Sustainable tourism: how to leave as small a “footprint” as possible while traveling to the Caribbean.
Can you really “go green” on a Caribbean vacation? As the impact of tourism on wildlife continues to take a toll on endangered species of plants and animals, many travelers are wondering whether they can enjoy a luxurious Caribbean vacation and still protect the planet. Is it possible?
Sustainable tourism, ecotourism, or “conservation vacations” are several terms used to describe trips focused on helping the environment rather than harm it. As the amount of trash in our oceans increases and endangered sea creature populations continue to plummet, the Caribbean Sea has been highlighted as a problem area.
A pressing issue
Unfortunately, however, most countries depend heavily on tourism to fuel their economies. On average, this industry accounts for around 14% of their GDP. That’s no surprise, given that the Caribbean is mostly sunny all year long, and temperatures don’t stray too far from the 80’s. Plus, these island countries have what most vacationers are looking for: exotic wildlife, jungles, fancy resorts, luxurious seaside villas, and an amazing selection of beautiful beaches.
So, it’s no surprise that marine pollution and the degradation of Caribbean coral reefs has become a huge hot-button issue. It has caused many Caribbean countries to take action to combat the damage before it’s too late. They are well aware that if the wildlife, clean beaches and coral reefs disappear, so will the tourists.
Ecotourism in the Caribbean: can you “go green”?
Arguably, it’s nearly impossible to have a truly “green” vacation, since most us have to jump on airplanes to get to our chosen destinations. However, you can offset the carbon emissions from your flight in other ways, and reduce any negative impact on the environment during your trip.
In addition, you can actually help the environment during your Caribbean vacation in many different ways. Take this list with you, and help maintain the beauty of the Caribbean for a few centuries more:
1. Don’t throw trash in the sea!
You’re living the life. The good life. You’ve left the office desk behind, and exchanged it for soft, white sand and the shade of a palm tree. Your breakfast burrito and morning coffee-on-the-go are replaced by a sweet slice of pineapple and a coconut drink. And then…whoops! Your buddy knocks your arm, and out pops your plastic drinking straw. You reach down to grab it, but the a sudden gust of wind blows it out of reach. Oh well, you think. What’s one more plastic straw on the beach?
Unfortunately, this scene occurs with thousands upon thousands of travelers. Some drop trash by accident, others on purpose– but it all contributes to the horrible accumulation of garbage in the Caribbean Sea.
How does all that trash get there? One straw at a time.
2. Visit and support research/conservation centers
Look for opportunities to visit and tour national parks, research and conservation centers, and wildlife reserves. There are plenty of them in the Caribbean. In addition, there are wildlife rescue centers that aim to increase the population of endangered species, like sea turtles, for example. Some of these establishments even offer short-term volunteer opportunities that allow tourists to help care for and feed wild animals, activities that few people get to experience.
But even if those volunteer opportunities aren’t available near where you’re staying, there are still plenty of other ways to support nature and wildlife. Even simply paying the entrance fee helps. In addition, you can ask about making donations to help keep the centers up and running.
It’s not uncommon for wildlife centers to have to close their doors due to lack of funds, especially after a hurricane has hit them hard. After 2017’s Hurricane season, several conservation centers on a few different islands were forced to close, and still have not reopened. It’s heartbreaking to see places like The Butterfly Farm in St. Martin out of commission due to hurricane damage. Without sufficient funds to rebuild and replenish their gardens, the farm may take years to open its doors again.
3. Buy local goods and services
Supporting local commerce and small businesses has more of an impact on Caribbean countries than you might imagine.
Sometimes, part of the reason why certain creatures become scarce is because they are caught and sold or killed in order to provide food or income sources for people who have no other way to make a living.
Therefore, buying local and even booking local tour guides indirectly affects conservation. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to purchase goods and services from locals. For example, some sell handmade souvenir items on the beach or on the street. Buying those goods can help sellers resist the temptation to turn to turtle egg harvesting or conch fishing to provide for their families.
4. Make sure your plans don’t affect wildlife
Unfortunately, many high-rise resort hotels are built right on turtle nesting beaches. This is one of the reasons why turtle populations have declined so much in recent years.
Opt to stay elsewhere instead, like a private villa. Don’t book accomodations with hotels that aren’t environment conscious.
In addition, be careful about where you take speed boats and other sea vessels, whether you’re the pilot or not. Make sure that the boat doesn’t enter prohibited or shallow waters where its motor could harm wildlife.
5. Don’t take wildlife “souvenirs”
It may be tempting to try to take a creature or two home with you– like starfish, coral, or sea urchins for example. The practice of taking these creatures out of the ocean and drying them in the sun has gone on for years, resulting in extensive damage to coral reef systems and marine life.
In addition, if you happen to see a beached dolphin, or any creature in distress, call wildlife authorities immediately. Pausing to snap selfies with these creatures can result in their untimely death, as was the case with a stranded baby dolphin in Spain in 2017.
We hope you enjoy your Caribbean vacation and take care of our planet at the same time! For more tips about Caribbean travel, see our article How to Prepare for Caribbean Travel.
Main image source: ultravilla.com