Ecotourism Is Growing And Getting Greener Along the Trail
Ecuador has a model of how this popular adventure should be
If saving the world's tropical forests sounds like an impossible task, take a look at how they're doing it at Maquipucuna in Ecuador.Skip to next paragraph
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In a country where tourism has long been a leading - yet not always nature-friendly industry - Maquipucuna is emerging as a model of what ecotourism in its purist sense is meant to be.
What makes Maquipucuna's program so strong, according to Henry Tepper, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Nature Conservancy, is that it employs local people, is generating income and building support for conservation, and is done with minimal environmental impact.
Located in the northwestern mountains of Ecuador, Maquipucuna is a nature reserve of more than 10,000 acres of cloud forest - an elevated, often cloud-covered tropical forest.
Rich in a wide variety of animals and plants - particularly epiphytes (plants which grow on other plants) - this forest is connected to a region considered one of the 10 most biologically diverse "hot spots" in the world.
But it is also one of the world's most endangered regions. All around Maquipucuna, timber cutting, farming, cattle grazing, and charcoal production are causing the forest to disappear rapidly.
Last year, in an effort to strengthen protection for this cloud forest, Maquipucuna, which is managed by the nonprofit Maquipucuna Foundation, opened to tourists. Since then, according to reserve director Abigail Rome, Maquipucuna has welcomed hundreds of students, scientists, and vacationers from around the world.
Last spring, Brian Brown, an entomologist and assistant curator of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Country, spent four days at Maquipucuna doing what he loves - searching for undiscovered species of flies that are parasites of ants.
While Mr. Brown used to travel to other sites in Ecuador, he and his colleagues now go to Maquipucuna, since it has the large forest necessary for successful research. "There is so much we still don't know about tropical forests," Brown says.
But is ecotourism a good way to protect them? "Absolutely," he responds.
Though nature-oriented tourism is far from new, ecotourism is a concept born and defined in only the past five years.
More and more countries are looking at ecotourism - acknowledged as the hottest part of the tourism industry, (which in the last decade has become the largest industry in the world) - as a means of both resource conservation and economic development. This is particularly true in cash-poor countries such as Ecuador where tropical forests and other natural areas are threatened.
While Ecuador is probably best known for places such as the Galapagos Islands, which many people say have been overwhelmed by unmanageable tourism, this may be changing.
According to Megan Epler Wood, executive director of the Ecotourism Society, groups such as the Ecuadorean Ecotourism Association have begun taking a strong stand in ensuring that ecotourism operations remain truly friendly to the environment.
To ecotravelers and conservationists such as Harold Janeway, this is very important. What impressed him so much about his recent Maquipucuna trip, was the feeling after he had left, that he had "had not done any harm."
Mr. Janeway tells of savoring Ecuadorean cuisine while sitting by a rushing river, looking at rare hummingbirds and 50-foot ferns, and hiking with a local guide who tracked forest creatures.