How can avitourism be sustainable?
There are many aspects of sustainability in avitourism, from trying to limit CO2 emissions to reducing disturbance to the wildlife itself, but it all comes down to reducingthe environmental impact and actively engaging in conservation projects.
One approach to nature conservation is to take action to make the presence of people a benefit for birds and wildlife. This is undertaken to great effect by conservation organisations such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). Through the design and making of over 200 nature reserves in UK, the organisation is providing resting, feeding and breeding grounds for an enormous quantity of birds. Wildlife in UK and Europe would be much worse off without these efforts. A vast number of birders, and nature enthusiasts make this happen, through memberships, volunteering, donations, etc.
When executed correctly ecotourism (and more specifically avitourism) has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the community in which it is focused, particularly in remote or impoverished areas. It can be an invaluable source of income for local people and importantly, reduce the necessity for environmentally damaging activities such as the unsustainable harvest of wildlife and deforestation, both for subsistence farming and large scale cash crop growing. Thus, if the local community understands the financial value of the wildlife they will be motivated to protect it. For example, the development of the North Colombian Birding Trail has lead to the training of over 30 locals to be bird guides, including a group of Wayuus, a native ethnic group that reside in the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia, bringing sustainable income into their communities.
Examples of engagement in conservation:
Nature across the world is under increasing threat. There are many thousands of wildlife conservation organisations working to prevent extinctions, save habitats and build awareness of many threatened species. Funding for many of these projects is low. As an act of sustainability, to help preserve some of the nature they are also enjoying, many ecotourism companies and organisations choose to support a conservation project financially. British birding tour operator Bird Holidays has a policy of supporting conservation efforts in different parts of the world, including one scheme that funds the purchase and reforestation of land in Ecuador alongside the World Land Trust* and Jocotoco Foundation**. Native plants are reestablished on the land to recreate habitat for rainforest species. This means that all the flights taken by the tour company´s guides and clients are carbon neutral. Bird Holidays also supports the Spoon-billed Sandpiper through BirdLife International by registering as a BirdLife Species Champion.***
The code of conduct: “The interests of the birds come first”
In Britain, a series of wildlife and birding organisations have created the “birdwatcher´s code”, a code of conduct that should be practiced by all birders as a means of maintaining the enjoyment of the hobby for themselves and others, without causing excessive disturbance. Birds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. If birds are disturbed they may keep away from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take their eggs or young. During cold weather, or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly disturbing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding.
Intentionally or recklessly disturbing some birds at or near their nest is illegal in Britain. Whether you are interested in photography, bird ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember to always put the interests of the birds first.
• Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats – if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close. If it leaves, you won’t get a good view of it anyway.
• Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbance in habitats used by birds.
• Think about your fieldcraft. You might disturb a bird even if you are not very close, e.g. a flock of wading birds on the shore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on a high point and in silhouette.
• Repeatedly playing a recording of bird song or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Be very careful of using playback to attract a species, in particular during its’ breeding season.
In UK the BTO have issued this "code of conduct": http://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u10/downloads/taking-part/health/bwc.pdf
The increased disturbance by wildlife watchers is often the reason particular pairs of some species fail to breed or move away to a different area. In Britain, Long-eared Owls are famous for being disturbed at their winter roosts (often in bushes in plain view) by overzealous birders and photographers. Following the code will stop observers intruding into the lives of wildlife, particularly when it may be vulnerable e.g. wasting precious energy flying away during harsh winter months. This code should also be taken onboard by wildlife tour operators, many of whom take clients to the same single pair of a particular species as they know they are present. While this is fantastic for the clients who get to see the species, the animals themselves may be put under increased pressure from frequent visits and this has the potential to impact upon the birds breeding success.
In the effort to act sustainably in ecotourism one should consider:
• Each individual’s responsibility as a a visitor. It is the host/ destination’s responsibility to create awareness of this, and preferably develop a code of conduct that is perfectly tailored to the destination and it’s wildlife.
• A nature destination or ecotourism company should somehow engage in conservation. The possibilities are endless, and when handled well it can result in a symbiotic relationship between wildlife and people, and a great business model.