Traveling green: eco tourism

From awareness raising in Sharjah to whale watching in Dominica, eco tourism projects around the world are offering travelers guilt-free fun

Known to marine conservationists as ‘the turtle island’, the wildlife haven of Sir Bu Nuair, 120km off the coast of Sharjah contains some of the most interesting biodiversity in the region. A valuable nesting place of the hawksbill turtle, the island is also home to six new coral species, rare fish such as the citron clown goby and the Redcoat squirrelfish and endangered blackbuck antelopes.

Actively promoting the conservation of unique habitats like Sir Bu Nair is now a central strategy of Sharjah’s tourism department and this month the government unveiled plans to develop the destination into an eco tourism paradise. More than US$130m will be spent on sensitively developing three per cent of the island’s landmass into a holiday resort with a difference.

“The island is protected due to its significant environmental features, including geological formations, natural flora and marine birds, and is characterised by its unspoilt natural scenery,” said Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Chief Executive of Sharjah’s Investment and Development Authority.

“Our aim is to develop Sir Bu Nair into a unique island destination; one that offers a mix of high-end luxury and comfort, one that fosters a genuine sense of community, and one that captures the region’s vibrancy and cultural heritage in its architecture and offerings.”

Meanwhile, under an African sky a herd of zebra drink from a watering hole on the savanna and a pride of lions watch from a distance. Down in the river valley a string of chalets and tents give comfortable shelter to a group of international tourists. This picturesque spot is the location of the Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya where a new eco-tourism project helps to juggle the country’s environmental and ecological agendas.

Established in 2010, the project is a welcome departure from the classic safari and game park model. Here, local people are signing deals to make a 50,000-acre conservation zone and effectively leasing out their land to travel companies. As well as monthly rent, they receive training and jobs in the tourist industry plus infrastructure such as schools and health clinics.

Rare wildlife and impressive landscape are valuable currency the world over. With its sultry climate and laid-back locals, pretty coastline and sleepy interior; Dominica is a little piece of tropical paradise in the Caribbean Sea. Beauty is not enough to live on though, and like many small island states Dominica is facing a future where tourism becomes more and more important to its survival.

However, whale watching with a local guide is just one sustainable initiative that sweetens the tourism trail here and while many of its neighbours fall prey to exploitative development, this Caribbean country is putting its store in eco tourism. Across the island micro-businesses have sprung up around a range of conservation activities, giving the island’s people a new self-confidence and a renewed focus on their national motto ‘After God – The Earth’.

With eco tourism, flowers, fish and rare birds are part of the branding of the most beautiful parts of the world and sustainable tourism development is a hopeful path for their future.