Can recreation and conservation co-exist?
Yet, of course they can. Recreation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Look at scuba diving, for example. The current thinking from that field suggests that, in fact, recreation within natural environments tends to lead more people to help with conservation efforts in those very places.
It may seem like a contradictory argument at first, but it’s really not. Despite some well-founded claims that inexperienced divers can damage the corral reefs they’re supposed to be enjoying, the scuba-diving community is known for its advocacy, conservation and awareness programs. And this ethos originates from a place of tourism, business and recreation.
As a group of Southern Cross University scholars pointed out in a paper from 2012, some scuba divers move from an initial place of wanting simply “to see the big stuff” towards a more nuanced understanding of underwater ecosystems. Through their first-hand encounters with marine environments, they become “integral to raising conservation awareness within the wider community.”
As the paper conclusively states, “Commercial dive operators benefit financially by providing access to dive sites and divers become empowered through ongoing education and awareness, which in turn fosters greater stewardship of the marine environment, with flow-on effects to the host community and destination through advocacy and marine conservation activities.”
That’s a scholarly way of saying that millions of people per year are exposed to the fragile beauty of the underwater world, and many of them are motivated by the experience to help protect it.
The dive operators and resorts, meanwhile, have a vested financial interest in protecting the corals as divers don’t pay top dollar to see bleached and dead reefs.
This mutual tendency towards protection isn’t catalyzed through any sort of guilt-induced environmental zealotry, but instead through a desire for bored tourists to do something fun on their spring break.
I like to think of it as a form of Trojan Horse environmental activism. Give ’em something they want, with the understanding that many of them will unknowingly give you what you want in return. After all, positive activism doesn’t just happen. One tends to first need a personal appreciation of what you’re supporting. That appreciation, more often than not, comes with firsthand contact.
Virtually every cable car proposal in the world, it seems, is subject to a barrage of environmental attacks—some completely warranted, some not. This seems especially true of cable cars intended to provide recreational access to natural sites, such as the Grand Canyon Escalade project.
But I sometimes wonder if those rallying against certain projects are missing an incredible opportunity to convert passive consumers of beautiful views into staunch environmental activists and allies. After all, giving people the opportunity to physically experience the natural environment can be a more direct path to environmentalism.
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