Monday, November 29, 2010

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints

In my perusal of Aidan's collections I paid special attention to nature brochures, and found a number from the 1970s or '80s advertising nature reserves. Two carried the tag-line "take only pictures, leave only footprints," which I've found in a number of modern pamphlets and brochures, including one for the Nahoon Estuary Nature Reserve ("take only pictures and memories, leave only footprints") and which is even mentioned in my Ecotourism and Sustainable Development textbook by Martha Honey as a "catchy phrase" often used in "mainstream ecotourism" or "ecotourism lite" (page 62). These kinds of phrases invoke a feeling of preservation and of having a low impact, but without actually committing to anything specific. It brings up a common issue that arises in nature tourism, which is distinguishing between the organizations and facilities that sound green and responsible, and those that actually are. This doesn't mean that all organizations using these "catchy phrases" should be immediately mistrusted - the Nahoon Estuary has done a really great job, for instance - but they also shouldn't be immediately labeled as shining examples of sustainability. I'm going to address this issue more fully in a future post.

I kept my eyes open for anything that might be classified as ecotourism in Aidan's collection, but other than some "ecotourism lite" like that mentioned above I didn't see anything. The emphasis on community benefit, involvement and empowerment which is so essential to ecotourism is something that even today can be difficult to find in marketing materials, and environmental effects and efforts beyond general nature conservation (which is essential for the survival of nature tourism) can be difficult to determine.

One booklet that caught my interest went into detail about a nature reserve's battles for conservation, their failures due to poor management, and their final victory through a collaboration of scientists, managers and community members. What it described was the same kind of environmental challenge being faced today by many natural areas in South Africa and around the world: struggles against development and poor land use, political battles for funding and recognition, fights to save endangered species and diminished/diminishing habitats, and efforts to get the community to care and to become involved. It's encouraging to know that East London was already taking such strides for conservation so many years ago, but it's also a bit discouraging to see how many of these same problems are faced today, and how many remain without solutions.

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