Scientists Create First Guidelines to Help Caribbean Tourism Sector Conserve Coral Reefs

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Caribbean Coral Reef (Submitted Photo)

At a critical time for economies and the ocean, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have joined forces to create, for the first in the Caribbean, a guide to coral reef restoration designed specifically for the tourism sector.

Healthy coral reefs are essential for the Caribbean tourism industry, which drives local economies and supports hundreds of thousands of livelihoods across the region. “A Guide to Coral Reef Restoration for the Tourism Sector” presents coral restoration best practices supported by scientific research, practitioner experience and stakeholder input. It addresses the barriers that have so far prevented the Caribbean tourism sector from engaging substantially in efforts to conserve the marine environments that draw millions of visitors to the region each year.

It also reveals key opportunities for the industry at a critical time when developing sustainable tourism practices not only helps reverse years of Caribbean reef degradation, but also helps tourism-dependent businesses survive and thrive afterward. the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The Conservancy, UN and CHTA, as well as the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (which CHTA founded in 1997 to assess the tourism industry’s preparedness needs and willingness to take a more proactive role in managing , the protection and enhancement of coral reefs in the Caribbean), have teamed up for a groundbreaking collaboration. The guide was developed after months of surveys and discussions with stakeholders in the Caribbean tourism industry.

“TNC, UNEP, CHTA and CAST developed these new guidelines because we recognized that the tourism sector has a great opportunity to amplify coral conservation,” said Ximena Escovar-Fadul, Senior Associate at Ocean Planning and Mapping from The Nature Conservancy.

“In response to the coral reef crisis, tourism businesses and consumers have turned to more sustainable travel options. Beyond this “do no harm” mindset, there is growing interest in travel activities that can proactively help nature. For example, travelers want to know how they can offset their carbon emissions or help restore the environments that bring them joy when visiting a destination like coral reefs,” Escovar-Fadul said.

Coral reefs support economic stability and human well-being around the world, but the connection between these ecosystems and communities is particularly important and faces serious risks in the Caribbean today. Half of all livelihoods in the region depend on marine resources. To create the tourism-focused coral restoration guide, it was fundamental to gather feedback from people whose businesses or incomes depend on healthy coral reefs.

Interviews, surveys and focus groups were conducted with stakeholders in over 20 Caribbean countries and territories, incorporating multiple tourism sub-sectors to capture a wide range of perspectives – including transportation and accommodation , food and drink, leisure at sea and on the beach, etc.

“Coral reefs and the important ecosystem services they provide are essential to economies and communities across the Caribbean. They generate over US$8 billion a year for the tourism industry, but they are under serious threat. It is estimated that more than half of the region’s living corals have disappeared in the last 50 years,” said Ileana Lopez, regional biodiversity and ecosystems coordinator at UNEP’s office for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The restoration of degraded coral reef ecosystems is only possible when political and financial support, scientific innovation and the active participation of local actors are combined,” said Lopez.

In recent years, The Nature Conservancy and its partners have pioneered research to reveal the important connection between tourism and our ocean resources – and to elevate the ways in which effective conservation can ensure that this relationship is productive and sustainable at the future.

A groundbreaking conservation study has found that reef-related tourism in the Caribbean generates US$8 billion annually – nearly 25% of all tourism spending – from more than 11 million visitors. TNC’s Mapping Ocean Wealth Project, which quantified the tourism value of the world’s reefs to mobilize conservation investment, has been recognized as a “world-changing tourism initiative” by winning the Tourism Innovation Award from tomorrow from the World Travel and Tourism Council. Building on this momentum, TNC and the CHTA have forged a partnership to work with tourism leaders across the Caribbean in their efforts to ensure a healthy and prosperous ocean.

“Our growing alliance with the tourism industry is key to our mission in the Caribbean,” said Rob Brumbaugh, Ph.D., executive director of TNC’s Caribbean Division. “Because tourism in the region depends on a thriving natural world, there is a strong economic incentive to support conservation. But, beyond that, one thing we learned in creating these new guidelines is that many tourism leaders simply want to “give back” to nature and know that consumers do too.

“So industry can be a powerful ally in our work and, in fact, has great potential to accelerate coral conservation. Tourism companies often have facilities near reef sites that can accommodate restoration projects; nature enthusiasts on staff, such as diving instructors, who can serve as “conservation ambassadors”, communication tools, such as airport signage, which reach millions of people, and relationships with governments and local communities who can garner support for sustainable ocean use.

CHTA President Nicola Madden-Greig believes that now is an especially important time for tourism to play a vital role in ocean conservation. She said: “Tourism in the Caribbean and around the world has suffered a devastating downturn with the pandemic. But as the industry regains its footing, there is a key window of opportunity to attract a wider group of consumers and protect the resources on which tourism depends by providing sustainable travel options and engaging in meaningful conservation. . This is where the advice of our conservation partners becomes essential.

“Many tourism businesses take a sustainable approach and want to actively contribute to coral conservation, but they lack the technical expertise. Or they have completed a pilot reef restoration project but lack the capacity to scale up the work. As we continue to share scientific research and best practices, and address the conservation challenges facing the tourism sector, CHTA and CAST aim to transform travel in the Caribbean, so that it not only exists in harmony with our natural world, but also that they benefit from it.

CAST President Kyle Mais, a Jamaican hotelier; founding co-chairman and president of CAST, Frank Rainieri, of Grupo Puntacana in the Dominican Republic; and Jake Kheel, vice president of Fundación Grupo Puntacana, a nonprofit entity of Grupo Puntacana and a regional pioneer in coral restoration, agreed that coral restoration is changing rapidly and requires an “all-terrain” approach to scale up. recovery if necessary. Caribbean coral reefs. They support “A Guide to Coral Reef Restoration for the Tourism Sector” as a crucial tool that shares experiences and best practices to enable the tourism industry to participate more actively in reef conservation and expand the region’s capacity to restore coral reefs.

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