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Marine Ecotourism: The wealth of the oceans goes well beyond fisheries

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Marine ecotourism is a key piece to ensure that the conservation of natural capital contributes as much or more to human well-being than fisheries © Octavio Aburto
Marine ecotourism is a key piece to ensure that the conservation of natural capital contributes as much or more to human well-being than fisheries
© Octavio Aburto

View the Natural Numbers Video to learn more on Ecotourism.

As a celebration of UNESCO’s World Tourism Day, the science and communications initiative Natural Numbers created by iLCP Fellows Jaime Rojo and Octavio Aburto and eminent scientist Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra presented Marine Ecotourism, the sixth chapter of this popular internet series exploring the value of our natural capital, produced with support from Lyda Hill Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.

Oceans have always been a source of wealth. But our ability to extract resources and dump waste has surpassed the ocean’s capacity to adapt to these impacts. With nets growingly empty, some communities found an opportunity to use the ocean’s resources in a different way: marine ecotourism.

Cabo Pulmo receives 29,000 tourists every year, who leave a direct revenue of 3 million dollars, an alternative to fishing that has also allowed them to resist the attempts to establish mega-developments around their park © Octavio Aburto
Cabo Pulmo receives 29,000 tourists every year, who leave a direct revenue of 3 million dollars, an alternative to fishing that has also allowed them to resist the attempts to establish mega-developments around their park
© Octavio Aburto
After gray whales were protected, their population rebounded, and today they generate each year more than six million dollars through ecotourism in the sanctuaries of Baja California © Jaime Rojo
After gray whales were protected, their population rebounded, and today they generate each year more than six million dollars through ecotourism in the sanctuaries of Baja California
© Jaime Rojo
But not all is success stories: poorly planned tourism tends towards massification, impacts the environment and disturbs wildlife populations. © Thor Morales
But not all is success stories: poorly planned tourism tends towards massification, impacts the environment and disturbs wildlife populations.
© Thor Morales

What began, as a local economic alternative is today a global industry that generates 50 billion dollars a year and serves more than 120 million tourists. In Mexico, marine ecotourism attracts 900,000 visitors every year to the Gulf of California alone, and generates over 500 million dollars in local income. Some of these stories have become global examples of how ecotourism is helping coastal communities to succeed in a transition to a new economy that represents a long-term alternative to fisheries. In 1995, the people of Cabo Pulmo decided to stop fishing in and create a National Park that led to a spectacular rebound of marine life. Today, these reefs and its extraordinary abundance of life attract over 29,000 tourists every year, generating an economic alternative that has allowed local communities to resist the attempts to establish mega-developments around their park. Also in Baja California, the recovery of the gray whales –that were almost extinct after a century of indiscriminate hunting for their coveted blubber oil– is generating over six million dollars a year through whale-watching ecotourism, a source of income that has become essential for the inhabitants of the sanctuaries.

What started as a local economic alternative is today a global industry that generates 50 billion dollars each year, serving more than 120 million tourists © Jaime Rojo
What started as a local economic alternative is today a global industry that generates 50 billion dollars each year, serving more than 120 million tourists
© Jaime Rojo
Ensenada del Candelero, Isla Espiritu Santo Golfo de California Mexico In Mexico, marine ecotourism attracts 900 thousand visitors every year in the Gulf of California alone, generating local income of over 500 million dollars © Jaime Rojo
Ensenada del Candelero, Isla Espiritu Santo Golfo de California Mexico
In Mexico, marine ecotourism attracts 900 thousand visitors every year in the Gulf of California alone, generating local income of over 500 million dollars
© Jaime Rojo

But not all is success stories: poorly planned tourism tends towards massification, impacts the environment and disturbs wildlife populations. The benefits of a well-executed ecotourism transcend the local scale. Oceans need top predators like sharks, healthy reefs are still major drivers of marine productivity, and whales have become a symbol of cultural connection between distant ecosystems and nations

With nets growingly empty, some communities found an opportunity to use the oceanÕs resources in a different way: marine ecotourism © Octavio Aburto
With nets growingly empty, some communities found an opportunity to use the ocean’s resources in a different way: marine ecotourism
© Octavio Aburto

Marine ecotourism is a key piece to ensure that the conservation of natural capital contributes as much or more to human well-being than fisheries. Could the true richness of the oceans lie beyond resource extraction?

ESP F‡bricas, carreteras, campos de golf y fraccionamientos tur’sticos en la costa de Baja California, en La Paz. Los ocŽanos siempre han sido una fuente de riqueza y gracias a ellos prosperaron numerosas civilizaciones. Pero nuestra habilidad para extraer recursos y generar residuos ha alcanzado niveles insospechados, y poco a poco hemos ido dejando nuestra huella en el litoral ENG Factories, roads, golf courses and tourism developments in the coast of Baja California, near La Paz. Oceans have always been a source of wealth and numerous civilization prospered thanks to them. But our ability to extract resources and dump waste has reached unthinkable level, gradually leaving our footprint on the shores © Jaime Rojo
Factories, roads, golf courses and tourism developments in the coast of Baja California, near La Paz.
Oceans have always been a source of wealth and numerous civilization prospered thanks to them. But our ability to extract resources and dump waste has reached unthinkable level, gradually leaving our footprint on the shores
© Jaime Rojo

Natural Numbers is an award-winning series of short films that combine sound science, stunning photography and creative graphics to present the value of the natural capital of Mexico and the conflicts of its exploitation, with the goal of transforming the audience into an environmentally engaged citizenship. To learn more, visit: http://www.thenaturalnumbers.org

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