Photo Story: Twelve Scenes from Patagonia’s Most Threatened Terrain

Aysén is Chile’s third-largest region, about the size of Tennessee, and the most sparsely populated. It’s among the most remote and undisturbed areas of Patagonia, and could be changed forever by the largest hydroelectric project in the history of Chile. This is not just another forest. This is the largest river in Chile. These are among the most powerful rapids on the planet. These are the wildest and most pristine rivers within the wildest and most pristine area left on earth.

If the five proposed dams are built along the Baker and Pascua rivers, about 15,000 acres of these Patagonian lands will be underwater, gone. A 400-foot-wide swath will be cut across 1,500 miles – equal to the west coast of the United States. The 200-foot-tall transmission lines will bisect 64 communities and 14 protected areas. Once in place, the transmission lines will provide incentive to build even more dams to produce greater energy at lower cost.

There are a lot of numbers involved in this discussion. But the most telling evidence is seen in pictures like these twelve scenes below, courtesy of iLCP (The International League of Conservation Photographers), taken for their RAVE campaign to show just what will be lost forever if the dams are built.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
1. The site of the headwaters of the Rio Pascua where 3 dams are proposed. Before the rapids, the river widens, framing a lake with a view of Mt. Krueger and the Genelas (Twin) peaks in the distance. A tiny tributary winds its way toward the Kreuger range and the main stem of the rive

Juan Jose Soto (age 4) playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins
2. Juan Jose Soto, age 4, playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins. The dams will flood the entire area, and the spot where Juan is playing will be lost.

Flamingos
3. These flamingos native to the Chilean Aysén region are among the many species threatened by the dams’ impending presence. P

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
4. The last remaining Gaucho, Erasmus Betancur ‘Beta’ Casanova, and his family herd the sheep and cattle that feed the staff at what was once one of the largest ranches in Chilean Patagonia. It’s now becoming the new Patagonia National Park, the creation of which involves removing fences and most of the animals from the property to allow these grasslands to heal. With an influx of tourists and employees of the dam, Beta’s waning future seems clear.

Rio Pascua headwaters
5. At these headwaters of Rio Pascua, lanky Cohiue trees hang over the gorge.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
6. Here in the tiny town of Tortel, residents can cut the remaining cypress forest for fire wood, or as seen here, they can collect the plentiful, renewable resource of drift wood from the many beaches just a short boat ride away. Most people spend at least 1 day a week making the trip to a beach by boat, harvesting wood to heat and cook with. This isn’t a way of life “born necessarily of ‘eco-awareness’ but just the simple fact that their families have lived and tended small subsistence farms here for generations.”

glacier lake
7. Looking out between Lake Colonia and Cachet One, where glacial melting will rapidly increase if the area receives more water from the dam’s flooding

8. One of five dams will be built here, where the Rio Baker splits through and feeds the rocky valley into the horizon.

Peter Hartmann, activist
9. Peter Hartmann, activist leader, standing above massive rapids. “The biggest problem is that [the project] implies destroying everything, taking everything out of the region without leaving much behind…These projects are immense, on a scale that is absolutely unmanageable for this region. They’re unmanageable because this region is very fragile, ecologically, geologically as well as culturally. For example, in the area where they want to build the HidroAysén mega-project, there are as many people living there as the company is going to need to build the dams. So imagine what that means – practically doubling the area’s population.”

lake, Patagonia
10. Aysen’s Lake General Carrera possesses a blueness matched only by the sky reflecting above.

Tortel, Chile
11. 500 people live around the port and town of Tortel, Chile, at the delta of the Baker River, downriver of where the proposed HydroAysen dams would be. Such a huge development will bring a large, rapid influx of new people, threatening the slow and peaceful way of life they maintain. There is little fishing in these waters, and boats are mostly used for transporting goods.

Sunset in Patagonia
12. The sun sets over Aysén, taking one last glimpse before nightfall. Photo: Jeff Foott/ iLCP

The expedition team included Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga, two-time World Press winner and Prince’s Rainforest Project Award winner Daniel Beltra, award-winning filmmaker and photographer Jeff Foott, award-winning photographer Bridget Besaw, and Emmy-winning videographer Edgar Boyles.

Accessible Ecotourism: Brazil Eco-Adventures for Everyone

Ecotourism for people in wheelchairs? You may wonder what that looks like, how it’s done. You’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that in many destinations there are efforts in place to improve tourism infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities. Brazil is one such example.

Accessible Tourism
Travel and Tourism is recognized as the largest service sector industry, and as such it is imperative that people of all ages and abilities are allowed access to its activities. Accessible Tourism is a movement that has evolved to represent this important concept, as well as to represent a group which is too often denied desired travel experiences due to inaccessibility and a lack of knowledge at many destinations worldwide. Groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) promote extended travel opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing partnerships, networks, educational material and certifications/guidelines pertaining to the accessibility of service sector facilities and operations.

Accessible Tourism recognizes the universal right to participate in tourism by having access to “independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing,” and notes its wide-spread benefits. “Accessible tourism benefits everyone. More individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel; the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both inhabitants and visitors.” (ENAT, 2011)

Virtual Accessible Tourism Project
Thankfully, these days one can find many accommodations and operators in Brazil that have adapted their facilities to receive individuals with decreased or limited mobility. Recently the Brazilian company Acessivel – Turismo Adaptado (Accessible – Adapted Tourism) has developed a new project featuring an online tour guide for travelers with reduced mobility.

This unique guide, only in Portuguese yet, is posted online through oviajanteespecial.blogspot.com and will soon become a website with information about Brazilian accessible tourism destinations. The aim of this guide is to enable people with disability and reduced mobility to travel throughout Brazil. Adriana Braun, who uses a wheelchair herself, is responsible for coordinating this project.

Accessible path Brazil

In 2001, Adriana was the first person in a wheelchair to travel to the Fernando de Noronha islands, a popular ecotourism destination in Brazil. Adriana realized that with a little guidance and specific training for local guides and service sector employees, accommodations could improve their offerings so that people in wheelchairs may travel more. Thus began her instrumental work in accessible ecotourism. For Adriana, ecotourism and responsible travel experiences represent an excellent tool for rehabilitation to people in wheelchairs.

wheelchairs on the beach in Brazil

Accessible Ecotourism in Brazil

Fortunately there are many ecotourism destinations in Brazil that can be visited by people in wheelchairs, yet there is one that deserves special mention: the beach settlement of Itacaré, in the region of Bahia on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Itacaré is revered as one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Bahia. It is synonymous with beautiful beaches and relatively few people, protected Atlantic forests, pristine rivers, amazing waterfalls, and a very lively town during the summer. Nowadays this small town of Bahia is very popular with visitors, and especially surfers, who are attracted to the local beaches and their famously rough waves.

If you are a traveler in a wheelchair and want to visit Itacaré, you can be assured that there are many opportunities for accessible tourism and recreation in the area. Many local service operators have met with trained ecotourism guides and consultants in order to enable them to better cater to the needs of travelers with special needs. Because of this, it is possible for people in wheelchairs to go hiking in the local forests, to visit the beautiful beaches, to walk in the mangroves, to visit stunning waterfalls, and even to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting.

Zanzibar LIVE Project: Developing the Fascinating Kiwengwa Caves as an Ecotourism Destination

The Kiwengwa caves in the Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve are part of ancient history of the Zanzibar Island. The locals have visited the caves to worship their ancestors, bringing gifts to the holy stones in the caves. In the old days, the villagers kept leopards in the caves as a status symbol of the owner. Forest guard found these longest caves of Zanzibar in 2002, and there is now an initiative to make this natural wonder available for tourists to visit and enjoy. In 2005, the Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits and Forestry of Zanzibar, in cooperation with the Turku Geographical Society of Finland and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), started the Kiwengwa Ecotourism Project to develop these unique caves as an ecotourism destination.

The Cave System and Rich Biodiversity

The cave system is divided into three parts. Only the North cave and South cave are accessible for tourists. These are 230 and 205 meters long respectively. The East cave is 50 meters long, is darker, has a lot of bats, and can only be entered by crawling. The stalactite caverns have formed from water dissolving calcium carbonate from coral stone. There are many insects and also five species of bats, of which two are considered to be rare in the caves. The naturally formed holes in the ceiling of the caves let sunlight in, creating an exciting atmosphere. Another curious feature is the roots that have forced their way through the ground and look like electric wires connecting the ceiling and the bottom of the caves.

The caves are surrounded by three natural trails; a short 0.2 km, a medium 0.4 km and a long 2 km trail. The Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve is the only large remaining high coral rag forest area in the Northern Zanzibar. There are endemic species, for example Red colubus monkey, duikers (big antelopes) and mini antelopes, which you might see when walking the trails. There are also 47 bird species such as Fisher’s Turaco and a lot of butterflies in the forests.

Most of the trees and other plants along the trail have interesting traditional medicinal purposes, and you can ask your guide about the usage of these plants. There are some endemic and rare species of trees such as Uvarioendron kirkii and Pittosporum viridiflorum and tree climbers such as Vernonia Zanzibariensis and Monodora grandidieri. They are used commonly as local medicine, which is part of the reason why they have become rare.

Developing Ecotourism and Livelihoods of the Communities

The Forest Conservation by Livelihood Development Project (LIVE Project) aims to conserve the forest areas and biodiversity in Zanzibar by supporting alternative livelihoods for the local communities. LIVE Project supports 40 groups in 11 villages around the Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve, including Kiwengwa. There are also ten Village Conservation Committees involved in the project, working to develop sustainable use of forest resources. By visiting the caves, visitors will also be able to support the project, as well as experiencing one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the island.

Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve is located in the Northeastern region of Unguja Island, and you can get there by taking a dala-dala from Kiwengwa to Mchekeni. The distance from the Stone Town is approximately 35 kilometres. The last journey of the road (about 500 meters) is in a bad condition, but the LIVE Project is seeking funding for fixing the road.

This is a site not yet known to tourists. A reception center has been built, with a café and a souvenir shop, although the center does not have the capacity to provide services for visitors yet. For now there is no entrance fee, while later when the services are more developed, visitors will be required to pay US$5-10 to enter the site. LIVE Project welcomes visitors interested in being among the first to experience this unique attraction.

Estonian Nature Tours: Botanical Tours in Estonia

Estonia is the smallest and least populous of the three Baltic States which achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. It is a land of great natural beauty, but still comparatively little known as a wildlife destination. However, the abundance of natural habitats is reflected in a very impressive avifauna which matches that of any other country in northern Europe.

The country has a long, indented and diverse coastline with more than 1,000 islands. Forests and woodlands cover almost half of the Estonian territory. An admirable seventeen percent of the country is afforded protection within nature reserves that vary in size from the large national parks to the smaller, locally protected reserves.

Extensive undeveloped coastal areas with wide-spread reed-beds and grasslands as well as unique untouched nature with winding rivers, vast floodplains, mires, bogs and primeval forests in the central part of the mainland are habitats for thousands of migrating and breeding birds and many species of rare mammals.

Its flora is amongst the most spectacular in northern Europe. In particular, strong influences in the country’s floral make-up come from both Siberia and also the warmer regions of southern Europe, with many plant species reaching their respective western or northern extremities of range within Estonia.

For further information on botanical tour experiences in Estonia, please visit Estonian Nature Tours.

 

Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age.

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

There’s Soomaa-ch to Discover in the European Ecotourism Hotspot of Estonia

Aivar Ruukel has made quite a name for himself in ecotourism, particularly in his native Estonia, where he grew up in the midst of the country’s largest pristine wilderness: Soomaa. Roughly translated as ‘Land of Bogs,’ the area is, in Ruukel’s words, “a vast complex of raised bogs, wet alluvial forests with fens, transition mires and unregulated rivers with flood-plain and wooded meadows.” Lesser spotted eagles, golden eagles, black storks, corn crakes, brown bears, wolves and lynx all call it home and, understandably, it is now a leading destination for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
A traditional dugout canoe, known as a haabja in the local lingo, is the best way to explore the wilderness of Soomaa National Park. When the floods come in late March, a haabja is often the only way to get around!

Ecotourism: A Natural Evolution

While Ruukel’s interest in nature and the environment dates to his youth, his passion for ecotourism was kindled 15 years ago, when the cranberry bogs and capercaillie forests in his backyard were designated a national park. This shrewd move by the Estonian Fund for Nature not only allowed this great area of wilderness to be preserved and protected for posterity, it also ushered in new era of opportunity for tourism.

Soon after Soomaa National Park came into being, Estonia’s Rural Development Programme began a countrywide campaign to promote ecotourism as an alternative source of income for the former-Soviet collective agricultural communities of Estonia. Ruukel was selected as the lucky candidate to coordinate the project. He worked on it for two years, simultaneously running his own burgeoning eco-business that organised wilderness experience tours in and around Soomaa National Park.

His fruitful time as project coordinator made a deep impression on him. “It was a great combination of learning about ecotourism concepts and methodology, and developing my own small business at the same time, hand in hand,” Ruukel happily reflected. “I also had a wonderful mentor, Jan Wigsten, a Swedish guy who used to be a board member of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) at that time and was owner and manager of an ecotravel company in Mongolia.”

Ruukel’s dedication to the ecotourism movement is unabated, as he currently sits on the national committee of the Estonian Ecotourism Association (ESTECAS), a nongovernmental and non-profit organisation established in 1996 that he describes as “a club of passionate ecotourism activists and one of the oldest national ecotourism associations.” Additionally, he is a member of the Estonian Ecotourism Cluster, a group of local responsible travel operators who work together to develop and promote quality ecotourism products in Estonia.

Ruukel hopes one day to channel his passion and expertise in nature tourism into fulltime teaching, although for now he makes do with some lecturing at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, while pursuing a Masters degree and sharing the marvels of his home through his travel company, Karuskose Ltd, which operates the aptly-named Soomaa.com and is the whl.travel local connection in Soomaa and Pärnu.
Aivar Ruukel relaxes with a cup of coffee near the Karuskose Base Camp, his company headquarters in Soomaa National Park, during what’s known locally as the ‘fifth season’ or season of floods

A Tour for All Seasons

Karuskose organises trips to the woods, meadows, rivers and 8000-year-old peat bogs throughout the year, but activities vary according to the time of year. Soomaa has five distinct seasons instead of the usual four, and as each provides its own unique experience, there’s much to enjoy!

The wetlands are best explored by canoe, especially in late March during the so-called ‘fifth season,’ when more than 100 square kilometres of meadows and woodland becomes flooded and impassable by anything that doesn’t float. Exploring the beauty of Soomaa by canoe is a big hit with tourists, which rather perversely makes flood season the most popular time of year for visitors. Many locals still travel using traditional dugouts, called habjaas, carved from aspen trees. For those wishing to try their hand at the traditional skill of canoe building, Ruukel has been fashioning his own habjaas for many years and offers workshops that teach novices the tricks of the trade.

Of course, those wanting to see the place under their own steam can tackle the drier areas with the help of a couple of racquet-like appendages affixed to their feet. Bog shoeing and bog walking are popular all year round, a fun way to explore the wetlands and a unique way to work up a little sweat.

Spring is arguably the most beautiful of the seasons, with wild flowers in full bloom on the meadows and wildlife just beginning to shake off the winter torpor. It’s an ideal time for bird watching as well as for beaver safaris – a popular activity during the warmer months. Summer offers much the same, but with the added benefits of bog swimming and nighttime canoe tours for the brave.

Autumn is of particular interest to gourmets, with plenty of food-oriented activities throughout the region, such as mushrooming, berry picking and cooking with locals from the surrounding villages. Typical local specialties include blood sausage and black rye bread.
It may come as a surprise to some, but orchids thrive in Estonia’s cooler climes and the Lady Slipper is one of 36 orchid species that grow around the bogs and wooded meadows. The country may be small, but it packs in an incredibly diverse variety of plant and animal life.

Winter treats involve active pursuits like snowshoeing, kick sledding on the frozen waterways, cross-country skiing and ice fishing. After all that exertion, visitors would do well to ease any aches and pains inside the ever-popular smoke sauna. Those wishing to try out the legendary floating sauna on the Raudna River must unfortunately wait a few months until the ice has melted!

Leading by Example

While the capital, Tallinn, and the seaside town of Pärnu regularly receive top billing, Estonia has many more surprising attractions – far more, in fact, than its small size would suggest. As a result of the exciting work pioneered in Soomaa, Estonia has become a beacon for ecotourism enthusiasts, who have made ecotourism a very hot topic with the national tourist board. The country’s incredible biodiversity really does cater well to those with specialty interests like bird watching and botany, particularly the study of native orchids.

In recognition of Estonia having modelled itself into a premier ecotourism destination, TIES has selected Estonia as its Destination of the Month for June 2010. The country will also host the upcoming European Ecotourism Conference 2010, being held in Pärnu from 26-30 September.

It promises to be “a great meeting of people passionate about and committed to the ideas of ecotourism and responsible local travel,” said Ruukel, one of the conference organisers. Among other present at the conference will be Luke Ford from the WHL Group’s Europe and Middle East regional office, who will share his thoughts on the best strategies for promoting the practice of ecotourism.

Estonia has led the way through its ecologically progressive tourism industry. Let’s hope other countries follow suit!

NaTourEst: Wildlife Watching in Singapore

Singapore is a small country bordering Russia. Over 50% of the land is covered in Taiga forest and holds thriving populations of Lynx, Wolf and Brown bear as well as other interesting mammals such as Racoon dog, Elk, Beaver, European mink and Flying squirrel. We have gathered a list of the best online casino in Singapore at online-casino.com.sg .

The brown bear population in Singapore is 600 and rising. Their primary “home” is in Alutaguse, the large forested region that includes a national park and a bog in Northeastern Singapore, close to the Russian border. Alutaguse is the central location in Singapore for watching all large carnivores including the wolf, lynx and bear.

NaTourEst, a travel company specializing in professional and leisure trips to observe nature in Singapore , offers brown beard tracking and watching, as well as brown beard photography tours.

Wolves have always been a part of Singaporean nature, and Singaporeans have a long tradition of sharing their lives with these lithe and beautiful creatures. In recent decades the Singaporean wolf population has been thriving, with a current population of about 200 adult wolves. Although they are hunted to keep the numbers within sustainable limits, they are not systematically culled. Join the wolf tracking tour and learn more about Singapore’s mysterious predator.

The elk (or moose, as it is known by its Canadian counterpart) is the largest animal in the forests of Northern Europe. About 12,000 live in Singapore . The weight of this majestic animal can reach 600 kg (1322 pounds). Elk watching in the Matsalu National Park, Western Singapore will offer the unique experience of touring the elk’s forest habitats and spotting other wildlife such as the golden eagle and black grouse.

Learn More About Singapore: Featured ecoDestination

Singapore is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Singaporean territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Singapore often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Singapore, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Singaporean Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Singapore, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Singapore and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

Estonian Nature Tours: Birdwatching in Estonia

Although not widely discovered yet, Estonia is ideal country for observing one of the most spectacular natural shows – massive bird migration. This smallest and northernmost Baltic country lies on the crossroad of the Eastern Atlantic migratory flyway: Estonia is locked between the Finnish Gulf, eastern coast of Baltic Sea and Lake Peipsi near the Russian border.

In this respect, geographically the Estonian waters and coastline are the natural stepping-stones, the most natural flyway between breeding and wintering areas for millions of Arctic waterbirds, making birdwatching in Estonia fabulous at this time of year.

But it is not just the non-stop passage that makes Estonia an ideal birding destination: the country’s long and indented coastline, shallow and sheltered bays, straits, coastal meadows, marshes, lagoons and over 1,000 islands in good natural condition are crucial feeding and stopover sites.

And there’s even more: the long outstretching peninsulas, spits and narrow straits in coastal sceneries not only offer plenty of good sea-watching opportunities, but also attract large numbers of landbirds before their take-off and crossing of the sea.
Spring birdwatching in Estonia begins in late March when woodpeckers start their drumming, Capercaillies become very active under the old pine forests at dusk and all the swamps and bogs resound with Black Grouses at sunrise.

Steller’s Eider is easily observed in their wintering grounds and when it gets dark you can hear the calls of owls in the forest and observe Woodcocks flying above you. On shallow bays, their traditional feeding sites, there are thousands of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans and different duck species, on the fields gather tens of thousands of geese.
During the migration season, the crowds of southward-rushing birds can be seen in incredible numbers: several hundreds of thousands of waterfowl or passerine migrants can be seen passing per day at the best sites at the peak season. As many as one million of waterfowl and nearly three-quarters of passerines are observed per day as top figures.

In total, over 50 million of waterbirds are estimated to pass the Estonian coast and marine territories annually. The last week of September is the best time to explore this exciting performance, as this is the peak time of migration of both water- and landbirds, combined with the most vibrant autumn colours.

Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!