Worries over ecotourism on the rise

Ecotourism and its more profit-centric cousin nature tourism make up about 20 percent of international tourist travel. These two sectors are growing by 10 to 30 percent a year, and generate hundreds of billions of dollars — money that often helps the ecosystems being toured, not to mention local economies. Still, some folks are raising red flags, saying that the flood of putatively fauna-friendly gawkers is doing damage to said fauna. Whale-watching boats strike whales; dolphin tours keep dolphins from getting enough rest; tundra vehicles put polar bears on alarm, preventing them from storing sufficient fat during hibernation; and so on. “You can find more than a few instances in which people are just loving these animals to death,” says Martha Honey of the International Ecotourism Society. While no one’s proposing a ban, enviros are calling for standardization and enforcement of the patchwork of green certification programs for ecotourism.