EASY ECOTOURISM TIPS: 10 Simple Steps To More Sustainable Travel

Whether you call it ecotourism, green travel, responsible travel, nature travel or ethical travel, the ethos oftraveling more sustainably is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the tourism industry. But if people seem to have a difficult time figuring out which name to call the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” approach, they seem to have an even harder time figuring out practical ways to do it.

The truth is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to become a more eco-friendly traveler. In fact, becoming more conscious about HOW you travel can actually save you money. Better still, when responsibly applied, the principle ideals of ecotourism can stimulate financial growth in developing nations, strengthening the global economy.

Individually, one person taking these baby steps to going green might not seem to make much of an impact. But if we all take simple strides towards being more conscious of our impact in the planet, collectively we can make a world of difference. Here are 10 easy ecotourism tips so you can travel more responsibly and sustainably, not just for Earth Day but for every day!

1. PACK LIGHT- Lightening up your load saves money on baggage fees and increases plane fuel-efficiency. Pack items that can be washed in the sink and are quick drying so they can be worn multiple times during your trip. We recommend (but do not receive compensation from) the ExOfficio brand, and wear it everywhere we travel.

2. SAVE WATER- Take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while shaving and brushing your teeth, and re-use towels for multiple days. And NEVER use the hotel laundry, as they typically wash each guest’s clothes separately, even if there are only a few items.

3. SAVE ENERGY- When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights, heat/AC and TV. Consider leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so that the housekeeping staff won’t clean your room every day, which will save on harsh chemical cleaning supplies and the electricity of vacuuming and washing bed linens.

4. REDUCE/REUSE/RECYCLE- Take a BPA-free water bottle you can refill, use just one bar of soap for both sink and shower, return brochures and maps once you’re finished using them, and hold on to your trash until you find a place to recycle it.

5. BUY LOCAL- Seek out indigenous artisans and learn about their craft. When we were in the Riviera Mayanear Coba, we saw tons of assembly line art, but wound up buying from a man who taught local children and tourists the ancient craft of Mayan pottery and distributed profits equally among families in his village.

6. LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS- Stick to marked trails to avoid harming native flora, and consider taking a bag to pick up trash along your journey. Not only is it a great way to help keep the outdoors beautiful, but it also protects wildlife that might eat or get tangled in the garbage.

7. BE A TRAVELER, NOT A TOURIST- Take time to immerse yourself in the local music, art and cuisine. Embrace the cultural differences that make it unique. Get to know the locals and how they view life. You might be surprised at the things you learn when you open your mind to new ideas!

8. HONOR LOCAL TRADITIONS- Some cultures have very different traditions from yours. Women are forbidden to show skin in some Muslim countries. For some, being photographed in like having your soul stolen. Understand and respect these traditions, or risk offending the people whose culture you’re there to experience.

9. GIVE BACK- Developing nations are badly in need of basic necessities most people take for granted. Traveling gives you a unique experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. In return, consider giving something back, such as bringing school supplies on tours in which you know you’ll interact with locals.

10. SHOP SMARTER- Read labels, and ask questions like “What is this item made from?” All over the planet people sell items made from non-sustainable hardwoods, endangered species, and ancient artifacts. It may be alright in their country to sell them, but you can still vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them.

About Green Global Travel

Green Global Travel is an ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation & cultural preservation website focused on inspiring people to travel more adventurously, consciously and sustainably. Co-founded by veteran journalist Bret Love and photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, the site has been named Best Specialist Travel Blog and has been highlighted among the best travel writing on the web numerous times by National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel. We’ve also been featured by BBC News, the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NPR and Today. We are also co-founders of Green Travel Media, which utilizes a talented group of experienced media professionals– journalists, editors, travel bloggers, photographers, videographers, marketers and social media experts– united to provide a powerful platform for promoting eco-conscious brands on a mass scale.

Adventures with The Awesome Lady, Fiji

Vinaka Fiji’s volunteering programme educates and inspires in a beautifully symbiotic relationship between volunteers and locals in the remote Yasawa Islands, Fiji. Angie Aspinall finds out more.

The word ‘awesome’ is somewhat over-used but, every now and then, it is the most appropriate word to use to sum up a person or a situation. Take ‘The Awesome Lady’ from Fiji: if ever there was someone to inspire awe, it has to be Elle. Elenoa Nimacere is a truly awesome lady.

She was instrumental in assisting the owners to set up Awesome Adventures Fiji in 2002, offering independent travellers access to some of the most beautiful, remote places in the Fijian Islands but, her contribution to tourism and the local people of Yasawa doesn’t stop there. This inspirational woman is leading projects in sustainability, public health, housing, education and in securing solar power and clean water for the villages of the islands. She manages so many projects, it would make the average person’s head spin.

I was fortunate enough to meet Elle whilst on a Blue Lagoon Cruise. The cruise company is a partner of Vinaka Fiji – The Yasawa Trust Foundation and there’s a genuine ambition to introduce visitors to the real Fiji, whilst also giving them opportunities to help tackle poverty.

Blue Lagoon Cruises has had a partnership with the people of the Yasawas, since the business was established in 1950. And, in 2010, The Yasawa Trust Foundation and the Vinaka Fiji Volunteer program were established as a way of saying thank you (‘vinaka’) for the pleasure the people of the Yasawas have brought to so many people’s lives in sharing their beautiful islands with visitors.

The aim of the Trust is to improve the provision of basic needs, taken for granted in modern society, yet lacking from life in the villages. The volunteer programmes cover areas of education, sustainable communities and marine conservation and guests on the cruises are given a brief taster of some of the work of the Foundation and its volunteers.

Elle showed us round Yasawa High school and primary school and told us about her vision for a new library block, her dream to introduce computers into the school and her ambition to create a space for one-to-one tuition for pupils with extra needs.

There are over one hundred primary school aged children from the five islands on the village. They travel to school by boat every day – one boat serves the three villages on one side of the island and another services the remaining two. The high school students – also over a hundred of them – come from further afield and they board at the school from the age of fourteen.

And whilst the entrance to the school is from a pristine white coral sand beach, and the walk to the classrooms is between two lush green sports fields, looks can be deceptive: in this idyllic setting is a woefully under-resourced school in need of investment. And this is why Blue Lagoon Cruises brings visitors every Thursday throughout the season; as with the visitors comes the much-needed resources – pens, pencils, reading books, sports equipment and generous donations.

On some tours, such cultural visits can make visitors feel uncomfortable as though they are on some kind of ‘human safari’ with all the discomfort that voyeurism of the lives of people less well off than you can bring. Thanks to Vinaka Fiji and the nature of their enduring partnership with Blue Lagoon Cruises, this was not the case. Elle explained that there was genuine excitement amongst the pupils each Thursday – Visitors’ Day. (They don’t call us ‘tourists’ but ‘visitors’ and I think the distinction was felt in both sides.)

Visitors’ Day is an opportunity for the school to welcome visitors from all over the world and for the pupils to meet with us, chatting informally in small groups or one-on-one, learning about where we come from and practising their English. On our cruise there were people from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and Croatia. That’s quite some melting pot of cultures with a wide variety of accents for the children to experience.

We were invited to wander round the school and speak to pupils and teachers. Some pupils positively encouraged interaction with beaming smiles and greetings of ‘Bula’ (hello). Others quietly got on with their studies. Much of the learning in the high school is self-managed study, something we don’t often see in the UK until college. The maturity and the confidence of the pupils was astounding: it was a humbling experience.

I met a group of boys of about eight or nine who were having extra tuition in English. One read to me shyly from his reading book. He was word perfect. Another (Jim) was keen to write his name for me and for me to write mine and those of my mother and father.

In the high school, where students board from ages 14 to 17, I met a girl in the middle of her history lesson. She told me that when she leaves school she’d like to be an air stewardess and that the place she’d most like to visit was New Zealand. Other students may take vocational lessons in agriculture and farming. They are involved in another of The Awesome Lady’s projects – sustainable food production.

Elle arranged for us to visit the community gardening project a short boat ride away at a nearby village where the Chief and the farm manager greeted us and led us through the village, past an array of colourful shacks and more comfortable-looking bungalows, (with even more colourful washing billowing in the breeze) to one of the two agricultural projects.

Our tour was of the garden tended by the local community. The village Elders had given the land to the community for food production. All 72 men in the village participated in clearing the undergrowth beneath the coconut palms and other trees and they planted crops of cassava, beans and aubergines. The women’s role is to fetch the water: this is no mean feat – which is why Elle is on a mission to find them a water tank to make tending the plants easier.

The Chief then led us to the greenhouse. In the same way that their plot is not like ours back home in the UK, neither is their greenhouse. Unlike ours, which is made of glass to keep in the heat, theirs is covered in fine green mesh to provide shade to tender seedlings. The staging for the seedlings was just the same: unmistakable to any gardener back home in the UK.

Our hosts were as keen to learn about our growing and foraging experiences as we were to learn about theirs. It’s obvious that they see every new meeting as a possibility for new ideas, contacts and support. And this is why Bula Maleya (the welcome song) sung from the shore by the pupils of Yasawa high school was such a warm and friendly greeting. They are genuinely excited to meet visitors (and some of our fellow passengers were on their third and fourth visits) – and why the Head Teacher and The Awesome Lady are always keen to meet new people.

Vinaka Fiji invites volunteers to share the magic of Fiji whilst helping the people of the remote villages of the Yasawa Islands. Their volunteer programmes cover key areas of need, from helping children learn, to planting crops, installing water tanks or working in baby clam nurseries. Programme length is flexible from 1 to 26 weeks, and the range of opportunities to help means there is something for everyone.

If a holiday in Fiji, combined with the opportunity to become more involved in the island life of the Yasawas, to genuinely ‘give back’ and lend a helping hand, and to make a difference through your travel sounds like a good idea to you, then Vinaka Fiji Volunteering will be a highlight of your travel experiences.

Further information To find out more visit www.vinakafiji.org.fj/volunteer-programmes. To donate online, please visit: http://www.vinakafiji.org.fj/donations. You can support projects in each of these areas: creating sustainable communities, education and marine conservation. Please note: Awesome Adventures Fiji is now a trading brand of South Sea Cruises, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fijian Holdings Ltd. Awesome Adventures Fiji is managed in conjunction with Marine Tourism Management, who also manage: South Sea Cruises, Blue Lagoon Cruises and Coconuts and Coral in Fiji.

About the author Angie Aspinall is a freelance journalist and travel writer living in the UK. Like her husband, fellow journalist and professional underwater photographer, Richard Aspinall, she is a member of The International Ecotourism Society. Angie is interested in sustainable tourism, agrotourism and different food cultures. She writes for a range of travel websites and has been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2014 in the Travel category. You can follow her on Twitter or visit the Aspinall Ink website and Facebook page.

A Typical Day at Pura Vida House

A typical day of vacation in Costa Rica for our non-tennis or golf playing friends starts just like most; sunlight and crowing roosters, followed by the growls of howler monkeys off in the distance, and then chiming song birds fill your room. The morning symphony, we call it here at Pura Vida House in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

To start your morning, you’ll head out to the terrace for breakfast with the group. Plantains, gallo pinto (a typical dish of rice and beans; fuel for a day full of activity), eggs, fresh fruits and juices. All prepared by Pastora with organic food from her garden or local farmer’s markets. And of course, Costa Rican coffee.

This morning you’re off on a horseback ride with Papun, our local cowboy. He will take you through dry riverbeds around Pura Vida House in Paso Hondo (or not so dry, depending on the time of year!), pointing out all sorts of flora and fauna as you go. Papun doesn’t speak English, but don’t worry, he finds a way to teach and shows you a lot on your ride. He’s also great with experienced or inexperienced riders!

Next, it’s off to the beach, Playa Tamarindo for a surf lesson. Again, you don’t have to worry, no experience necessary! Then lunch at a local soda, a very typical type of local restaurant in Costa Rica. Everything is fresh and local, and they have great prices! A typical dish here is called a casado, or “marriage.” It’s a plate full of rice, beans, salad, a meat or vegetable, a plantain, and sometimes other surprises like an egg or cheese. We call these places, “bueno, bonito, barato,” or, “good, pretty, cheap.”

By this point you’re pretty tired out; it’s hot and you’ve been active all day. And to top it off, you’re stuffed full of typical Costa Rican fare. Off to Playa Langosta for some R&R in the shade or some reading. Here there are private lounge chairs and plenty of shade to relax during this hottest part of the day. Possibly a walk on the beach and a quick dip after. Then head over to the nearby lagoon for some late afternoon bird watching – roseate spoonbills, tiger herons, black necked stilts, and an armadillo will be today’s findings.

To end the day, you’ll head back home for a much needed shower and a glass of wine on the terrace to unwind before dinner. Pastora is back and has prepared some fresh corvina fish with salad, steamed vegetables and some rice. To drink, a typical Latin American horchata with cinnamon and milk. Everything is grown or caught within a few miles of Pura Vida House, except the rice that comes from a bit further south.

A great day has come to a close in Costa Rican paradise. But it’s time to get to sleep, tomorrow holds just as much nature and action and you’ll need your rest!

Digging Deep into Vietnamese History at the Cu Chi Tunnels

Curtis Le May must be forever spinning in his grave. He probably deserves to be. He was the US general under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who threatened to bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age. Nice guy. And he gave it a good try. Seven million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – more than twice the amount of explosives dropped on Europe and Asia in the Second World War.

But amazingly, it didn’t work. Not only did the Vietnamese stubbornly fail to be destroyed, they won the war. How on earth could a relatively small, poor, underdeveloped country defy the might of the most powerful nation on earth and send them packing?

Ten minutes spent exploring the tunnels at Cu Chi about 40 miles from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) reveals the answer. The Vietnamese started digging the tunnels in the 1940s and at their peak in the 60s, they covered hundreds of kilometres, at one point stretching from HCMC nearly to the Cambodia border.

In the Tunnels

Now, one section of the tunnels is a tourist attraction. You could dismiss it as turning the horror of war into little more than a theme park. And there is a cafe, a souvenir shop where you can buy Vietcong hats and scarves and figures fashioned out of bullets. You can even have a go at firing an AK47.

But it’s much more than that. You could see it as offering a unique insight into how one of the most bloody, devastating and ultimately pointless wars in human history was won and lost. And the tunnels also shine a light on the Vietnamese character.

They were carved out of the dense clay by men and women with the most primitive tools, little more than tin plates and scoops, in the most difficult and terrifying circumstances. You can only guess how tough and determined they must have been.

The tunnels didn’t just cover huge distances. They were on three levels and level three, metres deep into the earth, was where they took cover when the American B52s were dropping ton upon ton of explosive. It’s where they waited when the tanks rumbled through the undergrowth in a futile search for the enemy.

Down in the tunnels were communications rooms, field hospitals, kitchens, and workshops where they turned captured American weaponry and unexploded bombs into the most vicious and effective booby traps.

It all points up the absurdity of the Rambo-style image of the Vietcong as jabbering barbarians being mowed down by the dozen by an American warrior with a bad-ass bandana round his head.

So what’s it like in the tunnels? Helpfully they’ve enlarged some of the entrances so western tourists can get some way down to get a glimpse of the overpoweringly claustrophobic blackness. Some of the entrances have been left as they were – less than a foot square and invisible when covered with a layer of dirt and leaves. The only way in is to slither down feet first, arms straight up. Your shoulders would get stuck otherwise.

In the tunnel it’s impossible to turn around. You have to crawl on hands and knees and even so, the space is only just big enough. Two feet in and the light from the entrance is a pinprick in the blackness. The small flashlight they lent me highlighted the shadows which, if anything, made it seem even more terrifying.

Someone had come down behind me. “What can you see?” She had no torch. The dim beam of light picked out a bat dangling from the roof of the tunnel, stirring, no more than two feet from my face. There was another, also stirring. “Er…rabies?” said my companion, impressively calmly.

But I wanted out, and it’s only when you suddenly want to escape that you realise how oppressive the constricted space really is. The half-panicked scramble back to daylight leaves you with a deep sense of respect for the people that dug and lived in these tunnels.

Topside the shooting range and gift shop gives it a touristy, theme park feel. But down in the tunnels you realise you have come face to face with something serious and important. A visit to Cu Chi is a valuable insight into the insanity that took place here just 50 years ago, and the tenacity of the people who weathered the storm.

Back in Ho Chi Minh City it was hard to relate modern Vietnamese life with the terror and hardship that the people had endured so recently.

That evening we sat on the street, munching barbequed meat while the traffic raced by. Our server, bemused by our presence at his humble stall, was eager to figure out where we were from and what on earth we were doing here. “England! America!” he beamed as we told him our respective nationalities, humbling us yet again with a profound sense of respect for the people that could withstand and then bounce back from such a traumatic experience.

Visiting Cu Chi

You can easily visit Cu Chi on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Tours can be booked anywhere in Pham Ngu Lao, the main backpacker area. Sinh Tourist is a reliable operator. You can also arrange for a private car to drive you directly, expect to pay around 150,000 Vietnam Dong (USD$7) per passenger. Entrance at the Cu Chi complex costs 90,000 VND, once you get inside there are English-speaking guides to show you around (free, but tips are appreciated). Many tours to Vietnam include Cu Chi in their itinerary; check with a tour operator such as Tucan Travel, who organise group adventure tours to Vietnam.

Conserving Indian Wildlife: Protecting the Future & Preserving the Past

Try to envision a world without wildlife. Due to the number of animals becoming endangered because of killings, trading, loss of habitat, deforestation and disease, chances are this thought may turn into a reality. However, thanks to concrete steps undertaken by governmental bodies and various individual organizations, it has also become a possibility, like never before, to conserve wildlife and prevent mass extinction.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts in India

India is an enchanting country profuse with wildlife. With so many species of flora and fauna, it becomes imperative to protect endangered wildlife as this is the heritage of this incredible country. Not only does the diversity of wildlife enhance the natural splendor of nature, but if it becomes extinct, will be a great loss to India as they also play an important role in supporting its living systems.

The government and various NGO’s have devised various strategies and started many projects to shield endangered species:

  • Project Tiger: The population of the tiger is certainly shrinking all over the world and with an objective to prevent the tigers from extinction; ‘Project Tiger’ was launched by the Indian government in the year 1973. The main idea behind launching such a project was to create the wildlife reserves in the various parts of the country where the tigers can be protected from the hunters and their numbers could be increased through breeding.
  • Project Elephant: The numbers of the Asian elephant are decreasing alarmingly and taking this situation into the account, the Government of India and Ministry of Environment and Forests started ‘Project Elephant’ in the year 1992. The main objective of initiating this project is to offer the necessary technical and monetary help to the various states to protect and increase the population of the elephants.
  • Wildlife Protection Act: The Wildlife Protection Act was formulated in the year 1972 and restricted hunting of the animals in the protected areas.

Creating National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries

Over the years, the government has created wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India to conserve wildlife. The parks contain different species of flora and fauna that captivates the attention of the people. Some of the parks contain fencing that prevents poachers from entering and hunting the animals. Many tourists throng the sanctuaries to witness the wildlife playing and roaming freely without any fear. Some of the well-known parks and sanctuaries are as follows:

  • Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
  • Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
  • Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
  • Kaziranga National Park, Assam
  • Corbett National Park, Uttar Pradesh
  • Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala

Therefore, best steps and plans must be employed to protect every species so that the next generation of Indians can cherish the natural heritage of their country in all its enchanting glory.

About the Author

Anshul is a wildlife enthusiast and blogger who likes to travel to different national parks and wildlife sanctuaries all over the globe.

A Billion Baby Turtles

If you’ve watched Animal Planet you know that odds are generally working against sea turtles.

From the moment an egg is deposited in a sandy nest on a tropical beach, to the first time a baby turtle touches the sea, to decades later when she returns as an adult to lay her own eggs on very same beach, life is an endless series of life-and-death challenges for a sea turtle.

Nature is stacked against survival, which is why a mother turtle lays thousands of eggs during her lifetime in order to simply replace herself. Predators include dozens of species of crabs, beetles, ants, birds, fish, and sharks. Jaguars, pigs, wild dogs, and raccoons are even on the list of turtle eaters.

For millions of years, sea turtles handled it all just fine.

Yet, when you add modern humans to the mix, the balance suddenly tipped towards oblivion. Over the past century all seven species of sea turtle and their eggs have been hunted, carved, and eaten to the point that many populations are considered vulnerable to extinction. Getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and on hooks just adds to their woes. Throw in plastic pollution, boat collisions, and runaway coastal development on their nesting beaches and you’ve got a situation requiring intervention on a global scale.

But this isn’t a bad news story. That’s because over the past several decades a massive global network of sea turtle scientists, advocates, conservationists, and even lawyers has evolved to work day and night to bring them back. These heroes have been literally working around the clock, saving one egg-—one baby turtle-—at a time. At other times they’ll invest months to rehabilitate a single adult animal before returning it to the ocean. Every turtle released into the ocean is a moment of joy for everyone involved. It never gets old.

Think about it—while you sleep tonight, thousands of scientists, technicians and volunteers are saving sea turtles on the beaches of the world.

These projects are run on “Turtle Time.” Slow, steady, and tenacious wins the race. It takes as long as twenty-five years for a turtle to reach maturity, and return on that turtle-y kind of investment can come slowly.

Turtle people are above all patient and hard working. Many projects have been steadily protecting turtles for more than thirty years. Their work is paying off. Some turtle populations are now on the rise after nose-diving to near extinction before that.

The Black Sea Turtle Project in Michoacan, Mexico celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year and is experiencing its best season since its inception after watching the numbers of nesting female turtles bounce along the bottom of the graph for a decade.

Its sister project, Grupo Tortuguero, working to safeguard black turtles in feeding grounds a thousand miles away in Baja, is turning fifteen in January.

Turtle hunters and poachers in Mexico have had a change of heart and are now turtle protectors and guides. Everyone reports seeing more sea turtles in the ocean and on the beaches.

Now is not the time to let up, though. To get sea turtles back to their former abundance and to restore their ecological role in the ocean this is just half time.

We know exactly what to do. We just need to continue to execute the game plan.

Along with my friends Brad Nahill at SEEtheWILD and Fabien Cousteau at Plant a Fish, we came up with the idea of the Billion Baby Turtles, an initiative to help support groups working on the sea turtle front lines. To make a million more adult turtles we need a billion more baby turtles. It’s a one in a thousand situation out there, roughly speaking.

By creatively connecting individuals and small businesses with grassroots projects working to increase sea turtle production, we are helping overcome donor fatigue, burn out, and other second half challenges.

In the coming years we will collaborate widely to further expand the global sea turtle tribe, widen the base of donors through micro-philanthropy, and throw our support behind the men and women working for turtles on the front lines in their coastal communities around the world.

Forty years ago sea turtle pioneer, Dr. Archie Carr, described what it would take to save sea turtles.

“In the long run, marine turtles, like the seas themselves, will be saved only by wholehearted international cooperation at the government level. While waiting for it to materialize, the critical tactical needs seem to me to be three in number: more sanctuaries, more research, and a concerted effort by all impractical, visionary, starry-eyed, and anti-progressive organizations, all little old ladies in tennis shoes, and all persons able to see beyond the ends of their noses…”

That is almost legendary substance.

While high-level official negotiations continue, and the large agencies and organizations fight for pro-ocean and pro-turtle policies, why don’t we all do our small part for sea turtles?

A billion baby sea turtles?

Yes.

Why don’t YOU lead one to the water?

Dead or Alive: The Promise of Tourism For Shark Conservation

When many people hear the words “shark” and “tourism” in the same sentence, the first thing they think of is how to avoid them. Unfortunately these people are missing the opportunity to witness and learn about one of nature’s truly astounding creatures. While shark attacks are real and many movies and media outlets capitalize on this fear (see Discovery Shark Week), there are common sense ways to avoid danger and have a great experience while contributing to shark conservation efforts.

The Real Predator

According to the conservation group Oceana, an average of 4 people per year were killed by sharks and only 3 fatal attacks in the US from 2006 – 2010 (out of 179 total). Beachgoers are more than 3 times more likely to drown than to die from a shark attack. Compare that to the more than 25 million sharks killed by humans each year, and it becomes clear who is more dangerous.

Sharks, as top predators, are critically important to the health of the ocean. One of the biggest issues why many shark species are endangered is due to the international trade in shark fins, used as a delicacy in shark fin soup, consumed primarily in Asia. According to Shark Advocates International, they are also valued for their meat, hides, teeth, and livers. Due to the facts that sharks grow slowly, take a long time to reproduce, and give birth to small numbers of offspring, these fish are especially susceptible to human threats.

Tourism As A Conservation Tool

One strategy to help protect and research sharks that is gaining popularity is ecotourism. A recent study of sharks around Costa Rica’s Cocos Island estimated the value of a hammerhead shark to tourism at US $1.6 million each, compared to just under $200 it could bring if sold. A 2011 study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science had an even more dramatic difference, estimating a lifetime value of nearly US $2 million dollars for a reef shark in Palau vs. only $108 for sale in a fish market. Governments are starting to take notice of this economic value; countries including Australia, Palau, and the Cook Islands have recently created large new marine protected areas to protect sharks and other ocean life.

While diving to see sharks has its abstract value, many tour operators and volunteer organizations are taking advantage of shark tourism to directly benefit conservation. SEEtheWILD partner Sea Turtle Restoration Project has a unique trip for divers to the Cocos Island where people can help to tag hammerheads as part of a research program. In Belize, Earthwatch Institute has a volunteer program to study shark populations and the value of marine protected areas.

Another way that travelers can support shark research is by participating in the Whale Shark Photo ID Library. Anyone with underwater photos of whale sharks can upload them to this website for identification, helping to build this important resource for conservation efforts. Finally, some shark trips generate donations for conservation efforts, including this whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres (Mexico).

Playing it Safe

For those who get sweaty at the mention of sharks, there are many ways to keep yourself safe when in the water with sharks. The easiest way to do that is to swim with the least threatening of sharks, the whale sharks. Though these giant fish can be 40 feet long and weigh 20 tons, they don’t have teeth and are not aggressive to humans. Also, by remaining calm around sharks and keeping your distance, you can minimize the risk of being around these fascinating creatures. If you are diving or snorkeling in areas where sharks live, ask your guide about what to expect and what species to look out for.