Category Archives: Eco-tourism

Five New ‘Ethical Destinations’ Recognized

Ethical-Traveler-LogoIn the view of Ethical Traveler, Grenada, Micronesia, Mongolia, Panama and Tuvalu “are making impressive strides to conserve natural resources, support human rights and protect animals.” As such, they are first-time winners of the annual Ethical Destinations Awards, joining destinations recognized in previous years.

Each year, California-based Ethical Traveler researches and publishes a list of what it considers art the 10 most forward-thinking countries in the developing world. In addition to “performance” in the areas of human rights, social welfare, animal welfare and environmental protection, winning countries must be appealing as travel destinations.

The 2016 winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:

  • Cabo Verde
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Micronesia (Federated States)
  • Mongolia
  • Panama
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Tuvalu
  • Uruguay

Ethical Traveler is a project of the Berkeley-based Earth Island Institute. The goal of the Ethical Destinations Awards is to encourage developing nations to do the right thing, and to reward destinations where policies and actions protect human rights and the environment.

3D Film Features Monarch Butterflies’ Mighty Migration

3D film captures this awesome journey plus tour operators that enable visitors to see it

MonarchButterflyI recently attended a screening of “Flight of the Butterflies,” a captivating IMAX 3D film, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science at the invitation of the Mexico Tourism Board. Other than a little anthropomorphism (giving a name to one particular monarch butterfly out of the millions  millions photographed) and an audience-pleasing dramatization of researchers’ efforts to discover where the monarchs’ annual migration route led, this film is a dazzling documentary that follows the life cycle including the 2,500-mile migration undertaken by four generations of these beautiful insects .

The monarchs who live east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in the 200-square-mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to hibernate in dense clusters hanging from oyamel fir trees. In spring, they migrate north through Texas where they lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and finally to the northern United States and Canada in the warm months. The 2,500-mile migration of these fragile insects is the longest of any insect in the world. The film captures each of four-generation life cycle, which is also explained on an illuminating monarch butterfly website. (Monarchs west of the Rockes overwinter in California’s eucalyptus forests, in case you’re wondering.)


Recently, there have been reports that this winter’s population in Mexico had dropped precipitously from just last year. “Mexico monarch butterfly population smallest in years, study says,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “The amount of land occupied by the migrating creatures shrank 59% from a year ago, scientists say. The decline could hurt tourism and the ecosystem.” I have to add: To say nothing of hurt to the butterfly hordes themselves, which suffer due to weather incidents and expanding human populations and with that, loss of habitat and disappearance of critical host plants. The most recent major decline in 2010 was attributed to severe storms. Unless monarch butterflies are close to being eradicated, recovery can be rapid — in theory anyway — because females all lay several hundred eggs. Conservation efforts therefore are concentrated on milkweed that the monarchs need.

MonarchButterflyReserveNeverthess, the World Wildlife Fund, which knows a lot more than I do, has declared the monarchs an endangered species. The organization recommends two particular week-long tours whose highlight is butterfly viewing: The Kingdom of the Monarchs (“Witness the amazing migration of 300 million butterflies. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 6-day tours) and Monarch Butterfly Photography Adventure (“Capture photos of one of the world’s most remarkable natural phenomena. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 7-day tours”). Other tour operators that do or did offer monarch tours include Interlude Tours, Mexperiennce, Mich Mex Guides and Top Travel, Monarch migration season is about over for this year, but try to catch the film in Denver of elsewhere and think about it for next year. S&S Tours already as an escorted, small-group trip scheduled for 2014.

I’m ready!

Namibia’s Black Rhinos in the Wild & in Preserves

West African country protects highly threatened species & other wildlife

Namibia-mapSome 15 years ago, my husband, my son, a friend and I ventured to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. After the thrilling climb, we and a local Arusha guide set off to see wildlife. We visited four national parks and preserves and saw many, many elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, zebras, Cape buffalo,  dik-diks, springbok, baboons, hyenas, warthogs and even a handful of hippos at closer range than we could have imagined. In a sense, our most thrilling sighting was in Ngorongoro Crater, where off in the distance, slowly rising from the high tawny grass were two long, dark shapes — identifiable only through strong binoculars or with a very long camera lens. Black rhinos, our guide told us, among the last in the country. We thrilled to see them and mourned what seemed like extinction in the not-too-distant future.

Two black rhinos in Tanzania's Ngorgoro Crater in 1997.
Two black rhinos in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater in 1997. The rhinos are in the center of the picture. The black shapes on the right are something else.

According to Save the Rhino, an international species conservation organization, “At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia; in 1970 there were 70,000; today, there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos  surviving in the wild. Between 1970 and 1992, large-scale poaching  caused a dramatic 96% collapse in numbers of the Critically Endangered  black rhino. 95% of all the rhinos in the world have now been killed.”

The organization believes that there are now 20,165 white rhinos and just 4,880 black rhinos in Africa. According to a chart compiled in late 2010, Namibia is home to some 1,750 of these rare animals, second only to South Africa. In the all of Tanzania, only 113 black rhinos remained. In fact, it boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and is the only country with an expanding population of free-roaming lions. That, to me is a signal to move Namibia way up on my bucket list.

Conservation: It’s the Law

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. After Independence in 1990, visionary conservationists in the field and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism enacted policies that allowed rural communities to benefit from wildlife by forming conservancies.  In 1998, the first four conservancies were registered. Today, 65 registered conservancies embrace one in four rural Namibians. A sense of ownership over wildlife and other resources is encouraging people to use their resources sustainably. Wildlife is now embraced as a complimentary land use method to agriculture and livestock herding. More than 40 percent of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management — national parks and reserves, communal and commercial conservancies, community forests and private nature reserves. Continue reading Namibia’s Black Rhinos in the Wild & in Preserves

Calculating Enviro Impact of Dive Travel

When you get your scuba certification — or at least when I got mine — you had to learn to calculate your dive profile (how long you could stay underwater, at what depth and how long you had to stay on the surface before your next dive). Now, with the broad recognition of global warming, the first small strokes have been made to mitigate the impact of travel itself to dive destinations.

Sustainable Travel International (STI), a US-based non-profit, has introduced what is thought to be the world’s first custom carbon dive calculator that determines the carbon emission costs incurred from air travel and diving activities on a diving vacation. Beautiful Oceans, which runs what it calls “eco-dive trips,” compensates on behalf of each guest by funding carbon offset projects. Like melting glaciers and fracturing ice shelves, coral reefs are bellwethers of climate change. Recreational divers and dive operators have observed, and coral reef scientists have confirmed, reef damage from rising ocean temperatures.

Scientists predict that a 2-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature will cause 8 percemt of the reefs globally to bleach. Ironically, divers who travel to see these reefs contribute significant carbon dioxide to the problem, due to air travel, dive boats, desalinated water and even air-conditioned hotels. In addition to being a progressive dive-tour operator, Beautiful Oceans is a coral reef education organization. Now, it is attempting to neutralize the impact of its eco-dive vacations through carbon offsetting. This is a first in the dive travel industry — and Beautiful Oceans is using the carbon calculator developed by STI and adapted by Ocean Frontiers.

It’s been several years since I have been underwater, but I am thrilled that someone is doing something to keep those reefs colorful for the next time I take the plunge.

Between a rock and a hard place

Writing from Santiago, a brief stop between the rock (the Torres del Paine, a trio of soaring granite towers in the eponymous national park, a designated World Biosphere Reserve, in Patagonia) and a hard place (Easter Island, with its monumental stone figures of mysterious creation). First Internet access in days, and perhaps the only computer I’ll touch for several days more.

We were welcomed to Patagonia with howling (and not atypical) winds that blow strongly from Antarctica each spring. The weather pattern has something to do with the seasonal break-up of the Antarctic ice shelf and how it affects winds. We traveled from Puerto Natales on mostly paved roads (being widened into a divided four-laner as far as Cerro Castillo) and then drove deep to the park along largely unpaved roads. In all, the area largely resembles central Nevada, with big valleys set against distant mountains and lots of grazing sheep in the foreground.

In the park, we stayed in an insulated, but unheated and unelectrified dome in Eco-Camp Patagonia just below the Towers themselves — simple accommodations and simply magnificent scenery, but not a lot of fun walking along boardwalks to the bathroom/shower tent in the wind.

The first day was spent riding between touch-and-go attractions: a fabulous waterfall just a short stroll from a parking area but a formidable walk beating against the wind, and a wild boat ride to pristine, triple-headed glacier at the head of head of a lake called Lago Grey. We donned lifejackets and walked to the end of a pier, where we boarded a small open craft that transported us over bouncing waves to the ‘Grey II,’ the tour boat.

For an hour, we motored into the wind and waves. Each wave crashed over the bow and the well-sealed windows. In the sheltered lee of the glacier, the boat stopped rocking and rolling long enough for the crew to serve pisco sours, allegedly made with glacial ice. One wit on the boat said, “If I ever want to recapture this experience, I’ll make myself a pisco sour and drive through the car wash.”

The following morning — our last full day in the park — we went on long hike for a close-up view of the iconic Torres del Paine themselves. Eleven miles, plus the 1.5 kilometers each way between the Eco-Camp and the trailhead. We walked down the hill from the Eco-Camp and crossed a broad meadow where the Hosteria Las Torres (campground and resort) is located. We crossed a bridge over the Rio Ascencio, whose valley we would follow for the next 6.2 kilometers (about 4 miles). This modest river carved an impressive canyon. The first part of the trail parallels the river but high up the canyon walls. Much of it is steep, and in parts are deep troughs from horses hooves.

After a while, the trail gentles in grade but drops into side valleys and ascends out of them. A bit past the half-way point, we reached the Albergo y Camping Chileno. This large European-style hut offers rustic accommodations and some food and beverage service. It is also as far as horses are permitted for people who don’t want to hike the whole way.

From the Albergo, the trail is generally closer to the river and passes through deep woods. It has more rises and falls until it reaches a clearing. The steep Accarreo Moraine ascends sharply to the left to a small lake offering the best in-your-face view of the towers. Anyone not interested in the final 1.5 kilometers (almost 1 mile) and 750 vertical feet on scree and talus, can follow a small trail to a funky ranger station. Beyond it is another viewpoint to see the towers.

The next morning, we left the Eco-Camp and drove all the way back to Punta Arenas. Park roads are not paved and hopefully will not be, but as noted above, the government is undertaking an ambitious road-widening project as far as a crossroads called Cerro Carillo, something of a gateway to Torres del Paine National Park and also to the nearby border with Argentina.