Tourism and nature: there is a lot of tension between the two. Beautiful coral reefs attract a lot of divers, but a lot of divers destroy the coral reefs. And what to think of all the hotels and restaurants that are needed to host and feed all those divers. The same counts for wildlife lovers: the more wildlife, the more wildlife lovers, the less wildlife. Nature attracts and at the same time it kills itself by it’s beauty, because of the stream of tourist that will follow. Unless, unless….
I know, I know, there are a lot of ‘good divers’, ‘real wildlife and nature-lovers’, who try to leave nothing but footprints. But still…. Once I was in Kakadu National park in Australia. A guy next to me sighted: “Wow, this is so beautiful, like no one else has ever been here.” As soons as he spoke those words, he put a mars-bar in his mouth and threw the rapping on the floor. I looked amazed at him, asked him what he was doing, why he was throwing that rapping on the floor. He looked strange at me and replied: “One little paper doesn’t make a difference, does it.” I asked him why he liked this place so much. He repeated his answer: “Because it looks like if no one has been here before.” I pointed at the mars-bar rapping: “And how does it look, when everybody just throws his garbage on the floor.” He shook his hat, picked up the mars-bar and walked away.
I’ve been picking up a lot of garage in nature, under water and have been handing out a lot of little plastic (yes, sorry: plastic) containers to smokers to put their cigarette buts in, to keep nature nature. But I also know I leave more than footprints on my trips around the world. For instance: I keep losing my water bottles, so I buy plastic ones as well. But I try to reduce the impact of my travelling, actually give lectures about travelling green and I try to spread awareness.
But I’m just a little man (although little, I’m 1.89 meter). If governments take action, nature can be preserved. I know a lot of countries do: by law. But they don’t act on it. Or the pay rangers and other people who have to guard nature so badly, that it becomes interesting for them to take bribes. But governments aren’t interested in protection nature. Even my own country, The Netherlands, under prime minister Rutten isn’t. They prefere building roads, industry yards instead of looking after Mother Earth.
So what a relief it is to be in Costa Rica for a while. A country that protects nature where it can. A country that had a green revolution, where environmentalists and big business fought together to preserve nature. Why? Because they know it’s possible: making money by preserving nature. The country use to make a lot of money with exporting coffee and it still does, but it’s not number one anymore. Bananas took over in the first place, but as with the coffee most money either left the country of went to a very small elite group. So the country looked for something else and it found it: tourism. Green, sustainable tourism. Eleven percent of the country is national park. 35 areas are protected as national park; including wetlands and mangroves and one-third of the country is under some kind of conservation.
And it works, because tourism is by far the biggest slice of the Costa Rican economy. It just brings up one problem: there are so many tourist coming now to see the wildlife and nature, that Costa Rica had to step up nature protection. But because the country knows how important it is, it probably will.