Balancing Protection and Tourism

EXAMPLES of a perfect balance between environmental protection, ecotourism, and a thriving local economy are truly rare in the world's wild places. But there are places that come close, and there are projects under way that could become models of harmony.What follows are two examples of programs finding some success, according to private and government groups in the United States and Latin America concerned with ecotourism issues: In Papua New Guinea, Trans Niugini Tours has created an ecotourism site on a 7,000-foot high ridge in a rain forest, the home of the Huli tribe in the Tari region. The area is known for spectacular waterfalls and rain-forest creatures. Ambua Lodge consists of the main lodge and 40 independent cabins down the ridge and through the nature trails. The government owns the land (which was not being used by the tribe) and Trans Niugini leases it. Construction of the lodges and cabins was done with local people using a combination of local techniques and Western technology. After construction, 50 local people were trained to be waiters, cooks, guides, and so forth. Villagers supply the lodge with fresh food and vegetables (before the lodge, food had to be imported). The gardening staff maintains a great variety of native shrubs and orchids on the grounds. Local people sell crafts and offer cultural activities to the ecotourists. At the base of the ridge is an environmental center that hosts visiting research specialists. Some villagers have created visitor huts on their own property and the tour company is making an effort to use them on treks. Northeast of Iquitos, Peru, Explorama Tours (in business for 26 years) has constructed and maintained three privately owned ecotourist lodges in the rain forest. The basis of success here is a strong commitment to the balance between the critical environmental needs of the rain forests, the local people, and the ecotourist. Explorama uses renewable resources in the lodge buildings (including solar energy), employs around 100 local inhabitants, provides them with educational and language experiences and a conservation ethic, and promotes them to responsible positions such as guides and lodge managers. Local schools have either been built by Explorama or supplied with school materials, and contact is made through the school with community people. The company also provides support to scientists, to research projects of the Smithsonian Institution, and has helped graduate students in their studies. In turn, the scientists have helped train guides or provided slides and drawings used for publicity by the company. Explorama co-sponsored an international rain forest workshop in March of this year.

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