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Greening the blue tourism: a case study from ST. Martin's Island, Bangladesh

  • Published at 05:18 pm November 12th, 2019
st martin's island
Minhas Kamal

Why sustainable tourism should matter to you

Blue tourism refers to the shoreline-based tourism and recreational activities alongside with other amenities taking place by the beach. Beach and marine tourism have been considered among the oldest and most significant segments of the tourism industry. Currently, several nations have developed their economies that are based on the tourism industry, such as; the Maldives; Aruba; Seychelles; or Bahamas etc. (Worldatlas, 2017). According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the global tourism sector grew at 3.9% to contribute a record of $8.8 trillion and 319 million jobs to the world economy in 2018. On the other hand, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) mentioned that international tourist arrivals are expected to increase worldwide by 65% from 2010 and reach a number of 1.8 billion per year by 2030. The growth will be even faster for emerging and developing regions compared to the developed areas. This mass tourism will have a substantial impact on the natural ecosystem and biodiversity. The cost of depleting these natural resources would often remain high than the benefit it offers. However, it would also lead to exaggerating climate change phenomenon through higher carbon emission, waste and plastic production, water, and air pollution, land-use change, transportation, resource extraction and fragile infrastructure etc. This article would represent a case study of St. Martin's Island, a popular tourist spot based on the southern tip of Bangladesh which has been facing severe threats from the uncontrolled tourism and unsustainable resource depletion.

St. Martin's Island is the only island in Bangladesh that is supporting coral reef ecosystem and associated flora and fauna networks. Due to its fragile ecosystem, the Government of Bangladesh declared it as an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) in 1999. It is also known as a biodiversity "hot spot" area as it provides a home for 66 species of corals, 234 species of fishes, 12 species of crabs, 154 species of marine algae, 85 species of birds and 19 species of mammals (Thompson and Islam, 2010). However, according to the Department of Environment, every year around 10,000 to 20,000 tourists visit this island during peak season and exploit the island's natural resources. The groundwater level has been sinking fast, and the entrance of saline water is destroying the existing coral patches. A considerable amount of human waste and as a result  ten times higher bacterial levels have been recorded than ever before in the area (Prothom Alo, 2018). The regular movement of cruise ships has resulted in oil spills in the adjacent shoreline alongside heavy sound pollution that disturbs marine species. However, scientists assumed that St. Martin's island is getting smaller every year instead of growing geologically as it should. The increasing cyclones and erosion affect the coral shores causing severe damage. Also, human activities are partially responsible for damage to the coral. It is because most corals occur in the shallow water near beaches where human impacts are most significant (IUCN, 2010).

On the other hand, climate change has also been severely affecting this coral island. The oceans have been the most significant buffer for human kind's dangerous greenhouse-gas emissions. But as the planet has warmed from mounting emissions, the oceans warmed first and fastest, absorbing 90% of excess heat that can bring irreversible damage to the marine ecology (Warren, 2019). It also indicates that the destruction of these delicate coral reefs around the world may lead to a collapse of the ocean ecosystem. Even if global warming is limited to the 1.5 degree Celsius as per 2016 Paris Agreement, at the current rate of emissions -- the IPCC concluded that "almost all warm-water coral reefs are projected to suffer significant losses of the area and local extinctions." As a consequence, it will leave nearby coastlines even more vulnerable to erosion and storms, as well as from accelerating sea-level rise, which could go up by as much as two feet this century as a result of glacier melt.

Hence, it is time to foster greening blue tourism to save the coastal ecosystem while protecting the vulnerable. In this regard, policy formulation is required from global to the local level. At the global level, it is essential to promote stakeholder collaboration and ensure cooperation to improve sustainable tourism policies. Coastal tourism practices should also integrate ecosystem-based approach. A comprehensive monitoring and evaluation mechanism should be in place to supervise the overall environment and to penalize entities if required. Local knowledge should also be encouraged to promote green skills and business plans. Moreover, efforts need to make to decarbonize the tourism sector through financing sustainable business and also by raising awareness of different stakeholders and tourists to protect these biodiversity-rich areas. 

In the national and local level, it is also essential to provide sustainable certification and eco-labelling to the hotels and resorts; promote sustainable tourism planning and increase investments in energy efficiency, water treatment and waste recycling schemes. Regulations and technical support also need to provide to the cruise owners and ports through incentivizing green ports and cruises. A quota system can also be introduced to monitor, manage and regulate passengers and cruise flows.  

Finally, emphasis should be given to promote sustainable blue tourism for the shorelines. It is essential to develop an integrated monitoring, and evaluation planning and at the same time, blue-tourism strategies and networking platforms. Economic and social benefits should be maximized for the local communities through community-based business and alternative livelihood opportunities. However, tourism production and consumption patterns over the long term also need to be analyzed. Lastly, the resiliency of the local communities should also be developed to absorb natural, social or economic shocks in future.  

Farah Anzum is currently working as a Junior Research Associate at ICCCAD. Her work involvement mainly includes climate change and gender and climate finance.