swedish Lessons”, David Vail wrote:
“Ecotourism Swedish-style entails minimizing environmental damage, restoring ecosystem health, educating tourists about nature conservation and cultural heritage, and involving local residents in tourism management and benefits. Importantly, nature and cultural heritage are intertwined in the Swedish understanding of ecotourism.”
Your choice of holiday can and does have a significant effect on the culture and environment of the country you visit – choose well, and perhaps tragedies like the loss of the Baiji may one day become a thing of the past.
The Nature Travels Team
All the local providers Nature Travels uses for its experiences in Sweden are committed to the principles of ecotourism and sustainable development and passionate about the preservation and enhancement of Sweden’s unique natural world. The majority of our providers have received an award from the Swedish ecotourism body for their high standards of environmental sensitivity and customer service.