LATIN AMERICA

The Unseen Consequences of Ecotourism

Michaela Wade 2 - Costa Rica

The growing trend of ecotourism is evident in much of Latin America. Tourists from North America are flooding in increasing numbers to view the tropical animal and plant life of Central and South America. While studying abroad in Costa Rica, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of locals employed in this booming industry. But the closer I observed, the more I became concerned about what was really going on. Could it really be healthy for the country to have such an influx of visitors in their national parks, beaches and rain forests?

Before entering Manual Antonio National park, I was surprised by having my bag searched for snacks. Tourists were told that any snacks in disposable bags could not enter the park. This has become necessary because of the the amount of trash left behind by careless tourists. Another problem is the feeding of wildlife. I witnessed several monkeys opening backpacks in search of food. Cute, right? How great to have a monkey up close and personal with you! But the monkeys in the park have become accustomed to getting food this way, and it is disruptive to their natural habitat.

Another environmental problem in Costa Rica is the harvesting of sea turtle eggs. They are a culturally accepted culinary specialty, served raw with salsa to be downed quickly like a shot. But this tradition only further increases the risk of extinction for sea turtles. Very few sea turtles actually make it to the ocean after hatching, and this only decreases the number of turtles that have a chance to hatch. It’s important while going abroad to be aware of and consider the impact of your actions on the ecosystem. Choose not to take part in tourist activities that cause harm to the diverse wildlife or their unique ecosystems. If these exotic plants and animals are worth traveling to another part of the world to experience, surely they are worth preserving so that they keep their natural wonder and so that generations to come may experience them as well.

By being conscious of what mark you are leaving on the ecosystem, you can enjoy and observe the awesome setting without damaging it. My advice to students going abroad is to follow the words of John Muir: “Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.” There are amazing and beautiful sights to be seen, but we must be careful to observe them without polluting them.

Photo courtesy of Katie LaCombe.

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Michaela Wade is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Spanish. She participated in a UK Partner program with SOL Education Abroad at the Latin University of Costa Rica in fall 2015.