Ecotourism in the Bahamas
The word ecotourism is believed to have been coined by Mexican environmentalist Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin in 1983. According to Ceballos-Lascuráin, ecotourism "involves traveling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals." His original definition seemed a bit too general, so in 1993 he amended it with a line that stressed that "ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel."
Natural beauty abounds in the Bahamas, so eco-friendly tourists will have no problem finding national parks to explore, birds to watch, or virgin reefs to snorkel, especially in the Out Islands. There's a concerted effort to make development more sustainable here, too. Time and money is being spent to ensure that as the more remote islands develop, it is done responsibly. The Bahamian government now requires an independent Environmental Impact Assessment be conducted before approval is given for any major development project on any islands. Inagua was also selected for a pilot program sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank to design a regional plan for sustainable development.
Although there's certainly a long way to go before most properties can call themselves eco-friendly, many of the small resorts, particularly those on the Out Islands, are independently doing what they can to reduce their footprint and impact on the environment. Some have installed their own reserve osmosis systems to generate potable water, solar energy is becoming more popular, restaurants use local fishermen and farmers for food sourcing, and ecotour options have increased due to visitor demand.
The Tiamo Resort in Andros sets the standard for eco-resorts in the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The cottages were built of sustainable local pine and thatch. While many developers completely clear their properties in order to build, Tiamo cut down as few mature trees as possible. Energy on property is generated by solar panels and hot showers come courtesy of the sun. An organic garden ensures meals are made from the freshest fruits and vegetables. Guests can indulge in a plethora of eco-activities including bonefishing, snorkeling, biologist-led nature walks, and ocean kayaking.
Hotel Higgins Landing on Stocking Island in the Exumas is completely solar powered, uses cisterns that collect rainwater, and has a renowned biological composting toilet system. No cars are allowed on the island.
Few large Bahamas resorts are considered eco-friendly, but the mega Atlantis has coined its own phrase and concept: Blue Tourism. They've teamed up with local dive operator Stuart Cove's to provide marine-based activities, and a portion of revenue from the Reef Atlantis complex will go towards the restoration of a nearby coral reef.
With birds migrating north and south for warmer or cooler climates, there's good bird-watching all year-round. More than 300 bird species live in the Bahamas, 28 of them found only here and in the Caribbean.
The endangered Bahama parrot is found only on Abaco and Inagua, and conservation efforts are underway to reverse the population decline. Inagua is also home to the West Indian pink flamingo. Other unique bird species include the Bahamas swallow, the Bahama woodstar hummingbird, and the Bahama yellowthroat.
Grand Bahama Nature Tours (242/373-2485) offers single or multiday birding tours. Bahamas Outdoors Ltd (242/362-1574) offers daily expeditions in Nassau starting early morning or midday and also organizes multiday trips to Andros, Eleuthera, Cat, San Salvador, Crooked and Acklins, and Inagua. Bird enthusiasts should not miss the unique opportunity to tour Inagua National Park (242/393-1317), home to the world's largest breeding colony of West Indian flamingos. Birding guides are certified by the Ministry of Tourism; contact them for more options.
The Bahamas boasts 25 national parks spanning more than 700,000 protected acres. For more information on visiting parks, contact the Bahamas National Trust (242/393-1317 www.bnt.bs).
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism's sustainable tourism department (242/356-6963 www.bahamas.com) is developing eco-friendly programs for visitors. Visit their website for information on green travel and ecotours.
The International Ecotourism Society (www.ecotourism.org) has a database of tour companies, hotels, and other travel services that are committed to sustainable practices.
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