Five Ways to Identify Fake Eco-Tourist Attractions

Parts of Colorado are already under snow. SNOW! As Winter settles in for a couple months of cold, many of us will begin daydreaming about vacations to warm places covered in sand instead of ice. If you’re thinking about booking a stay at one of the many eco-tourism destinations that have popped up in the last few years, be on high alert for greenwashing.

Many of these resorts and tours claim to provide a low-impact opportunity to relax, and possibly enjoy some exotic wildlife. According to Elizabeth Hogan, oceans and wildlife campaigns manager at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), many fail to live up to the hype–actually harming animals instead of saving their habitat.

ecotourism greenwash sea turtles

Image via S Carpenter

Take for example, the Cayman Turtle Farm which bills itself as an eco-tourist attraction. According to Hogan, the Farm claims to work for the protection of endangered sea turtles, but behind the scenes it sells them for food and has a poor track record on animal conservation issues.

Using the Cayman Turtle Farm as an example, Hogan offers these five tips for identifying “eco-tourism” destinations that are steeped in greenwashing:

1) Avoid direct interaction with the animals.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t be touching animals at an eco-tourist attraction, whether it’s swimming with dolphins or holding sea turtles. Be wary of any eco-tourist attraction that encourages or allows this kind of contact and know it may also pose a health risk for you personally.

2) If there is a high entertainment to science ratio, stay away.

If the eco-tourist attraction you’re considering has too much entertainment, such as snorkeling with sea turtles in small artificial ponds as the case at the Cayman Turtle Farm, it may not be paying enough attention to welfare of the animals it’s supposedly protecting and the science of conservation.

3) Don’t eat any of the animals supposedly being protected.

Any eco-tourist attraction that tries to balance conservation of a species with selling it for meat is caught in a conflict of interest.

4) Look for what trusted third parties have to say.

Before you visit an attraction, spend a few minutes on the Internet to see what trusted third-party groups have to say. In the case of the Cayman Turtle Farm, WSPA as well as other animal and conservation groups have expressed concerns about its policies and practices which are online and come up in any search on the farm.

5) Ask  lots of questions.

With the four points above in mind, come armed with questions for anyone recommending you visit an eco-tourist attraction. Ask members of the travel industry to investigate the attractions they are promoting and provide proof that the property is operating with animal’s and the environment’s interest at its core. If they can’t answer all of your concerns, look for other animal- and eco-friendly options.

Have you ever visited an eco-tourist destination and come away with suspicions about their actual conservation practices? Tell us in a comment.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

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