AN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CMC) — The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has welcomed efforts being made to help the region conserve coral reefs.
The CHTA has joined forces with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to create, for the first time in the Caribbean, a guide to coral reef restoration designed specifically for the tourism sector.
It said healthy coral reefs are essential for the Caribbean tourism industry, which drives local economies and supports hundreds of thousands of livelihoods throughout the region.
“A Guide to Coral Reef Restoration for the Tourism Sector presents coral restoration best practices backed by scientific research, practitioner experience and stakeholder input. It addresses barriers that, up until now, have hindered the Caribbean tourism sector from substantively engaging in efforts to conserve the very marine environments that draw millions of visitors to the region each year,” the CHTA said.
The CHTA said that it also reveals key opportunities for the industry during a critical time when developing sustainable tourism practices not only helps to reverse years of degradation of Caribbean reefs, but also helps tourism-dependent businesses to survive and prosper after the economic fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
CHTA resident, Nicola Madden-Greig, believes now is a particularly important time for tourism to play a vital role in ocean conservation.
“Tourism in the Caribbean, and around the world, suffered a devastating downturn with the pandemic. But as the industry regains its footing, there is a key window of opportunity to attract a wider group of consumers and protect the resources tourism depends on by offering sustainable travel options and engaging in meaningful conservation,” Madden-Greig shared.
“This is where guidance from our conservation partners becomes pivotal. Many tourism businesses are adopting a sustainable approach and would like to actively contribute to coral conservation, but they don’t have the technical expertise. Or they completed a pilot reef restoration project but lack the capacity to scale up the work.
“As we continue to share scientific research and best practices, and to address the conservation challenges facing the tourism sector, CHTA and CAST aim to transform travel in the Caribbean, so it not only exists in harmony with our natural world but also benefits it,” she continued.
The three organisations, along with the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), which was founded in 1997 to assess the tourism industry’s readiness, needs and willingness to play a more proactive role in managing, protecting and improving coral reefs throughout the Caribbean, teamed up on the ground-breaking collaboration. The guide was developed following months of surveys and discussions with Caribbean tourism industry stakeholders.
“TNC, UNEP, CHTA and CAST developed these new guidelines because we recognised that the tourism sector has an excellent opportunity to amplify coral conservation,” said Ximena Escovar-Fadul, TNC’s Senior Associate, Ocean Planning and Mapping.
“In response to the coral reef crisis, there has been a shift on the part of tourism businesses and consumers toward more sustainable travel options. Beyond this ‘do no harm’ mind-set, there is an increasing interest in travel activities that can proactively help nature. For example, travellers want to know how they can offset their carbon emissions or take part in restoring the environments that bring them joy when visiting a destination, like coral reefs.”
Coral reefs support economic stability and human well-being across the globe, but the link between these ecosystems and communities is especially significant, and facing grave risk, in the Caribbean today. Half of all livelihoods in the region depend on marine resources.
“Coral reefs and the important ecosystem services they provide are critical for economies and communities throughout the wider Caribbean. They generate more than US$8 billion per year for the tourism industry, but they are under serious threat. It is estimated that over half of the live coral in the region has been lost in the last 50 years,” said Ileana Lopez, regional coordinator of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at UNEP’s office for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The restoration of degraded coral reef ecosystems is only possible when political and financial support, scientific innovation and active participation of local stakeholders is combined.”
In recent years, TNC and its partners have pioneered research to reveal the important connection between tourism and ocean resources and to elevate the ways in which effective conservation can ensure this relationship is productive and sustainable into the future.
A study led by TNC revealed that reef-associated tourism in the Caribbean generates eight billion US dollars annually, nearly 25 per cent of all tourism expenditure from over 11 million visitors.
TNC’s Mapping Ocean Wealth project, which quantified the tourism value of the world’s reefs to mobilise investments in conservation, was recognised as a “world-changing tourism initiative” by winning the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Innovation Award. Building on this momentum, TNC and the CHTA forged a partnership to work with tourism leaders throughout the Caribbean in their efforts to ensure a healthy and thriving ocean.
“Our growing alliance with the tourism sector is key to our mission in the Caribbean,” says Dr Rob Brumbaugh, executive director of TNC’s Caribbean Division.
“Because tourism in the region depends on a thriving natural world, there is a strong economic incentive to support conservation. But, beyond that, one thing we learned when creating these new guidelines is that many tourism leaders simply want to ‘give back’ to nature and know that consumers do as well.
“So, the industry can be a powerful ally in our work and, in fact, has great capacity to accelerate coral conservation. Tourism businesses often have facilities near reef sites that can host restoration projects; nature enthusiasts on staff, like dive instructors, who can serve as ‘conservation ambassadors’; communications tools, like airport signage, that reach millions of people; and relationships with local governments and communities that can garner support for sustainable ocean use.”