Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding - Help Protect Coral Reefs

By guest blogger Susan Wolf

On your next trip to Hawaii you may notice signs in local dive and retail shops supporting the "Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding" campaign. The stickers are part of a larger effort to protect Hawaii’s magnificent coral reefs by discouraging the practice of using food to attract fish for tourists to view. Several companies, including retail giants Longs Drugs and Walmart, have followed the lead of marine recreation businesses across the state and have agreed to discontinue the sale of recreational snorkeling fish food in all of their Hawaii locations.

Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding

The use of fish food by tourists and tour operators can have negative consequences for both reefs and the tourism industry, according to Liz Foote, Hawaii Field Manager for the Coral Reef Alliance, and Carlie Wiener, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Foote and Wiener spearheaded the “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign, working to convince businesses that selling fish food is ultimately a poor business practice. With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, the State Division of Aquatic Resources, Project S.E.A.-Link, and other partners, the two have spent years enlisting businesses to stop selling and using fish food, as well as educating visitors and locals alike about the effects and dangers of fish feeding.

Impacts on Fish and Tourists

By feeding the fish, humans are affecting the natural ecological relationships on the reef. For example, when herbivorous fish are fed by tourists, they eat less algae. With a reduction of grazing activity by these fish, the algae is left to flourish and potentially smother the reefs. For tourists, there are often incidents of accidental fish biting at popular tourist destinations where fish are fed by dive companies and snorkel tours.

Large Retailers Sign On

The recent effort to secure buy-in from the large retailers in Hawaii was taken up by San Francisco attorney Joshua Rosen, who learned about the project while visiting Hawaii last winter. Rosen believes that the companies decided to act responsibly because of their own appreciation for Hawaii’s marine life, and because it is in their best interest to become involved in local community efforts and support the long-term health of Hawaii’s economy, which depends upon visitors having a good experience with the marine environment.

Susan Wolf works at The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). CORAL provides tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown into the only international nonprofit that works exclusively to protect our planet's coral reefs.

Responsible Tourism Awards

Now here's the mother of all lists for anyone interested in volunteer vacations, eco-tourism, sustainable travel, or simply preserving either the environment or local economies. Who isn't in favor of at least one of those?

Get inspired by Responsible Travel's 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards. The list will make me you want to toss work aside and dream up a vacation to help the planet stay glued together. The award list gives a brief analysis of the unique qualities that made category winners win. In considering a destination with environmentally sound practices - this list can serve as a great resource.

Award highlights:

  • Overall joint winner: Intrepid Travel (an organization that sets the bar for travelling responsibly and involving local communities)
  • Overall joint winner: Ol Malo Lodge and Trust (an eco-lodge in Kenya)
  • Best tour operator: Intrepid Travel, UK
  • Best large hotel (more than 50 rooms): Orchid Hotel, Mumbai (zero garbage hotel)
  • Best small hotel (fewer than 50 rooms): II N'gwesi Community Lodge, Kenya (40% of profits go back to the 600 plus families that share lodge ownership)
  • Best transport initiative: The Bittern Community Rail Partnership, UK (increasing visitor traffic to small communities/businesses and decreasing car traffic on roads)
  • Best in a mountain environment: Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Resort Ltd, Canada (exemplary habitat conservation efforts)
  • Best marine environment: Wakatobi Dive Resort, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia (reef preservation efforts)
  • Best for poverty reduction: Ol Malo Lodge and Trust, Kenya (eradicating disease, training locals to do the same)
  • Best protected area: Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador (national park preservation)
  • Best for conservation of an endangered species: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa (helped reintroduce cheetah and wild dogs to the reserve)
  • Best for innovation/technology: Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN), South Africa (recycling and refurbishing abandoned bikes and giving tours sans pollution)
  • Best volunteering organization: Biosphere Expeditions, UK
  • Best destination: Aspen, Colorado (for leading the environmental effort for a ski destination by pushing for affordable housing, investing in local farmland, and more)
  • Person who has made greatest contribution to responsible tourism: Mark Smith, The Man in Seat 61 (a man passionate for trains and other alternatives to flying)

The list was nominated by a combined total of 1200 readers from ResponsibleTravel.com, The Times, and Geographic Magazine.

World Heritage Sites Over-Crowded

It's no shock, but sooner or later we all had to realize the best global places to visit would be discovered by more tourists and eventually get overrun, threatening the natural charm and character of area and/or the site itself.

Such is the case with some of the World Heritage Sites in Asia and elsewhere. Booming global tourism industries are meeting the increased demand for travelers to go the distance and see something extraordinary. At a cost. Gadling reported on how National Geographic Traveler created their own rating of World Heritage Sites based on sustainable tourism.

Top 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:

  1. Norway's West Fjords (rating 87)
  2. France's Vezelay (rating 81)
  3. Spain's Alhambra and medieval Granada (rating 81)
  4. New Zealand's Te Wahipounamu (rating 80)
  5. Mexico's Guantajuato (rating 80)

Bottom 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:

  1. China/Tibet's Potala Palace, Lhasa, and environs (rating 46)
  2. Italy's Venice and its lagoons (rating 46)
  3. Ecuador's Galapagos Islands (rating 44)
  4. Panama's Portobelo-San Lorenzo (rating 41)
  5. Nepal's Kathmandu Valley (rating 39)

Every traveler should read the full list and consider the impact of flocking to see an international treasure. Then do what you can to support improvements, if possible. It's sort of a macro-economic tragedy of the commons. Food for thought.

New Sustainable Travel Org for Group Leaders

Sustainability is an increasingly popular topic in many industries and travel is no exception. It has ecotour adventures, volunteer vacations with sustainable  missions, and organizations such as the Tourism & Hospitality Institute for Sustainable Development in Switzerland dedicated to driving long-term sustainable solutions. Here's a snippet from their site:

  • Educators argue that it may be impossible to bring larger groups of visitors to any destination without impacting on its physical or cultural or social environment. People as visitors demand such services as attractions, accommodations, food and beverage, entertainment, infrastructure for transportation, public utilities and other public services found at home, along with friendly locals and authentic heritage. Given the many examples of destinations who have suffered from the growth of mass tourism, or even unsuccessful eco-tourism,  it is easy to understand the disbelief associated with the concepts of both tourism and sustainability. If you want to learn more about a group of tourism and hospitality professionals who believe that 'moving the agenda forward' will be hard, will have little support, and will take a long time, read more about us.

I'm for this green Swiss conglomerate of travel professionals. In thinking about group travel, it seems important to plan trips with friends, family, clubs or teams that take into consideration the impact of travel on the environs. Vacations are breaks from responsibility. We all need that, which is why we have high expectations of service and entertainment when traveling. But if any association member responsible for organizing group trips, leader of group tours on a regular or semi-regular basis, or individual traveler is interested in studying green travel, this organization seems like a good reference.

Green Travel

Green travel doesn't have to mean zero impact. Often, it's nearly impossible to leave no trace when you travel. Yet there are more and more ways that companies are helping travelers take baby steps toward being a little more environmentally savvy. Call it trendy. But here are a few ways to make your next trip a bit green:

1. Travelocity not only offers carbon dioxide emission offsets for travel, but they launched a volunteer vacation program to address many environmental issues.

2. Expedia's new green program allows travelers to donate to TerraPass, a company that helps stem greenhouse gas emissions through clean energy initiatives.

3. Emerald Market blog offers tips for travel accessories, eco-friendly kid stuff, and more. Click through the travel, accessories, and kids categories to find ideas for eco-travel.

Ecotour Adventures

Ecotourism is a growing trend in travel. As our world shrinks, thanks to globalization and population expansion, sustainable travel naturally tags along as people want to help preserve communities, native habitat, and the little creatures that inhabit the planet.

Step out of the ordinary and raft down a river, tour a village, meet the locals, and touch nature without leaving too much of a mark. Here are a few eco-friendly tours and organizations to get your green trip with friends or family started.

  • Conservation International and ResponsibleTravel.com jointly launched an initiative to get travelers off the beaten path in a sustainable way by promoting community-based tourism. Here are two wonderful examples of how this program is helping travelers see the real Ethiopia or tour Thailand via locally arranged tours. They offer tours in many other countries as well.
  • Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation, an organization solely dedicated to marine ecotourism and habitat preservation, has naturalists aboard every snorkeling cruise, whale-watching tour, and other water activity. Great for families who seek to add a little education to their adventure and enlighten the kiddies.
  • Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecotourism and one of the best places to see nature's bountiful biodiversity. Ergo, there are several ecotour operators of choice. A few that look appealing are Adventure Life, "affordable, personalized tours" from Key to Costa Rica, and customized adventure tours from Southern Explorations.
  • Sierra Club has outings across the U.S. and Canada. Outdoor adventures such as kayaking, canoeing, hiking, rafting, sailing, biking, and specific family adventures are all done in an eco-friendly manner.
  • Volunteer through Earthwatch Institute to help scientists in the field across the world do research that helps preserve habitat, animal species, and local cultures. This organization is a leader in sustainability, but there are plenty of volunteer vacation opportunities where you can make a positive impact while traveling.

You can plan a group ecotour or sustainable travel vacation with friends, family, or members of an association or organization you belong to using TripHub's travel planning tools.

Know of any other great ecotours or organizations that facilitate sustainable travel?


Ecotourism, A Convenient Truth

With Al Gore's new documentary on global warming, an inconvenient truth indeed, people are privvy to evidence of this phenomenon known by scientists for years. Even some non-tree huggers admit that we all contribute in some ways to the effect.

Luckily, as travelers, we can help. Think globally, act wherever we plant our feet. That extends to travel destinations. Ecotourism is a growing niche of the travel industry. Costa Rica was a pioneer in building a tourism industry that was founded on sustainability of its flora, fauna, and community.

The International Ecotourism Society offers the following basic principles that help define ecotourism so you can identify companies that practice the principle. This can serve as a checklist to find an ecotourism company or tour/activity when you plan your next trip:

  • Minimize impact
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate
  • Support international human rights and labor agreements

Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation is a snorkeling, whale-watching, and ecotourism organization that serves as a shining example, living up to these criteria.

Of course, it can be hard to travel entirely with ecological matters guiding your vacation decisions. But rather than driving all over Napa Valley, why not consider doing a half-day bike tour? That day of not driving would cut down on CO2 emissions, which will likely save the planet. I'm sure of it. Plus, your vacation will be that much more adventurous.