ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF TOURISM
TOURISM'S THREE MAIN IMPACT AREAS
Negative impacts from tourism occur when the level of visitor use is greater than the environment's ability to cope with this use within the acceptable limits of change. Uncontrolled conventional tourism poses potential threats to many natural areas around the world. It can put enormous pressure on an area and lead to impacts such as soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. It often puts a strain on water resources, and it can force local populations to compete for the use of critical resources.
DEPLETION OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Tourism development can put pressure on natural resources when it increases consumption in areas where resources are already scarce.
Water, and especially fresh water, is one of the most critical natural resources. The tourism industry generally overuses water resources for hotels, swimming pools, golf courses and personal use of water by tourists. This can result in water shortages and degradation of water supplies, as well as generating a greater volume of waste water..
In dryer regions like the Mediterranean, the issue of water scarcity is of particular concern. Because of the hot climate and the tendency of tourists to consume more water when on holiday than they do at home, the amount used can run up to 440 liters a day. This is almost double what the inhabitants of an average Spanish city use.
Golf course maintenance can also deplete fresh water resources. In recent years golf tourism has increased in popularity and the number of golf courses has grown rapidly. Golf courses require an enormous amount of water every day and, as with other causes of excessive extraction of water, this can result in water scarcity. If the water comes from wells, overpumping can cause saline intrusion into groundwater. Golf resorts are more and more often situated in or near protected areas or areas where resources are limited, exacerbating their impacts.
An average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1500kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers.
Tourism can create great pressure on local resources like energy, food, and other raw materials that may already be in short supply. Greater extraction and transport of these resources exacerbates the physical impacts associated with their exploitation. Because of the seasonal character of the industry, many destinations have ten times more inhabitants in the high season as in the low season. A high demand is placed upon these resources to meet the high expectations tourists often have (proper heating, hot water, etc.).
Important land resources include minerals, fossil fuels, fertile soil, forests, wetland and wildlife. Increased construction of tourism and recreational facilities has increased the pressure on these resources and on scenic landscapes. Direct impact on natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, in the provision of tourist facilities can be caused by the use of land for accommodation and other infrastructure provision, and the use of building materials.
Forests often suffer negative impacts of tourism in the form of deforestation caused by fuel wood collection and land clearing. For example, one trekking tourist in Nepal - and area already suffering the effects of deforestation - can use four to five kilograms of wood a day.
Tourism can cause the same forms of pollution as any other industry: air emissions, noise, solid waste and littering, releases of sewage, oil and chemicals, even architectural/visual pollution.
Air pollution and noise
Transport by air, road, and rail is continuously increasing in response to the rising numbe reported that the number of international air passengers worldwide rose from 88 million in 1972 to 344 million in 1994. One consequence of this increase in air transport is that tourism now accounts for more than 60% of air travel and is therefore responsible for an important share of air emissions. One study estimated that a single transatlantic return flight emits almost half the CO2 emissions produced by all other sources (lighting, heating, car use, etc.) consumed by an average person yearly. (Mayer Hillman, Town & Country Planning magazine, September 1996. Source: MFOE).
Transport emissions and emissions from energy production and use are linked to acid rain, global warming and photochemical pollution. Air pollution from tourist transportation has impacts on the global level, especially from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions related to transportation energy use. And it can contribute to severe local air pollution. Some of these impacts are quite specific to tourist activities. For example, especially in very hot or cold countries, tour buses often leave their motors running for hours while the tourists go out for an excursion because they want to return to a comfortably air-conditioned bus.
Noise pollution from airplanes, cars, and buses, as well as recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and jet skis, is an ever-growing problem of modern life. In addition to causing annoyance, stress, and even hearing loss for it humans, it causes distress to wildlife, especially in sensitive areas. For instance, noise generated by snowmobiles can cause animals to alter their natural activity patterns.
In winter 2000, 76,271 people entered Yellowstone National Park on snowmobiles, outnumbering the 40,727 visitors who came in cars, 10,779 in snowcoaches and 512 on skis. A survey of snowmobile impacts on natural sounds at Yellowstone found that snowmobile noise could be heard 70% of the time at 11 of 13 sample sites, and 90% of the time at 8 sites. At the Old Faithful geyser, snowmobiles could be heard 100% of the time during the daytime period studied. Snowmobile noise drowned out even the sound of the geyser erupting. (Source: Idahonews)
Solid waste and littering
In areas with high concentrations of tourist activities and appealing natural attractions, waste disposal is a serious problem and improper disposal can be a major despoiler of the natural environment - rivers, scenic areas, and roadsides. For example, cruise ships in the Caribbean are estimated to produce more than 70,000 tons of waste each year. Today some cruise lines are actively working to reduce waste-related impacts. Solid waste and littering can degrade the physical appearance of the water and shoreline and cause the death of marine animals.
In mountain areas, trekking tourists generate a great deal of waste. Tourists on expedition leave behind their garbage, oxygen cylinders and even camping equipment. Such practices degrade the environment with all the detritus typical of the developed world, in remote areas that have few garbage collection or disposal facilities. Some trails in the Peruvian Andes and in Nepal frequently visited by tourists have been nicknamed "Coca-Cola trail" and "Toilet paper trail".
The Wider Caribbean Region, stretching from Florida to French Guiana, receives 63,000 port calls from ships each year, and they generate 82,000 tons of garbage. About 77% of all ship waste comes from cruise vessels. The average cruise ship carries 600 crew members and 1,400 passengers. On average, passengers on a cruise ship each account for 3.5 kilograms of garbage daily - compared with the 0.8 kilograms each generated by the less well-endowed folk on shore.
Construction of hotels, recreation and other facilities often leads to increased sewage pollution. Wastewater has polluted seas and lakes surrounding tourist attractions, damaging the flora and fauna. Sewage runoff causes serious damage to coral reefs because it stimulates the growth of algae, which cover the filter-feeding corals, hindering their ability to survive. Changes in salinity and siltation can have wide-ranging impacts on coastal environments. And sewage pollution can threaten the health of humans and animals.
Often tourism fails to integrate its structures with the natural features and indigenous architectural of the destination. Large, dominating resorts of disparate design can look out of place in any natural environment and may clash with the indigenous structural design.
A lack of land-use planning and building regulations in many destinations has facilitated sprawling developments along coastlines, valleys and scenic routes. The sprawl includes tourism facilities themselves and supporting infrastructure such as roads, employee housing, parking, service areas, and waste disposal.
Attractive landscape sites, such as sandy beaches, lakes, riversides, and mountain tops and slopes, are often transitional zones, characterized by species-rich ecosystems. Typical physical impacts include the degradation of such ecosystems.
An ecosystem is a geographic area including all the living organisms (people, plants, animals, and microorganisms), their physical surroundings (such as soil, water, and air), and the natural cycles that sustain them. The ecosystems most threatened with degradation are ecologically fragile areas such as alpine regions, rain forests, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds. The threats to and pressures on these ecosystems are often severe because such places are very attractive to both tourists and developers.
In industrial countries, mass tourism and recreation are now fast overtaking the extractive industries as the largest threat to mountain communities and environments. Since 1945, visits to the 10 most popular mountainous national parks in the United States have increased twelve-fold. In the European Alps, tourism now exceeds 100 million visitor-days. Every year in the Indian Himalaya, more than 250,000 Hindu pilgrims, 25,000 trekkers, and 75 mountaineering expeditions climb to the sacred source of the Ganges River, the Gangotri Glacier. They deplete local forests for firewood, trample riparian vegetation, and strew litter. Even worse, this tourism frequently induces poorly planned, land-intensive development.
Physical impacts are caused not only by tourism-related land clearing and construction, but by continuing tourist activities and long-term changes in local economies and ecologies.
Physical impacts of tourism development
- Construction activities and infrastructure development
The development of tourism facilities such as accommodation, water supplies, restaurants and recreation facilities can involve sand mining, beach and sand dune erosion, soil erosion and extensive paving. In addition, road and airport construction can lead to land degradation and loss of wildlife habitats and deterioration of scenery.
In Yosemite National Park (US), for instance, the number of roads and facilities have been increased to keep pace with the growing visitor numbers and to supply amenities, infrastructure and parking lots for all these tourists. These actions have caused habitat loss in the park and are accompanied by various forms of pollution including air pollution from automobile emissions; the Sierra Club has reported "smog so thick that Yosemite Valley could not be seen from airplanes". This occasional smog is harmful to all species and vegetation inside the Park. (Source: Trade and Environment Database)
Deforestation and intensified or unsustainable use of land
Construction of ski resort accommodation and facilities frequently requires clearing forested land. Coastal wetlands are often drained and filled due to lack of more suitable sites for construction of tourism facilities and infrastructure. These activities can cause severe disturbance and erosion of the local ecosystem, even destruction in the long term.
- Marina development Development of marinas and breakwaters can cause changes in currents and coastlines. Furthermore, extraction of building materials such as sand affects coral reefs, mangroves, and hinterland forests, leading to erosion and destruction of habitats. In the Philippines and the Maldives, dynamiting and mining of coral for resort building materials has damaged fragile coral reefs and depleted the fisheries that sustain local people and attract tourists.
Overbuilding and extensive paving of shorelines can result in destruction of habitats and disruption of land-sea connections (such as sea-turtle nesting spots). Coral reefs are especially fragile marine ecosystems and are suffering worldwide from reef-based tourism developments. Evidence suggests a variety of impacts to coral result from shoreline development, increased sediments in the water, trampling by tourists and divers, ship groundings, pollution from sewage, overfishing, and fishing with poisons and explosives that destroy coral habitat.
Physical impacts from tourist activities
- Trampling Tourists using the same trail over and over again trample the vegetation and soil, eventually causing damage that can lead to loss of biodiversity and other impacts. Such damage can be even more extensive when visitors frequently stray off established trails.
Trampling impacts on vegetation
Trampling impacts on soil
Breakage and bruising of stems
Loss of organic matter
Reduced plant vigor
Reduction in soil macro porosity
Decrease in air and water permeability
Loss of ground cover
Increase in run off
Change in species composition
Source: University of Idaho
- Anchoring and other marine activities In marine areas (around coastal waters, reefs, beach and shoreline, offshore waters, uplands and lagoons) many tourist activities occur in or around fragile ecosystems. Anchoring, snorkeling, sport fishing and scuba diving, yachting, and cruising are some of the activities that can cause direct degradation of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, and subsequent impacts on coastal protection and fisheries.
There are 109 countries with coral reefs. In 90 of them reefs are being damaged by cruise ship anchors and sewage, by tourists breaking off chunks of coral, and by commercial harvesting for sale to tourists. One study of a cruise ship anchor dropped in a coral reef for one day found an area about half the size of a football field completely destroyed, and half again as much covered by rubble that died later. It was estimated that coral recovery would take fifty years.
- Alteration of ecosystems by tourist activities Habitat can be degraded by tourism leisure activities. For example, wildlife viewing can bring about stress for the animals and alter their natural behavior when tourists come too close. Safaris and wildlife watching activities have a degrading effect on habitat as they often are accompanied by the noise and commotion created by tourists as they chase wild animals in their trucks and aircraft. This puts high pressure on animal habits and behaviors and tends to bring about behavioral changes. In some cases, as in Kenya, it has led to animals becoming so disturbed that at times they neglect their young or fail to mate.
Mauritius is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) off the coast of Africa. The country's GDP is among the highest of African nations, and Mauritius also has a well-functioning democracy. It's also among the world's biodiversity hotspots, especially for plants. As an island nation, it is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Deutsche Welle: How does Mauritius experience climate change?
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim: Whilst we have not polluted - [the entire African continent has] produced around 2 percent in terms of the carbon emissions - we are likely to be highly impacted.
One of the areas where we will suffer the brunt of climate change is with much more violent cyclones. The other part will be the erosion of the coast with the rising sea level. And whatever touches the coast means impacting the tourism industry. It also impacts the livelihoods of people, for those who depend on the lagoons for fishing and other activities.
Tourism is a money-maker in Mauritius - and will be impacted by climate change
We have seen really intense drought, and we have also seen a lot of flooding. So we have to have a state of preparedness so the people are aware that climate change is a reality and climate change will impact on everything we do. And we really have to develop strategies for adaptation.
What specifically is Mauritius planning in order to prepare for this range of effects you described and which are already being felt?
Our livelihoods on this planet depend on the sustainability of our biodiversity resources. And small island states like Mauritius belong to a biodiversity hotspot. Biodiversity ensures our survival on this planet. We have to have recourse to biodiversity for medicine, for food, and everything else. And this represents 35 percent of the ecosystem services that vulnerable people depend on.
So it is imperative that leaders in this world are made aware of the necessity to protect this biodiversity, these ecosystems - because our survival will depend on it.
What specifically are you planning in order to protect biodiversity as climate change kicks in?
People don't know what they have. So one of the areas we have to focus on is the necessity to keep on documenting these resources. It's only when we document that we will be able to take action and strategize as to how to best protect them.
Mauritius intends to keep its remaining primal forest intact to prevent further climate change
In the Paris Agreement, one of the goals is to preserve and restore forests. What is the plan in terms of your island nation preserving its forests?
This is an area we have not been very good at, because we have lost most of the original forest cover. Right now, we have something like less than 2 percent of the initial forest cover.
You know, forests are the world's lungs. Forests also include a diversity of species, and yet we are destroying this at a very, very fast pace, through, for example, logging or through land being cleared for agriculture. And with the impact of climate change, we have to keep the original forest intact.
Does Mauritius have a specific roadmap for decarbonizing its energy system?
We are trying to diversify the bouquet as far as possible. During the sugarcane harvest, we use a lot of biogas for energy. But of course after the harvest, we still have to resort to fossil fuel for our energy needs.
So what the government is trying to do now - and this has formed part of our INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) in the submission to the COP21 documents - is that we are going to diversify further our energetic requirement. So go into solar, go into wind … and because we are surrounded by the ocean, we will have to also try and see to what extent we can tap into wave energy as well.
Mauritius is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States and was a part of the high-ambition coalition that pushed for 1.5 degrees Celsius at COP21. What other measures is Mauritius taking at this point to bring the Paris Agreement forward? Is it working internationally?
We do lots of work, for example, with the Indian Ocean Commission, which is one of the flagship projects of the EU and has been our funding partner. The Indian Ocean Commission has expanded to a few eastern African countries.
So the future will be in partnership - South-South, but North-South as well. But we need to use as much technology as possible to empower the people and make them aware that technology is here to help.
Mauritius has progressed largely through the political will to do so, Gurib-Fakim says
How can leaders of developing countries get on board for decarbonization?
Mauritius was considered a lost case in the 1960s, so far away from everywhere else. Yet we've shown that it can happen. It can happen through will, through the government working with the people and through taking the right decisions to make it happen. We have advanced through empowering the people, through a democratic process, through accountability, and also through free education.
There's quite a compelling business case for renewables in the long term. How can leaders be convinced of this compelling case?
Countries have to have access to energy. Energy is a must; it drives the economies. So these leaders are confronted with ensuring that access to energy is there. How do they go about it? This is where the Green Fund, with the appropriate technologies, comes in. This is the hand-in-hand between North and South, working together, so that this can happen.
But we have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement. Hopefully by the end of 2016 or early 2017, we will see countries having the will to sign. We are still waiting for one of the big partners - the European Union - to sign. There has to be the will for all the partners to come together and make it happen, so that people have access to energy for their own development.
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim holds a PhD in organic chemistry
What is the main challenge you're facing in terms of adaptation to climate change?
How do we access the appropriate information, how do we access the appropriate technology, the means, and how do we make it happen on the ground.
Of course at the end of the day, it all boils down to: finance. [chuckles]
Is Mauritius prepared for the impact of climate change?
This is a question that touches on the whole planet: Are we all prepared for it?
Our preparedness, and our way of adapting and confronting this, will depend on how best we empower our own people.
Biodiversity scientist Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim has been the president of Mauritius since June 2015.
The interview was conducted by Sonya Angelica Diehn at European Development Days 2016 in Brussels.