Like the modern environmental movement, ecotourism is subject to green washing. Green washing is the term that describes when companies spin their products, services and/or policies to appear eco-friendly. It’s a deceptive marketing tool adopted by companies who want to make a profit off of the relatively new demographic of environmentally-minded consumers. The ecotourism industry is no exception, and there are plenty of examples of green washing in the ecotourism industry. So, you need to be a conscious consumer to determine whether or not your ecotourism activities really are environmentally friendly.
Swimming with dolphins is a classic example of green washing in the ecotourism industry. Companies and hotels throughout the world have been offering this service for decades. Basically, you typically pay a small fortune to stand in a swimming pool while trained dolphins do some tricks. Then, they’ll come up to you and you can feed them fish and pet the dolphins. Or a company might take you out on a boat for a chance to swim with wild dolphins. At first glance, swimming with a dolphin might seem eco-friendly. Animals live in nature, so one might reasonably conclude that by interacting with an animal it is natural, and therefore, eco-friendly. The problem with swimming with a dolphin is that it’s actually not very eco-friendly. To start, if you’re in a swimming pool with dolphins they are in the wrong place. Artificially treated water takes a substantial amount of chemicals to maintain. The water also has to be temperature-controlled, which takes an enormous amount of energy. Many animal rights activists maintain that dolphins do not belong in captivity, largely due to their intelligent, social nature. Many liken a dolphin in captivity to a human in captivity. Animal rights activists believe that an animal has a right to live its natural life; meaning that a dolphin has a right to live in its natural environment as it would without interference. So it’s not really an authentic, natural experience. Instead, it’s more like visiting a circus or a zoo.
The whole idea behind ecotourism is that you travel to a natural, pristine or protected area and do so in a manner that does not alter or inhibit the natural environment. One of ecotourism’s main goals is to benefit the local people of a place. Another main goal of ecotourism is to have a conceptual experience, where the act enriches your life so that you have a greater appreciation for how natural habitats work. Finally, ecotourism also strives to minimize environmental impacts by promoting recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation. Swimming with a dolphin in a hotel pool is not energy-efficient and definitely does not conserve water. It is also not natural, so you really can’t enrich your life and understand how nature works.
EnviroCitizen.org challenges you to research your eco-tourism choices before booking a trip, making sure that your environmentally-friendly choices really are environmentally-friendly!