I like going to new places. Getting there is often so miserable and expensive that it’s not worth it, but I’m fond of my memories of stuff like climbing Kilimanjaro, or teaching juggling to kids in Cuba, or writing in a garret overlooking an Italian river valley. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do some traveling on other people’s dime, and I sincerely believe that travel should be available to everyone, regardless of wealth. That said, I do think that there are limits on that, because simply going to a place is not a neutral act. We need to accept that there are some places that, out of respect for the land and the people, we just can’t visit.
I did a research project and presentation in college, about the impacts of eco-tourism, and it quickly became clear that even when we’re not aware of the animals nearby, they’re generally aware of us, and we make them nervous. I’m too lazy to try to find the exact research I cited, but two studies stand out in my memory. The first was about the effects of traffic on ducks (equipped with monitors) nesting near a road. Basically, every time a car went by, the ducks heart rate elevated. The other study looked at penguins that nested near a boardwalk, where tourists were allowed to get near enough to see them, but not actually close. The penguins in direct line of sight of the boardwalk, even through gaps in bushes, also had an elevated heart rate when they could see humans.
That may not sound like a lot, a faster heartbeat means more calories burned, which means more food is needed, which could take away from things like egg incubation. Similar problems have been recorded for cheetahs dealing with tourists in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Another problem I heard about, when I was in the Bahamas helping with iguana research, was tourists feeding the lizards stuff like bread, which messed up their digestion. Travel is great, but it’s pretty clear that there need to be limits on how many people can go to a given place, and on what they can do there.
Well, there ought to be limits if we want those places to be there for future generations, or if we respect the people who live at tourist destinations, because that’s the other part of all this. Tourists are not there to help the locals. They often do, by bringing in money, but that’s within the context of a system that has forced a number of poor colonies into a situation where tourism and ecological beauty are the only things that haven’t been extracted and removed for profit. As with so much else, we need to change how we do things, and stop pretending that we don’t affect the world as we move through it. We need to listen to locals, like the Native population of Hawaii, when they ask people to stop coming there. There’s lots of information on this sort of thing on the internet, of course, but since you’re already here, why don’t you check out this video from Some More News, which just so happens to be on this very topic!
I really want to go to Lechuguilla, but even just me going there could damage it in ways that might never be repaired. I’m satisfied with the pictures and video that exist, and grateful that I live in a time where that’s available to me.