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Local ecotourism: a lifeline for island communities

September 14, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a mixed bag for islands. While their geographical isolation has helped many island nations keep infection rates low, travel restrictions and other economic consequences of the pandemic have devastated the economies of island communities that depend on international tourism. Under these circumstances, Seacology’s support for local ecotourism projects has taken on new urgency.

Ecotourism protects habitats for a simple reason: It links healthy, scenic ecosystems with jobs. Tourists pay to visit a reef full of fish, not one that’s been choked by sediment from careless coastal development. They want to hike in forests with big trees and plenty of wildlife, not hillsides that have been clear-cut. Communities that invest in resource-based tourism have a strong financial incentive to be good stewards of the environment.

Seacology supports a wide variety of ecotourism projects on islands around the world. Our projects have trained local youth to be nature guides and dive instructors, developed hiking trails, and provided kayaks for scenic mangrove tours, just to name a few examples.

A 2014 project in Honduras trained local youth to work as dive guides.

Seacology funded the repair of guest cabins as part of our project protecting Madagascar's Marojejy National Park.

Our support for ecotourism initiatives became more important once the pandemic began and travel restrictions went into effect. Coastal communities in the Dominican Republic, for example, had relied on international visitors to fill up their big resorts, restaurants, and bars. With those tourists all but gone, local, small-scale ecotourism is helping to fill the void. Our projects with partners in communities like Montecristi province, Las Garitas, and Boca Chica, provide jobs, many of them to historically disadvantaged groups, while protecting the country’s vulnerable mangroves and coral reefs. Our upcoming nationwide mangrove project will vastly scale up our role in the Dominican ecotourism sector. When international travel restrictions ease, our partners will be well positioned to show off their carefully protected habitats to foreign visitors.

“What Seacology is doing with its investments in local economies and teaching people about sustainability is really important,” said Seacology board member Sonia Toledo. “Hopefully the pause in outsiders coming in will create the space for island communities to think about how they can live–and make a good living–out of protecting their environments.” 

Explore all of our ecotourism projects by visiting our projects map and selecting “ecotourism” under “project type.”