In case you haven’t heard, our planet is doomed (#GlobalWarmingIsReal). As the oceans rise, so does the number of travelers known as “last-chance tourists,” people who take trips to places that seem to be disappearing in the not-too-distant future. As people flock to the disappearing Great Barrier Reef, a new question has emerged: can tourism save the world’s largest living structure?
Well, that depends on who you ask. In a recent piece for Travel+ Leisure, reporter Sean Fennessey made the argument that the reported $2.9 billion tourists bring into Northeast Australia (some of which goes toward environmental management) can help offset the damage to the reef – most of which is a result of warming temperatures, invasive species and coastal development, not tourists.
In the last 30 years, almost half of the reef has vanished, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The traditional argument is that added tourism infrastructure, carbon emissions and boats going over the reef will only destroy faster the very thing tourists are coming to see before it’s gone. And there are plenty of scientists who continue to believe that.
But Fennessey argues that heavy regulation to the number of divers and snorkelers, as well as better education for divemasters and more eco-friendly practices in the hospitality industry have started promoting reef health.
“Tourism used to be part of the problem, back in the days when tramping over the coral was permitted, and the bottoms of boats scraped the shallow seabed. These days, a trip to the reef is an educational experience, a stark reminder of what’s at stake for our rapidly warming planet,” he says.
Well, now that that's settled, we just need to figure out that pesky little global warming issue.