ECOCLUB

ISSN 1108-8931

INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY

Year 6 - Issue 65

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

Issue Highlights:

Interview
Vassilis Kouroutos, Executive Director, MEDASSET

Member News
from Jordan, Mexico, Dominica, India, Laos.
New ECOCLUB Ecolodges in Oceania
New Expert in Eastern Russia

Eco Focus
Ecotourism Development in Eastern Russia & Siberia / Natural Power 2: Biodiesel

 

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EDITORIAL: Unprotected Areas 

In this issue we have the unique opportunity to learn from Vassilis Kouroutos, who combines practical and theoretical expertise in both tourism and conservation of protected areas, and who was instrumental in the launch of ecotourism in Greece's Sporades national marine park, through a successful NGO that he co-founded. We try to find out why protected areas, on paper a fine idea (cf. "paper" parks) in practice are dogged by controversies, scandals and conflicts:  Humans vs Nature, tourism vs conservation, Private vs Public, Local vs Central, National vs International.

If all these conflicts and questions are not convincingly answered by a coordinating central (state) authority, chaos ensues and a whole game is played on the back of endangered species (and in some cases endangered human communities) that unknowingly play the role of bait for attracting both misplaced funds and disoriented tourists. Chaos has ensued (and recurred) in the Galapagos over the past few years, and recently occurred in Zakynthos Marine Park, (the Sporades Marine Park is far more successful) in Greece, where park staff are unpaid, the park's signposts have been broken apparently by local parasol operators or bar owners, and an international NGO, decided to publicly ridicule the island and national authorities this also being the year of the Olympics, in the hope of bringing about the wrath of the European Union, so that it imposes financial sanctions, something that can possibly start a new round of local conflict...

We may consider the lack of initial financial compensation to local private interests, for potential foregone mass tourism development, when the park was set up, as the original source of the parks' misfortune. Perhaps. Alternatively, compensation may have been effective in the short-term, in the practical sense of "shutting some mouths", but who knows if it would have been considered adequate as a sum, or in terms of gaining genuine acceptance, in the long run. Something deeper could be at play, such as perceptions that "private property is sacred", and that "outsiders can not tell us what to do in our own home", in brief, basic instincts. If this is so, basic instincts can only be met by more powerful basic instincts, such as fear of authority, in particular elected central authority, and a sense of shared interest. Moreover, it could also be that some NGOs, propped up by supra-national bodies - the same ones that later impose "fines" - bite more than they can chew, and when hard times come, throw up their hands and suddenly remember the national authorities. Creating and maintaining a protected area can not be solely done with unpaid tourist/volunteers during their summer holidays. One needs to employ local expertise at all levels, generate local interest and cultivate participation, this participation being more important than funds. The whole project including fund allocation must be closely monitored and controlled by the accountable, elected authorities, who need to devise clear, realistic laws, and indeed enforce them rather than politely wait and see which side will win the pub brawl. And unless the current international trend of privatising or outsourcing sensitive, complex public functions and policy sectors including the environment and tourism ones is re-evaluated, waters in marine parks and beyond may get even murkier.

Antonis B. Petropoulos
ECOCLUB Editor

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