Friday, August 27, 2010

Ecotourism an alternative solution to stop deforestation

Eco-tourism is a famous word now. A lot of service providers in the tourism industry use this term a lot when promoting their businesses. But do they really understand the real meaning of eco-tourism? I have been writing about forest preservation since three years ago. The subject which I previously thought simple, in reality, becomes a very complicated issue. Forest or tropical rainforest is a complex environment. It looks strong but actually it is very vulnerable. Rainforest in West Papua or New Guinea island stand on thin top soil of the ground. When people cut the trees for agricultural or logging purposes, they don't realize that they have left the top layer of the ground exposed to erosion. This top soil can easily be swept away by heavy rain.
Besides providing food for the indigenous Papuan people living around or along the rivers in the rainforest, the forest itself is absorbing huge amount of CO2 gases which we emit every day. We might think that we live in the US or Europe which are far from the rainforest in West Papua but the CO2 gases that we emit from running our cars and industrial machineries have traveled thousands of kilometers away and end up in the rainforest region across the equator.
In recent years, developing countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea intensify the extraction of timber or wood from the rainforest for export purposes. They give large number of permits to logging and palm oil plantation companies that are now cutting the trees in the concession area of the rainforests. A tragic example of this is the leasing of rainforest in Manokwari of West Papua. There have been many conflicts erupted between the logging and palm oil companies versus the indigenous people who live and depend their lives on the resources taken from the rainforest. Sometimes the conflicts lead to physical clashes. Government officials and security officers tend to side on the parties who have money to pay them. This situation brings the indigenous people in dangerous situation. Their food resource is being taken from them and their sacred lands are being destroyed.
To find a solution to this crisis, a number of environmental activists or forest lovers try to offer an alternative scheme which they hope can reduce or stop the deforestation of rainforest and at the same time give income both to the government and the indigenous people who are the main stakeholder of the rainforest. From my personal experience, I have directly involved in introducing ecotourism to town dwellers living in Komplex Miss at the foot of the Table Mountain where rainforest still exists. Before offering a tour or hiking package to foreign tourists, I had some afternoon hikings with my friend, Paul Warere to take some photographs and access interesting objects in the forest which we can develop for our ecotourism project.
It only takes 3 months to bring tourists to the rainforest area of the Table Mountain. When hundreds of pictures had been taken, I wrote a lot of blog posts about them and invite people to visit the forest for doing bird watching, butterfly watching and caving as well as bat watching. Some European visitors even come to the rainforest just to sit and silently hear the sounds of nature. I call it morning meditation. One example was the one which was carried out by Katja Zimmerman in the tropical rainforest of the Table Mountain on 26 May 2010. In January 2010, three Russian tourists came. Within eight months I have traveled around the forests with tourists coming from various countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Norway. Tourists visit the Table Mountain of Manokwari every month. People who live at the foot of the Table Mountain enjoy the positive impact of our eco-tourism project. Some women who sell fruits in the small market next to my house say that they are happy when tourists come to buy their bananas, artists inform me that tourists buy their handicrafts and I and Paul are happy too because we can get money from working as field guide.
Ecotourism scheme that I promote here is not meant to bring thousands of tourists in one day to the small forest that is now covering the Table Mountain of Manokwari. Ecotourism is only one of the many alternatives that we can apply to preserve our environment. If if is run properly, it will bring positive outcome both to the operators of the tourism service and to the environment itself. Ecotourism may not always be a perfect solution, but it should be considered as a good alternative that is effective in stopping the deforestation conducted by logging and palm oil plantation companies that are now threatening the existence of all rainforests around the world particularly the ones in West Papua. by Charles Roring. Contact e-mail: peace4wp@gmail.com or lroring@yahoo.com For more of my stories, please, visit Manokwari Papua Travel Journal