A momentous decision to improve global ecotourism standards was endorsed with overwhelming support at the 2016 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress, held in Hawai’i in September. Proposed by Yale Tropical Resources Institute with 9 other organisations including Nature Seychelles , Motion 65 “Improving standards in ecotourism” aims to redefine and tackle the challenges of ecotourism vis-à-vis conservation.
“As an organisation, we are very proud to have partnered in this recommendation and the eventual passing of it,” says Dr Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles Chief Executive. “We manage Cousin Island Special Reserve, a marine reserve as well as an Important Bird Area, which has been an ecotourism destination since 1972 when ecotourism pioneer Lars Eric Linblad paid the first administrators’ salary and started international tourism on the island. The organisations we partnered with are all world class leaders in their field and as such this is a great start to international cooperation”
The other organisations that collaborated in the drafting and passing of this motion were The International Ecotourism Society, The Wilderness Society, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the African Wildlife Foundation, the WILD Foundation, National Parks Australia Council, The Wilderness Society Australia and the Moroccan Association for Ecotourism and Nature Protection.
The ethos of ecotourism is to conserve the natural environment while at the same time being beneficial to people. However, the term ecotourism has been sometimes used in the place of nature based tourism which is not necessarily sustainable or conservation conscious. In fact, nature based tourism can have adverse effects on the environment and the local communities.
Tourism is the largest and fastest growing sector in the world and in 2014 one out of eleven people were employed in tourism, yet inadequate management, monitoring and resources can threaten the livelihoods of local communities.
“I am pleased with the decision to pass this motion considering the Seychelles’ workforce is heavily dependent on the tourism industry as well as the delicate nature of our environment,” Shah added “It is imperative that tourism not only has as little impact on the ecosystem, but simultaneously also has a positive impact on people. Nature Seychelles’ tagline says it all ‘for wildlife, for people, for Seychelles’. All the monies we receive from tourists goes back into conservation and pays the salaries of the Seychellois wardens working on Cousin Island.”
It is hoped that through the passing of Motion 65 tourism can effectively speak to the targets under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, in the 9th target under SDG8, it states that by 2030 policies should be devised and implemented to promote tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. Tourism is also pointed to as a tool for sustainable economic growth under goal 12 (sustainable consumption and production) and goal 14 (conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, seas and marine resources).
“Besides employment, Nature Seychelles also aims to improve the livelihoods of the local people. For instance, through our Reef Rescuers project, we are restoring and protecting a vital marine ecosystem which in turn benefits the local artisanal fishermen,” Shah explains. “We strive to work with development partners, government and donors in various programmes and this resolution will definitely bolster our existing strengths.”
Nature Seychelles is a member of IUCN which has over 1,300 members worldwide, including government agencies, NGOs, networks and individual experts. The IUCN World Conservation Congress meets every four years to discuss and adopt resolutions and recommendations on key conservation issues.