Shifting Strategies in Conservation

I just returned from Asia. Nepal is a country the size of Arkansas with 30 million people; the GDP per capita is less than US$1000. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is also rich in culture and biodiversity, a place where Buddhism blends with Hinduism. A place with tigers and 8000m peaks. For me, Nepal removed all doubts that Conservation is by people, for people, and about people. And there is alot of work to do in Asia.

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After a month of walking the country, I spent Vaishakh Poornima, Buddha's birthday, in Kathmandu with tens of thousands Nepalis and Indians in the streets celebrating, preying, and spinning prayer wheels. While spinning some myself, I realized my time here reinforced the conclusion that conservation in Nepal and elsewhere needs radical change. Not only has decades of international aid failed to alleviate poverty in the country, it has done little for the environment. We need an army of new fresh minds, from business schools and elsewhere, working with local communities to solve environmental problems. You can't do conservation when there is no water, electricity, and infrastructure (see below for a Kathmandu example).

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The locals say there are three religions in Nepal: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Tourism. Tourism is now a major part of Nepal's environmental problems, as locals cut down forests for firewood to feed tourists. Yet, tourism will also be part of the solution. We need new strategies - fresh new strategies. Just like spinning prayer wheels, the current strategies won't help to protect Nepal's environment.

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josh...

you wrote: Tourism is now a major part of Nepal's environmental problems, as locals cut down forests for firewood to feed tourists. Yet, tourism will also be part of the solution. We need new strategies - fresh new strategies.

with all due respect, some of us in the marine conservation world have been working on tourism's role and connection to conservation strategies for almost a decade now... granted, many of us pioneering these areas are with smaller agencies with a resultant smaller impact... the BiNGOs have been slow to catch on that tourism can be a leverage to conservation, but even they've been making progress of late...

my own work in helping local melanesian communities build effective MPAs that not only result in increased fish yields but also draw world-wide attention as dive destinations that can generate revenue for community benefits has shown itself to be a model with excellent transferability... the challenge in embracing tourism, however, is that you're also encouraging greater resource demand (jet fuel) and also adding to tourism's already problematic carbon footprint...

i think it's high time for conservationists to start putting our heads together on sharing tourism strategies that work (marine and terrestrial)...

"the challenge in embracing tourism, however, is that you're also encouraging greater resource demand (jet fuel) and also adding to tourism's already problematic carbon footprint..."

Indeed that is true. However the entire paradigm of economic growth is fundamentally flawed despite the fact it is defended more ardently than fudamentalist religious beliefs. I would recommend reading Donella Meadows: Leverage Points as an introduction to the paradigm shift that is necessary.

Maybe ecotourism has to be a much more local enterprise than it is currently being promoted. As an example I myself belong to a scuba kayaking club and dive with club memebers on our local reefs. Granted not everyone has access to coral reefs within a couple of miles from their home. Though finding and preserving the gems they do have should be part of the overall plan.

At least until as societies we understand more fully the benefits of allowing our members to do things like taking a three month sabatical to sail around the world and not have to use jet fuel to do it.

Ride a bike or take a hike

By Fernando Magyar (not verified) on 01 Jun 2008 #permalink

I could not agree more that marine and terrestrial practitioners need to strategize together. I was not implying that there are no people out there working on new conservation strategies (including ecotourism endeavors) - they are many. But there are not enough. And the majority of our strategies over the past three decades, marine and terrestrial, have failed. That is indisputable.

josh, you said: And the majority of our strategies over the past three decades, marine and terrestrial, have failed. That is indisputable.

yes, but in emphasizing those failures you miss the point that there are practitioners, albeit a minority, who are not failing... as we both point out, it's either a problem of scale of impact or there not being enough of them...

i hope i'm not beating a dead horse with this, but i think it's an important distinction to make that solutions do exist (especially at the local level) and many promising new approaches to tourism and conservation (particularly in leveraging mass tourism as agents for change or the role of a policy-level focus to sustainable tourism development) are still in early stages... we certainly don't need to start from scratch or imply that tenable approaches elude us... we do however need more in the conservation community to learn from the decades of mistakes, and be willing to replicate and expand what works...

Well, I'm looking for a change of careers right now, specifically trying to find a way to work in conservation.

You've got my email from this comment, right? I've got a degree in bio and in psych, and a couple years diverse experience (none in conservation). Write me!

....tens of thousands Nepalis and Indians in the streets celebrating, preying....

Oops. :-)

By Lurker #753 (not verified) on 02 Jun 2008 #permalink

what a mess it is necessary to be more sensitive to this environment in Southern Asia is not sensitive to the living environment, I never even washed the dirty brook

what a mess it is necessary to be more sensitive to this environment in Southern Asia is not sensitive to the living environment, I never even washed the dirty brook