International Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22 1970 by 20 million people in the United States to raise awareness for environmental safekeeping. In the current period climate change, pollution, and mass extinction is occupying an amount of space in the public consciousness never seen before. All of this has happened as people grow more aware of how much of our prosperity hinges on a healthy planet.
The Caribbean region is one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots with around 1000 globally endangered species, most of which are endemic to the region. Many of the Caribbean nations are extremely dependent on the local ecosystem for their economic activities, employment, and coastal protection among several other reasons. In fact, despite being 1% of the world’s oceans, the Caribbean seas account for as much as 27% of the global ocean economy. Therefore preserving the Caribbean ecosystem isn’t just a matter of altruism towards nature, but rather safeguarding their living conditions for generations to come.
With growing environmental awareness ecotourism has gained popularity as more people develop eco-friendly lifestyles including their tourism. In this spirit, we will highlight some of the top countries for ecotourism in the Caribbean, so you can travel with a satisfied conscience, knowing that you’re helping local communities help in environmental management.
We’ll also provide tips on being a good eco tourist.
Next, we’ll also bring to attention the strides that Caribbean countries have made towards tackling environmental challenges such as by developing renewable energy.
Finally, we will tell you ways in which you can personally do your part in helping the planet.
Belize has several natural attractions such as beaches, jungles, wildlife, reefs and mountains, so you’ll have plenty to do and see. On top of that, it’s got several local environmental initiatives to seal the eco-tourism deal.
The Payne’s Creek national park preserves a variety of endangered species along with other ecological activities and is funded by TIDE tours. In it, you’ve got activities such as bird-watching, a farm-to-table cacao experience, to name a few.
For a marine experience, head over to the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve between April and June to see and snorkel with whale sharks!
Photo by Suzanne Shroeter
Bonaire’s environmental stewardship is centered around their marine environment, so many ecotourism activities are water based such as diving, kayaking and windsurfing. Diving is the best way to experience the marine environment and Bonaire has more than 85 sites.There are 350 fish species, sea turtles and 57 coral species to see.
The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary hosts several thousands of flamingos. Tourists aren’t allowed to come inside the reserve and have to see the flamingos from afar.
While marine environments are the main attractions, Bonaire also has a mangrove where you can kayak through, and it’s also got a beach nearby.
Having thick forest covers, mountains, caves, walking trails, a pristine marine environment, the Dominican Republic has just so much of nature to experience.
The Los Haitises National Park is one of the best national parks in the country. And for good reason. It has caves, sinkholes, estuaries, and the tall rock formations are a featured sight here. The park hosts several bird species such as hawks, woodpeckers, and pelicans.
The indigenous eyes ecological park in Punta Cana has many beautiful lagoons to swim in, and hiking trails to explore and see the flora and fauna.
Photo by Alex Azabache
St. John Island (US Virgin Islands)
The majority of the island’s land and shoreline water constitute the Virgin Islands National Park. So you will find a lot of pristine space, which is just perfect to watch and explore.
This also includes the marine environment so scuba diving here is an absolute delight where you can find marine species like the parrotfish, kingfish, and snapper among several others. The coral is a perfect addition to an already beautiful environment.
Some other activities in the island include kayaking, and going on a safari bus shuttle. The Virgin Island Eco tours offer packages for a proper eco tourist experience.
Among the Caribbean countries, Costa Rica has prioritized environmental safeguarding to an exceptional extent, with over a quarter of its land devoted to national parks, and other forms of protected lands. The Corcovado National Park is one of the most popular among these, and the biodiversity in this region is nothing short of astonishing. Hiking and camping are the main activities. Hundreds of Costa Rica’s vulnerable animal species are found here such as jaguars, scarlet macaws, tapirs, and rain frogs. If you’d like to do something different from a usual vacation, you could volunteer at an organic farm. They produce food for the local communities, wildlife, and for international markets. If you’d prefer a shorter experience, you can book smaller tours.
Photo by Flora Westbrook
How to do EcoTourism Right
Since conventional tourism is often a very environmentally taxing activity, the goal of ecotourism is to do the opposite and enrich local environments and communities. To do that, you will need to follow through with some travel practices. Here are some of them:
Avoid flights as much as you can
Flights have a huge carbon footprint, so using a car, bus or any similar automobile can be a better alternative. Since you’ll be traveling by slower means, it would be preferable to go somewhere nearby.
Use cleaner modes of transport
Expanding on the previous point, you would still need to use a mode of transport when you get to your destination. Here too, you can make strides to minimize your carbon footprint. Instead of renting a car, you could use the bus, a bicycle, or even walk if the places are nearby. If a car is still necessary, a car sharing service can significantly reduce your footprint.
Photo by MadelAmber
Avoid single-use plastics
Plastic pollution has been a major cause for concern, and the recently signed UN plastic treaty shows how dire it is. With that in mind, you as an individual, can still do your part by cutting down on single-use plastic consumption. Some ways are:
- Use cloth bags.
- Carry a water bottle instead of relying on bottled water.
- Replace a plastic toothbrush with zero-waste ones
- Bring metal straws
Support the local communities
When you’re buying any items, ensure that they are made locally so that you can support local businesses. Indulging in small local eateries is a great way to experience the local cuisine while helping the vendors. Also check whether the places you’ll be staying in have a reputation for sustainability and fair labor practices.
Spread the word
Share posts on social media about your eco-tourist trips and spread the word around. Show them how you practice it, where you went, and don’t forget to take beautiful pictures! Let people know that tourism can be done sustainably with proper respect to the local environment and societies.
It might end up convincing some of your friends to make their vacations more eco-friendly and you help compound the benefit of your trip.
Caribbean Countries Making Environmental Progress
Since the later years of the 2010s, Belize’s government has passed legislations banning off-shore drilling and single-use plastics. To complement that, Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System was also removed from the UNESCO World Heritage Danger sites. When it comes to renewable energy, Belize has plans for attracting investment in solar energy and has built smaller solar grids.
As of 2017, Bonaire has managed to be one of the top 100 sustainable destinations. Since the pandemic, Bonaire has also started a shift from mass tourism towards quality tourism, and gives ecotourism greater priority.
Cuba has a history of being adversely affected by natural disasters such as hurricane Irma in 2017, and is vulnerable to further issues from climate change. To tackle these issues, the Cuban government has made significant progress. A major one is ‘Tarea Vida’(Life Task), a long term plan implemented in 2017, to go all the way to 2100.
This is a program involving finding the most vulnerable regions and having the local communities of these regions work with relevant parties such as ecologists and social scientists to improve climate resilience and develop renewable energy. Alongside that, Cuba is one of the few countries to make amendments to their constitution to fight climate change.
Barbados has made ambitious plans for a transition to renewable energy, aiming to have all of their energy reliance on renewables by 2030. Most of this will be focused on developing solar photovoltaics, but there are also developments in other types of renewables such as biomass, wind, and wave energy.
For environmental protection, Barbados has also implemented the Roofs to Reefs programme. This plan ensures to integrate economic development with sustainability with plans such as using rainwater harvesting, reinforcing homes and coral restoration.
Currently, a quarter of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, which puts it as one of the top performers in the region for renewable energy. Geothermal energy has significant potential, and the government has made it a priority to explore their geothermal potential.