Students who went on the January 2016 trip to Belize appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to the travel and instructive setting. Snorkeling, hiking the terrain of multiple islands and visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center, the Mayan Ruins and marine preserve centers were a few among many eco-tourism experiences Rider students have recently taken advantage of. Sophomore marine science major Tiffany Girado said what made the experience exciting was “traveling and learning hands-on.”
“Studying eco-tourism in Belize was one of the best experiences of my life because I was meaningfully educated in a culture that was developing economically, growing their sustainability efforts, and trying to maintain a balance between these two.”
When planning any trips of your own this summer, consider the option of eco-tourism destinations and activities. This aspect of the tourism industry has been increasingly popularized over the past few decades. The World Conservation Union defines eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
For a tourist location to fit this definition, steps need to be taken to minimize waste, utilize local resources responsibly and have minimal negative impact on the natural environment, while educating tourists about the local communities and individual social responsibilities to the environment. Recently, Rider students have participated in short-term study-abroad trips of this nature to locations like Belize and the Galapagos Islands. These opportunities allow students to learn about different cultures and ecosystems in an interdisciplinary setting, and receive credit for their travel experiences. In addition to the trip itself, participants attend several group meetings and complete projects which bring an academic focus to their adventures.
Senior environmental science major Rachel Nangle participated in both the Belize and Galapagos trips.
“Studying eco-tourism in both locations gave me the ability to learn a lot about the unique environments and cultures, while also knowing that I contributed to their conservation efforts,” she said. “Both trips were amazing learning experiences both academically and personally, by introducing me to a different realm of both travel and sustainability.”
With the current rapid changes and threats to biodiversity and ecosystems on local and global scales, this niche of the tourism industry is important in mitigating further damage to these destinations. The United Nations Environmental Program finds three main negative impacts from traditional tourism. These include the depletion of natural resources, degradation of the physical landscape and excessive pollution (particularly in terms of mismanaged sewage, where resorts are not constructed with natural land planning in mind). Planning your travel with these factors in mind, and with environmental conservation as a priority, helps to protect our global natural landscapes for future generations, ensuring their ability to enrich lives with similar experiences.
The eco-tourism sector is growing three times as quickly of its traditional counterpart, according to UN World Tourism. While at Rider, students can participate in these activities through short-term study-abroad courses. Additionally, students can look into ensuring that their personal vacations with family and friends are eco-friendly by looking for eco-tours in their desired destinations. So remember, if you’re going somewhere on vacation soon, be sure to go green.
—Lawrenceville Eco Reps