Seeing wildlife can be a life-changing experience, but it’s important to know how to do it responsibly, to avoid harming those same wonder-worthy animals. Over the past five years wildlife tourism has come under scrutiny as travelers become aware of the cruelty inherent in activities such as riding an elephant, posing with tigers and swimming with captive dolphins; and major tour operators like Intrepid Travel, STA Travel and G Adventures cut captive wildlife experiences from their trips, while TripAdvisor banned ticket sales for wild and endangered animal attractions in 2016.
Today, the scrutiny of wildlife experiments in captivity has transcended cages to include animals in their natural habitats, but the absence of physical barriers can make it difficult to understand when a wildlife experiment is ethical or not. , especially in marine ecosystems.
We reached out to specialists, including scientists and ethical operators, to create a basic guide to planning and experiencing marine wildlife, compiling where their views overlap; Keep these basic protocols in mind when considering activities you can feel comfortable participating in.
Look, but don’t touch
“Ethical wildlife tourism means viewing wildlife without contact or interaction,” says Natalie Kidd, people and goals manager at tour operator Intrepid Travel, which offers many wildlife experiences. This means avoiding any activity that touches, feeds or baits wildlife, no matter how harmless it may seem.
Keep in mind the big picture
Being a responsible tourist goes beyond refraining from petting manatees or breaking off pieces of coral to make jewelry. “Ethical tourism must have a direct gain for animals,” adds Simon Pierce, a New Zealand-based marine biologist who works with the Marine Megafauna Foundation, a non-profit science and conservation organization. Fortunately, marine wildlife is often able to inspire this call to action. “When people see marine animals such as whales and dolphins in the wild, they are often deeply moved by the experience and much more motivated than before to actively contribute to the conservation of these animals and their environment,” notes Kidd. Additionally, things like national park fees and resort taxes can be essential in funding conservation efforts; So when looking for experiences, be sure to look for ones where a portion of your payment will go towards the active care and protection of marine life and its natural habitat.
Recognize that rich ecosystems create rich experiences
A holistic look at ethical wildlife tourism should always consider the ecosystem. “Tourism can play a negative role if tourists don’t respect local wildlife and their habitats,” says Raimundo Espinoza, founder and executive director of Puerto Rico-based organization Conservation ConCiencia, which is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. . “Some of the biggest threats sea turtles face in Puerto Rico are habitat loss due to poorly planned construction and coastal development.” Keeping coastal areas clean can mean reducing plastic use and staying in hotels that emphasize environmentally friendly practices, such as those that use renewable energy sources and building materials; Truly Green Resorts can also facilitate direct donations to local marine conservation organizations that lead projects to protect wildlife habitats.