Albert Einstein once said, "Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty." His words characterize the spirit of environmental education through ecotourism. That spirit is the basis of a philosophy that promotes sustainable development through community cooperation and trans-generational communication. As a scientist, philosopher and teacher, Einstein was well aware of the need to pass on knowledge about the environment from the older generation to the younger generation in order to build an understanding of how to maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. In the last century, environmental education has grown to include more than just field studies in biology and geology. Today, the main objective of environmental education is to teach critical thinking skills that involve problem solving and decision-making for how communities can conserve, protect and promote stewardship of natural resources.Environmental education through eco-tourism is a tool to encourage thoughtfully planned community development based on a shared attitude toward stewardship of valuable natural resources. That shared attitude is a product of common environmental morals and ethics.
What is Ecotourism?
The International Ecotourism Society, defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" (TIES, 2015). Since the late 20th Century, ecotourism has been one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors.
For ecotourism initiatives to be successful in both achieving their goals and being sustainable over time, the International Ecotourism Society recommends ecotourism projects be based on several guiding principles:
- Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
- Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
- Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
- Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.
Benefits of Ecotourism
Since ecotourism projects are community-based initiatives planned and managed at a local level, local citizens participate at all stages of the process. This is a major step toward community empowerment. Ecotourism projects create jobs locally so young people do not have to leave their homes and families to look for work in urban areas. Local youths may work as guides, selling crafts, providing food and accommodation, or taking part in cultural performances. In the best-case scenario, ecotourism improves the standard of living through improved facilities, such as schools, clinics, potable water sources, new roads and electricity.
Underground River in Palawan, Philippines
(by Jasmen Vilando reprinted with permission; source and full text available at: http://hubpages.com/travel/Ecotourism-and-Community-Development )
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