Vacation Responsibly 

Travel with conservation in mind as you visit island nations.

Visits to island destinations mark the beginning of the summer season. Rich in biodiversity, rich in culture, islands represent a beautiful image, but there’s more than meets the eye. Island nations often face challenges unseen by the typical tourist.

Extreme weather and natural disasters

Credit: NASA

Islands are susceptible to extreme weather and natural disasters. With warming seas, islands are experiencing more extreme cyclones and hurricanes. When damage occurs the resources to rebuild and recover from destruction are often immense for island communities. Islands like Puerto Rico and Tonga are still recovering today from natural disasters.

For Puerto Rico, 2017’s Hurricane Maria continues to leave lasting impacts, such as continued power outages and ongoing efforts to rebuild many of the places lost.

In January 2022, the island nation of Tonga experienced the eruption of an underground volcano followed by a tsunami. This left various islands covered with ash and took repair ships around a month to restore communication between Tonga and the world.

Credit: Nik Shuliahin

Sea level rise and coastal erosion

Sea level rise and coastal erosion put low-lying islands’ fresh water supply at risk. Many islands have coastal areas only around three feet above sea level, making it possible for rising sea levels to decrease the land area, and allowing saltwater to flood reservoirs of freshwater. This can affect the accessibility to freshwater for island nations. 

Sea level rise continues to put island nations and wildlife in danger. Coral reefs, mangroves, and coastal areas are essential natural areas for wildlife and island nations. These forms of natural infrastructure act as barriers, protecting islands from flooding and other natural disasters. Habitats and environments will be affected and wiped out if sea levels continue to rapidly rise.

Credit: Beth JNR

Biodiversity

The destruction of habitats and biodiversity on islands are not only caused by extreme weather conditions but by infrastructure. Many islands depend on tourism for revenue and for the economy. But this often displaces more communities and slows down the recovery of these areas, making islands and wildlife continuously vulnerable. Airbnbs are becoming popular within tourist spots, allowing for visitors to stay local and experience the beauty of the area.

But this is becoming an issue, Airbnbs are on the rise and are establishing their buildings on coastal areas which continues to push out people and wildlife from these areas. When the focus becomes the recovery of revenue rather than recovery of the island, then there is failure to recognize the predicament that islands are in the fight against climate change.

Credit: Naja Bertolt Jensen

Plastic waste contributes to the destruction of land and biodiversity of islands. Waste continues to harm the marine life that exist within these areas but even contribute to the carbon emissions driving climate change. It can affect the biodiversity if species consume it and can affect the ecosystems in place that offer an abundance of resources that nations rely on. The uniqueness and beauty of islands often come from the biodiversity that exists but that slowly diminishes when waste seeps into these areas.

Irresponsible Tourism 

Island nations produce around less than one percent of carbon emissions but now face the greatest threat against climate change and its impact. These challenges affect the most vulnerable communities on the island including wildlife. The challenges that island nations are facing continue to increase as tourism continues.

Tourism often ignores the impacts it has on these islands and contributions to the slow destruction of these environments. But being mindful and aware of the ever changing climate and tourism that occurs will continue to shape the ability of islands to protect themselves and recover.

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Published: August 4, 2022

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