Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ecotourism in Belize’s Rain Forests

The Central American country Belize borders Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea.
Almost 13 percent of Belize contains protected forests, and of this area old-growth forests make up a large portion. Overall, forests and woodlands cover almost 92 percent of Belize. Rather than build an economy based on lumber, Belize’s leaders have developed a system in which the country uses its forests as an ecotourism destination. Belize also provides a rare example of sustainable ecotourism in which local residents act as guides and teach tourists about local history, their culture, and the region’s environment.

Belize houses hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but its plant diversity may be most astounding: More than 3,000 species of higher plants live there. For almost 20 years the government has supported eco-business grants, which are funds that help small businesses establish themselves as green businesses, or businesses that emphasize sustainable activities. Meanwhile, local communities form custodial groups that watch for forest fires, illegal harvesting of trees and plants, wildlife poaching, and invasive species.

Traditional tourism can take a toll on land and coasts, and for decades Belize suffered from this type of unrestrained tourism. Habitat began to disappear, residents and animals were displaced, and waste accumulated. Ecotourism, by contrast, focuses on travelers who wish to see plants or animals in their native habitats. In Belize, sustainable ecotourism helps protect the forest habitat while it benefits residents by protecting forest-oriented lifestyles of the native people. Local interests that benefit from today’s sustainable ecotourism include arts, crafts, foods, language, and traditional healing methods.

In 1993 a group of business leaders formed the Belize Ecotourism Association to address ongoing issues on conservation and tourism. Some of the current issues covered by this association are the following: adopt-a-roadway programs; cruise ship traffic; national park management; and studies of proposed dams and other public projects. Through this organization the people of Belize control their destiny without outside influences.

Deforestation remains a serious threat in Belize because of the country’s other industries, which include: marine products, citrus, cane sugar, bananas, and garments. Belizean jungles also contain oil reserves, so the country confronts ongoing problems of encroachment and development. Despite the success the country has had in protecting its forests for ecotourism, Belize has arrived at a decision point in which it will either continue along the sustainable ecotourism path or move toward mass tourism and become a resort destination.

To build a promising future in conservation, Belize must fill the gaps in its education system by expanding programs that teach residents how to care for and protect their forests. The Belizean ecologist Colin Young was interviewed in 2007 by the environmental resource site Young explained, “Having strong, creative teacher education programs in the sciences for primary- and secondary-level teachers is a necessary first step to excite students in pursuing careers as scientists. Once the number of scientists increases, younger generations will have role models they can emulate.” Young added, “What is apparent is that forest resources in Belize need to be managed in a more holistic and transparent manner. . . . Empowering local communities and local people, where appropriate, to become stewards and co-managers of forest resources is also paramount.” Belize’s forest conservation will depend on dedication from all facets of its society in order to continue its success.

Source of Information :  Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources

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