ISSN 1108-8931


Year 6 - Issue 63

Sponsored by: Zante Feast Holidays, Purple Valley Yoga, Hana Botanical Gardens

Community-based Avian Eco-Tourism in Fiji: An Overview 
Dr. Kevin Vang, ECOCLUB Expert

Despite the clearing of forests for agriculture and the ravages of the mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) on the larger islands, Fiji has retained a rich and diversified birdlife. The key endemic species are spread out over several islands. Endemics are found on Kadavu, Ogealevu, Rotuma, Taveuni, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. Most of these larger islands already have excellent tourist facilities, easy access, and many communities eager to promote ecotourism alternatives. The smaller ones like Ogealevu and Rotuma would need to rely on village homestay-type facilities.

This birdlife of Fiji forms the basis of generating a lucrative income for some of these isolated island communities. Australia and New Zealand have burgeoning avian tourism industries within their own nations. Some Australian groups offer avian excursions to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, but these have little or no community involvement.

In small developing nations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, community-based, ecotourism initiatives are becoming increasingly common. Nations like Fiji have strong potential for developing these schemes.

With the coordination of key Fiji NGOs, like FSP Fiji and Birdlife, and training provided by avian ecotourism specialists from New Zealand and Australia, various tourism packages could be easily developed. Equipment such as spotting scopes and binoculars are often donated by the Japanese Ornithological Society or other bird groups in developed countries. These tourism packages, once in place, could be marketed through the various avian tourism networks and ornithology groups around the world.

It is critical that the local communities are the central focus of any such initiative. Any avian tourism packages need to be designed to meet community needs and understandings. The communities would provide bird watching activities and local guides, as well as have additional side-programs like bushwalking, snorkelling, and cultural events. Special focus needs to be paid on finding those activities that can target the skills women and children.

The overall program would be managed by a national NGO involved in environmental and ecotourism work. The tourists would pay a set package fee to this main NGO, which would be responsible for coordinating all activities. The NGO would use the funds to cover costs and take a portion of the profit, around 10-20%. The remainder of the profit would be returned to the community and local NGOs, which were involved in delivering services on the ground.

An MOU would be signed between the main NGO and communities and local NGOs outlining the specifics of the program, and the activities and responsibilities of each group. Before signing the MOUs, there would be a period of consultation and negotiation whereby the communities and local NGOs could discuss matters of importance to the community and ensure that their concerns were incorporated in the program. The main NGO would also provide training and on-going support to the communities and local NGOs. Regular meetings would be held to review progress, discuss issues as they arise and make changes as needed.

These packages can be as simple as day trips, or with proper planning can last for a few weeks up to one month covering several island locations. Tourists would also have a 'learning day' at the outset of each trip, whereby they would not only be briefed on the places to be visited and birds to be seen, but also on the basic tenants of how to act appropriately in village settings.

For many of the more remote villages, where hard-to-find endemic birds occur, it is essential for that avian ecotourism is undertaken in an appropriate manner that protects the cultural and social integrity of the village. Therefore, it is essential that Eco-tourists have the understanding and willingness to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. In this way it is a win-win situation for both villager and eco-tourists alike.

Fiji is the most logical country in the South Pacific to inaugurate such a venture due to its excellent tourism experience combined with its plethora of endemic birdlife distributed across several key islands. If a venture proved successful here, it could serve as a prototype model for the South Pacific and lay the foundation for the establishment of similar avian ecotourism ventures in neighbouring, South Pacific small islands states.


Developing Community tourism in Ecuador: The case of FEPTCE 
Pascal Languillon, ECOCLUB Expert

Community-based ecotourism (CBE) projects in Ecuador have blossomed in the last few years. Indeed, as oil extraction continues to threaten indigenous people’s lifestyle, more and more communities choose ecotourism as an attractive development alternative. The expected benefits of CBE are many: it gives people jobs, while reinforcing the importance of rainforest preservation, revitalizing cultural traditions, and sustaining a traditional lifestyle. Several ventures have shown that these benefits can arise, like in the cases of the Ricancie or the Cofan networks, and this inspired other communities to follow that path

However, CBE is now victim of its own success. Too many communities began to have false hopes that ecotourism would be a quick fix for their development needs. An over-saturation of ecotours and lodges in the Amazon have led to most CBE projects failing to bring the expected benefits, as tourist arrivals did not match this blossoming offer. Many communities have started to build tourist huts and to invest in infrastructure without even doing a feasibility study. Another problem is the general lack of understanding of how to commercialise the ecotourism product. Even some international NGOs funded projects failed, because of inappropriate planning and marketing.

In order to stop the hemorrhage, an association was created in 2002: the FEPTCE or Ecuadorian Federation of Multicultural Community-based Tourism, which now represents 57 community tourism ventures in Ecuador. FEPTCE’s main role is to provide training for local communities and to undertake feasibility analysis, with a review of the opportunities and of the costs involved. It also works on legal issues, in order to facilitate the recognition of CBE in national policies. The association strives to increase the quality of the ecotours proposed, and wrote a code of conduct for both tourists and operators. It is also in the planning stage of a certification scheme. Furthermore, the FEPTCE is about to open a booking center for community-based tourism in Quito, which will serve for both agencies and individuals. Priority should now be given to marketing community-tourism ventures nationwide, and to reaching foreign markets.

According to their own study, FEPTCE officials say that “only 4% of all international tourists to Ecuador visit a community project”. It is therefore necessary to provide good, reliable, up-to-date information on community ecotourism programs on the Internet and in printed form. Furthermore, to better reach its potential market, the FEPTCE would like to participate in international tourism fairs around the world. However the organization lacks the sufficient funds to undertake these trips, and is therefore looking for further international assistance.

The creation of the FEPTCE gives real hope that Ecuadorian CBE activities can become more successful in a near future. Without a firm governmental support, however, this goal will be harder to achieve. It is therefore hoped that Ecuadorian authorities will understand the importance of developing CBE if they want their country to conserve its biodiversity and cultural traditions.

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Ecotourism Island: South Padre, Texas
by Pablo Aguiar, ECOCLUB Expert

My point of interest in the field of Ecotourism focuses on the southern Texas coast, a barrier island that was inhabited by Cannibal Karankawa natives and later visited by Spanish explorers & marauding pirates. South Padre Island became geographically established in the 1960's after the U.S. Corp of engineers dredged and cut a canal creating a thoroughfare to the gulf coast, dissecting the entire long barrier island formerly known as Padre Island into two islands : North Padre Island and South Padre Island.

The center of South Padre island is flanked by sand dunes. The valley area has a wonderful growth of coastal grasses, shrubs, teeming with animal life.

Through the years South Padre Island has been developed mainly at the southern end adding hotels, restaurants, parks, marinas, condominiums, theatres, shopping markets, banks, offices, civic center, and residential homes. Enjoying wonderful beaches with good weather year round has been a blessing to tourism for visiting people from Mexico and the mainland USA.

Like any good thing, progress brings forth some concerns for the environment and many permanent residents living on the island have opposed any further development north of the island. In 2001 an organization called Texas Conservancy purchased 21,600 acres which entails the northern tip of South Padre Island to a boundary line 10 miles from the north of the city. This land is to be set aside as a natural preserve and free from future development. Therefore leaving a "midway zone" of privately own lands sandwiched between the north of the city and the Natural Conserve to be further developed.

On October 1997 I purchased a plot of land within this "midway zone". Since then I have passionately been researching and studying coastal construction methods. To design living structures and methods of self-sustainability which would respect the environment and coexist with nature. To this day I have assisted folks with their projects on South Padre Island and Boca Chica as well as Florida, Washington, Hawaii, Bahamas and Australia.

My vision is to establish an association with all landowners of this "midway zone" area and to establish guidelines for development that will be environmentally friendly, furthering our voice before governing agencies. Progressing ecotourism in this area allowing people to live, enjoy and learn about coastal wildlife in the adjacent conserved lands.

A constant balance between the environment and man remains present within this world. Needs arise in our lives which tax the natural environment but I believe a perfect balance can be achieved to further our education and realization of the natural world.


Natural Power 1: Solar Cells

In this first in a series of articles we discuss renewable energy progress.

Even if the industrial revolution briefly convinced humans that fossil fuels were the answer to their needs, the sun, worshipped like a god by most cultures at some historic or pre-historic stage, and the suns (nuclear, in fact) power is what keeps life on earth going, more easily understood when you remember that 2 billion people still have no electricity. It was beautifully ironic, that it was the drive of humans to leave the planet and explore space that rekindled appreciation for this primary natural power. Converting and storing solar power for our needs is very natural: that's what the most basic of plants do, and we call it photosynthesis. And now, according to New Scientist, a prototype that uses spinach (yes, spinach) to convert light into electrical charge has just been developed by US researchers at MIT.

Whatever eco-folks may say against sun sea and sand tourism, the truth is that sun, as opposed to rain, encourages tourism - for example try spotting wildlife during a thunderstorm. So, in most parts of the world, the tourist season, and the associated increased energy demands and blackouts, coincide with the sunny season, and this also makes the sun an ideal source of power for tourism. In fact solar power is the most abundant (if we had a huge solar cell we could charge the whole world for a whole year in 1 hour), egalitarian (you can take as much as you wish and your neighbour or neighbouring country will not mind !) most silent, and least intrusive form of renewable energy, as solar panels - unlike wind turbines - can form an integral part of the structure of a building, they are not a hazard to birds (again unlike wind turbines), and are not a potential health hazard like biogas.

There are many renewable forms of green electricity, including wind power, hydro, wave, tidal, biomass, geothermal, and landfill gas power, but only solar, biomass and possibly wind power are relatively affordable, and only solar is easy to install, transport, and expand as it is modular; you can keep adding solar panels and joining them together. Its efficiency in absorbing solar energy is increasing, albeit slowly, and its potential is vast.

Beyond feeling great about not polluting the environment, there are also practical advantages: Avoiding power cuts, and lower cost, especially in remote areas, that are not connected to the grid: the production of energy with a petrol generator can cost up to 4 Euros per Kwh whereas production with solar costs one tenth.

The development of solar-cell technology was a by-product of the research of the French physicist Antoine-César Becquerel in 1839. Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with a solid electrode in an electrolyte solution; he observed that voltage developed when light fell upon the electrode. What happens is that when sunlight is absorbed by certain materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. The type of current provided by a battery or solar cell flows in one direction, and is thus called Direct Current (DC) and flows in one direction. An inverter is used to turn it into Alternating Current (AC).

One hundred years later and only due to the space race (but a lot faster than the time needed for the steam engine to become commercially important, i.e. around 1800 years) the silicon solar cell was invented. Because solar cells have no moving parts that could require service or need for fuel, and as solar radiation is higher outside the atmosphere, they were ideal for providing power in space. As a consequence, most space satellites, have always been, and still are solar-cell powered. By the late 1980s silicon cells gave efficiencies of more than 20 percent, meaning they were able to convert 20% of solar radiation (direct and diffused) into electricity. In 1989 concentrator solar cells were invented, whereby sunlight is concentrated onto the cell surface by means of lenses, achieved an efficiency of 37 percent due to the increased intensity of the collected energy. Concentrator solar cells have the advantage that they are cheaper, since they use less semiconducting material, while collecting more sunlight, the disadvantage however is that they can not be fixed, as they need a tracking device so that the cells always face the sun. A recent useful invention, are thin film solar cells that use layers of semiconductor materials only a few micrometers thick. Thin film technology has made it possible for solar cells to now double as rooftop shingles, roof tiles, building facades, or the glazing for skylights or atria. The solar cell version of items such as shingles offer the same protection and durability as ordinary asphalt shingles. A typical crystalline silicon solar cell has an efficiency of 15%, whereas a typical thin film cell solar module only 6%. How much energy can actually be absorbed is however determined by many factor relating to the location of an installation, latitude, climate, altitude, angle, proximity to the sea, even adjacent structures: a tall building or a tree can obstruct sun rays.

Solar cells are typically combined into modules that hold about 40 cells. Then about 10 of these modules 400 cells, are mounted in PV arrays. About 20 PV arrays (800 cells) can provide enough power for a household. For larger needs, hundreds of arrays can be interconnected to form a single, large PV system. These flat-plate PV arrays can be mounted at a fixed angle facing south, or they can be mounted on a tracking device that follows the sun, allowing them to capture the most sunlight over the course of a day.

Energy efficiency is one parameter, but energy storage is also very important. After all you do not need heating when its hot, light at daytime, and electricity where there is no powercut. And what do you do when there is no sun, or when you produce more solar power than you need? In terms of installed systems there are three types: 'autonomous' or 'stand alone' (not connected to the power grid), Grid-tied (connected to the electricity network), and hybrid (autonomous combined with other autonomous power sources, renewable such as wind or not such as a diesel generator).  Basic components for a small home solar system include the solar modules, load controller, battery or batteries, wiring, a basic inverter and a compact fluorescent. Grid-tied systems normally require no batteries but need inverters to convert the solar direct current (DC) into the grid's standard alternating current (AC). Stand alone systems need batteries, but batteries can only use about 75% of the stored energy. Stand alone systems can be with DC or AC, but in the latter case, they also need inverters, and these also use up some power. In general AC wiring components cost less than DC, and most electric appliances need AC anyway.

Costs vary according to system capacity and the complexity of the installation but have fallen 7 times during the past 20 years, according to SolarBuzz, a consultancy, so nowadays a typical residential solar energy system will cost about USD 8 - 10 per Watt, a total of USD 10-16,000 including installation.  Market incentive programs in a growing number of countries include, rebates, low-interest loans and preferential electricity purchase rates, meaning you can sell back your surplus energy to the main grid and these can bring system installed costs down to USD 3 per Watt.

Solar energy is mostly used for warming water (solar water heaters), lighting, heating buildings, powering a range of appliances, and even cooling. The most frequent domestic uses are the first two. In the tourism sector solar water heating and swimming pool heating are gaining popularity. In many parts of the world there are already solar power plants that distribute clean electricity through the grid.

The future is bright: Buildings in the foreseeable future could be dressed in flexible, power-generating materials. Spheral Solar, a Canadian company has developed one such material that can be draped over just about any shape. It is made of thousands of inexpensive silicon beads- in effect tiny solar cells, sandwiched between two thin layers of aluminium foil, that physically strengthens the material and acts as electrical contacts, sealed with plastic.

Other innovative uses that are slowly becoming popular include using solar energy to cool buildings (Absorption Cooling,  Desiccant Cooling and Vapor Compression Cooling), and Solar Detoxification. The latter means that sunlight can initiate photo-chemical or thermal reactions to destroy contaminants in air or water.

But perhaps what would really be the turning point for solar power, would be affordable clean, electricity for everyone, followed by solar cars, and hopefully solar airplanes as a single 747 must be refilled with 85 tons of fuel oil every time it takes off. Already experimental solar planes are flying, and so are solar hopes.

Still there is a long way to go: According to a Greek German Business Chamber study, in Greece, a relatively sunny country, solar radiation (direct and diffused) per square meter per annum is equivalent to the energy produced by burning around 150 litres of oil. The problem is that oil is still incredibly cheap: Some rough calculations can explain: A 2 square metre panel on your roof with a 15% efficiency would save 45 litres of oil annually, or less than a third of a barrel, this is less than USD 20 per annum even at today's 'high' barrel prices. Not to mention how cheap it is to buy so called "carbon credits": USD 1 can buy you a ton of CO2 emissions in the Chicago Climate Exchange.

No wonder then that solar energy production still covers less than 0.01% of total global energy demand. Solar panels are expensive largely due to the cost of the ingredients of the basic silicon cell. If the new spinach method we discussed earlier is viable, it can have dramatic effects. We also have to think simply: intermediate technology solar powered devices such as solar cookers can make a great social and environmental impact in the developing world, but we will discuss these in a future issue.

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