I have been talking to a lot of tourists recently and my eyes truly are opening. For a few years I have been more conscious of my environmental and ethical impact on this world, I therefore have strong feelings when I travel and witness activities driven by locals and tourists. It seems tourists are so determined to see an animal they are more than happy to invade its personal space and jeopardise its safety and locals desire the best opportunity to earn a tip (I have asked locals and this was their response). I, myself, adore witnessing wildlife in its true habit. Yes, your chances of seeing said wildlife is cut but it’s so meaningful to see a shark catching its own meal not fighting for chum on the surface or watching bears hunt for salmon along the edge of a ferocious river not licking peanut butter off of a tree.
I write this looking at my trip thus far through Mexico and Belize yet this is rife in many more locations. Caye Caulker. An island paradise forty-five minutes from Belize City. Alongside the chilled vibe, Caribbean cuisine and rum are excursions for snorkelling and diving. Large groups snorkel with what seems little concern of sustainability or environmental impact. Plastic bags of water are handed out rather than a gallon water tank to share, lunch is thrown into the ocean instead of responsible disposal and chum is used to lure any and all marine life. To sell the tour companies offer a meal in the evening of the days catch. One operator told me you can have as much as you would like to eat; two, three lobsters that’s fine. This greed makes sense when you see the lobsters. Juvenile lobsters there to keep the population going are whisked out of the water and thrown on a plate, I see little future for some of the marine species with the local’s current practices. Inexperienced tourists and careless guides result in corals being stood on and broken so a new reef will need to be discovered for this less than eco-friendly tourist trap in future.
Which turns us to scuba diving. I have to note after taking quite some time I was able to find some reasonably responsible dive shops, much more concerned about the reefs than their snorkelling counterparts. Yet there are still operators looking for the extra buck rather than the future of their industry and the beauty of their country. Stroking of sharks and feeding of turtles is advertised (tourists are just as bad, I see the majority or divers attempting to touch animals, you gain nothing from this), again bags of water offered and a large amount of washing up liquid used for the cleaning of equipment and defogging of masks. Perhaps the most annoying aspect for me, the buoyancy control. Certain areas of the world for example Thailand and Utila have bad reputations in the dive community and rightly so. These places there to pick up a cheap dive card, churn out inexperienced divers that learn little about safety, responsibility and most annoyingly buoyancy, ripping through coral and reef. Stricter standards need to be in place globally, I believe that dive training is systematically floored, you should be in training until you are ready to dive with skill and respect.
To conclude, we seem to be heading in the wrong direction. Our tourism is having a detrimental impact on some precious ecosystems. This can be fixed by tour operators or tourists yet it seems the easiest option is for wildlife agencies to step in. If the fishing agency in Caye Caulker for example were to ban the use of chum to attract sharks or limit the amount of times you can visit the reef we will be able to share these natural beauties for much longer, perhaps forever (please note, this is not an article about Caye Caulker, this just happens to be my freshest memory).