Monday, July 21, 2014

By Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation

For the past several days, I have been writing about the 3rd Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism, which was held in Grenada from July 8th to the 11th.   The Ocean Foundation helped sponsor the Symposium because it brings together an array of dedicated people who want to ensure that the world’s fastest growing industry—travel and tourism—is pushed towards better practices that will help communities and travelers alike benefit from this phenomenon.  Worldwide, we are on the move.  One billion people made trips to another country in 2013.   The human resources and infrastructure needed to support that movement are staggering—1 out of 8 jobs in the U.S. alone is travel and tourism related.  Sun, sand, and sea tourism is the fastest growing component—with a corollary amount of investment in new hotels and resorts to support that growth.  This symposium gathered some 150 delegates to talk about ways that coastal tourism can be practiced to ensure the health of the beach, reef, and other resources that attract visitors in the first place.

My presentation was part of a panel that focused on the connections between sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, and sustainable tourism.  Over time, The Ocean Foundation has focused on deepening our resort partnership strategy and identifying ways in which philanthropy can best be deployed in a coastal tourism and the “second home” market setting.  Our resort partnership strategy is designed to provide funding over time, not just up front, to meet the needs of the community as well as address the maintenance and enforcement elements of conservation areas that may have been established as part of the resort’s initial design, both on land and in the water.  For us, “Love this Place and Its People”™ is more than a trademarked slogan—it is a reminder that good stewardship of natural resources is also good stewardship of the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the community that depends on it—resident or visitor.

When it comes to marine protected areas and tourism, that means good management of no-take areas and fishing areas to ensure high quality, low impact fisheries to deliver to restaurants, resorts, and residents.  It means ensuring that everyone abides by the same set of rules in protecting the resources—from reefs, to seagrass meadows, to the creatures themselves.  It means making sure that hotels, businesses, and residences do not contribute sewage and other pollution into the marine protected areas—or the waterways that feed into them.  It means engaging everyone in preventing litter, reducing single-use plastics, and finding ways to address waste management at every level.

My co-panelists talked about other aspects of the connections between marine protected areas and sustainable tourism.  Dr. Glenn Haas talked about a proposed blue water trail for sailors from St. Lucia to Grenada through St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the Windward Islands Marine Trail).  Such a trail would link protected areas, have a universal access permit that would help to fund conservation initiatives, and attract new visitors to the region.  Our other panelist, Lloyd Gardner, talked about marine and coastal protected areas as means to accomplish climate change adaptation that would protect tourism and the Caribbean islands themselves.

Well-designed marine protected areas have multiple benefits.  They offer the opportunity to support resilience of marine systems to climate change.  They provide safe harbor for the various stages of life for a diverse array of plants and animals.  They allow recovery of resources and the populations of species on which humans depend for protein.  They attract low-impact visitors to view the marine wildlife and enjoy the protected surroundings.  And, in truly protecting the marine protected areas, human communities must implement mangrove and seagrass protection, sewage treatment, waste management, and other practices that improve the health of humans as well.

To learn more about our resort partnership model, or our work on behalf of all the communities that depend on the ocean, please visit our website.