Archive | September, 2012

Galapagos Wildlife

Taken during visit in September 2012 hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Ecuador.

For landscape pictures and some reflections on the challenges associated with protecting this very special place on the planet, please see post titled: Galapagos – a place or a parable for our time?.


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Galapagos – a place or a parable for our time?

Charles Darwin as a Young Man

Ironically, the very individual who put the islands of the Galapagos on the humanity’s mental map was an unconscious traveler, whose arrival in 1835 did so much to enhance mankind’s awareness & understanding of Nature while starting a potentially destructive trend on the islands themselves. At the moment when Charles Darwin first stepped ashore, he was probably unaware that he and his human companions were not the only life forms to invade this exotic yet very fragile ecosystem.  But inevitably a few claustrophobic rats from the ship, along with fleas, microbes, plant seeds and spores made it to land, chose to stay and, in so doing, accelerated the change in ecological balance that has been developing ever since.

Were we able to reach back in time and persuade Mr. Darwin to join us on a modern day visit, he would be in for a shock. Of the 450 species currently identified, there are now 106 that are considered critically endangered and a further 90 are classified as highly vulnerable. Some species of giant tortoise and the Galapagos mouse have disappeared completely. There could be many other species that became extinct before we were able to identify them. The BBC’s excellent documentary on the Galapagos Islands is available on You Tube here.

While experts and opinion makers both within and outside Galapagos disagree on solutions, there is consensus on one key point. Galapagos is both a place and a metaphor/parable.

 Tourism is a mixed blessing for the Galapagos but the fact is, if there was not tourism to the islands and the local people did not get any income from it, there would be nothing left there now. It would be all gone. It is the lesson of conservation around the world that unless the people who live in such places, whose land they feel belongs to them, are on the side of conservation, you’re doomed. Source: Galapagos Islands Need Tourism To Survive

Andrew Marr, the well known journalist and TV presenter, who is also President of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, argues here for significant reduction in visitation and has vowed to “walk his talk” and never return so that he is not part of the problem of rising demand.  In this article, Galapagos Needs Tourism to Survive, Marr’s media colleague and acclaimed naturalist, David Attenborough, on the other hand, describes tourism as a “necessary evil” which provides income to islanders and conservation but which must be controlled.

I was exceptionally privileged to have been invited by Freddie Ehlers, Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism, to accompany him and several other fortunate participants of the recent combined event (UNWTO’s Tourism & Ethics Conference and the OAG Annual Tourism Ministers Summit) and spend three days exploring the eastern islands of this precious archipelago.

To be frank, I departed Galapagos with very mixed emotions – the human history of this place makes for very depressing reading (it’s as if the very rocks keep trying to kick off the most invasive species of all time) yet the wild and natural landscape  – despite its brooding clouds and undeniably strange and exotic character – also evoked a profound sense of peace and trust in Nature’s ability to adapt, endure and evolve.

Given that the theme of the UNWTO/OAG event was “Turismo Consciente” I can’t think of a better location to jolt delegates into a wakeful awareness of the profound challenges facing tourism growth on a finite planet.

Galapagos may well prove to be the “canary in the mine” with its fate a sign of things to come. Or, as David Attenborough observed, “we can screw up the Galapagos in a way that we can easily screw up the whole planet”. Its future depends on all of us – as visitors, hosts, residents, investors, other members of the tourism value chain and, given its uniqueness, all of humanity – becoming conscious of our responsibilities and finding effective, durable  solutions to the following issues:

  • Population pressure – the number of residents has increased ten fold from under 3000 to 30,000 plus in 50 years.
  • Popularity – the number of visitors has exploded from 40,000 in the 1990s to 180,000 in 2011 and is growing at well over 5% per year.
  • A vast increase in invasive species – such that a mere 177 years after Darwin’s arrival there are now four invasive species competing for light, water and food for every one endemic species
  • Growing residues of waste – human garbage, effluent, abandoned detritus of modern “civilization”, oil slicks, and carbon
  • A widening gap in mindset and aspiration between residents, understandably desirous of a decent life, and visitors/conservationists who fear for its ecological destruction.
  • The as yet unknown impacts of climate change and an increase in extreme weather events on the existing ecosystem.

It isn’t as if people don’t care or are not concerned, committed and active.

In July 2011, the Ecuadorian Government organized an interactive workshop attended by representatives of the Embassy of Ecuador, Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos Conservation Trust, the World Wildlife Fund, and tourism stakeholders to look at Ecuador’s tourism strategy in general and its approach to the Galapagos in particular. The results of that workshop are documented in a report published by Galapagos Conservation trust here.  This document provides a helpful summation in its Appendix of the 1st Sustainable Tourism Ecotourism Summit in Galapagos held in September 2010 when a revised ecotourism model addressing governance; destination re-engineering; market positioning and development of a Galapagos Tourism Observatory (management tracking system) was proposed following extensive consultation with over 400 stakeholders. Another key resource is a 2007 publication by the Charles Darwin Foundation titled Tourism, the Economy, Population Growth and Conservation in the Galapagos (accessible here)

A recent creative initiative undertaken by the Galapagos Conservation Trust and the Gulbenkian Foundation is a roving exhibition featuring the works of eleven highly diverse artists who spent time on the island capturing impressions of life. For more information, visit: Artists Visit Galapagos

But while these efforts are digested, the number of visitors and residents continue to increase and investments are made which are difficult to undo.

Source: Galapagos Conservation Trust

I have enormous admiration for Ecuador and their introduction of Turismo Consciente as a concept (the original concept paper presented to the OAG in April 2012 is available here)   – but now the hard work of making it a reality must start. Even though the future of Galapagos must be considered within a broader national context (Ecuador has so much else to offer the discerning traveler), all eyes in both the tourism and ecological community will now be on Ecuador’s performance as custodian of the unique jewel in Ecuador’s crown.   Unless, a tangible shift in the present development trajectory of the Galapagos can be made that does indeed provide value to all stakeholders, the term Turismo Consciente will be just another bright star that proves to be piece of galactic debris burning up as it enters a resistant atmosphere of greed and self interest. But based on my experiences in Ecuador earlier this month, I have every confidence in my new Ecuadorian friends to tackle this challenge with dedication, insight and imagination. Let’s do all we can to give them encouragement and assistance!

In the meantime, I am pleased to share some of the images I was fortunate enough to bring back with me. The first slide deck is of landscapes and the second animals.

Muchos Gracias Freddie Ehlers and team for such an inspiring and likely life changing experience and for letting me participate in such an historic event.

Galapagos Landscapes

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– taken with iPhone September, 2012

Galapagos Wildlife  – available here

How an Ashuar Shaman, whom I’ve never met, brought me to Ecuador

If I am enjoying the delights of Quito at the invitation of the Minister of Tourism for Ecuador (see earlier post) it is ultimately the result of the request made of some American colleagues by an Ashuar elder several years ago.

Achuar Host

Having asked and received help from some Americans to fight the oil rigs encroaching their territory, the Ashuar, a tribe living in the upper reaches of the Amazon had no qualms about extending what we might think to be an impossible challenge to their guests and helpers – to return home and “change the dream of the north”. These so called primitive people, who had lived in harmony with their environment for thousands of years, knew that we, in the north had lost our way and our ability to see the reality the way it is. We need to change our dream – our way of seeing. The Americans – John Perkins, Bill and Lynne Twist co-founders of the Pachamama Alliance –  didn’t flinch and went on to develop The Symposium – a one day program that has now reached thousands of  people in 60 countries for which I was trained as a facilitator. (You can hear about the Ashuar request from Lynne Twist herself – here)

kogi, conscious travel, Tairona Foundation

Kogi – source The Tairona Foundation

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in the way we understand and describe so called reality. Back in 1990 I was deeply moved by Alan Ereira’s documentary about the Kogi,  a genuine lost civilization hidden on an isolated  mountain in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, nearly five miles high, on the Colombian-Caribbean coast. The Kogi emerged from their preferred isolation to say that without thought, nothing could exist. This is a problem, the Kogi said, because we are not just plundering the world, we are dumbing it down, destroying both the physical structure and the thought underpinning existence.They asked Alan Ereira to make a film so that we (the younger brother) would change and then they retreated to their world. Concerned that we didn’t listen and act, they have again come out of isolation some 20 + years later to repeat their message but with more stridency.

So here were two indigenous sources, completely independent of one another, saying what I knew in my heart to be true – unless we change our mindsets, worldviews, paradigms (the name isn’t important), we will continue to create a new problem while trying to solve an old one.

After spending 35 years helping – in my own very small way – tourism to grow based on the industrial model, I began to realize that a course change was needed. Conscious Travel is my contribution to changing the dream of the north by helping the tourism community respond to the Achuar challenge.

Given that context, it is highly fitting that it’s in Ecuador that I can share my initial thoughts about a version of tourism that could be built based on what is emerging as a new paradigm or mindset to replace so called scientific materialism.

Today I gave my first complete presentation on the why, what and how of Conscious Travel to members of the Ministry of Tourism in Ecuador and tomorrow I am privileged and honoured to participate on a panel in the Second International Congress on Ethics and Tourism of the UNWTO called “Conscious Tourism For a new Era” where a fellow British Columbian, Mathis Waeckernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network is keynote speaker.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm and passion of my Ecuadorian colleagues today – they seem to know how to “Ama La Vida” – I have posted up the slide deck and accompanying paper on slideshare, and linked below.

But for those of you with little time on your hands, here’s a sneak preview. As a starting point, I’m suggesting that we replace the 5 traditional Ps that we were taught as a way of implementing the industrial model (shareholder Profit from Product, Position, Price, Place and Promotion) to 7 new, richer, more relevant and meaningful P’s that have the potential to deliver more long-term, sustainable prosperity for many (Plenty derived from People, Place, Purpose that in turn ignites Passion, Protection, Pull, and Pace).

The Old Model

The New Model

A New Model

Executing this alternative approach requires relinquishing many of the values and beliefs that underpin the industrial model and which are now being shown by science and experience to be unreliable, inaccurate just plain wrong. To see my explanation in the slide deck skip to slides 39 – 46 or in the paper, pages 6-11.

Slides Used in Presentation to Ministry of Ecuador

and here’s the

Paper Submitted to Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism

Where Do You Stand?

Botany Bay 2012

I write this before dawn in Sydney in a modern, sterile hotel room overlooking Botany Bay – the sheltered harbour that James Cook entered some 242 years ago when our current scientific, materialisitic worldview was just entering adolescence. I am sure that, if brought back by a Dr Who type figure, Cook wouldn’t recognize this place at all: paved with concrete, the horizon marred by giant oil storage containers, the incessant roar of jet engines, the continuous ebb and flow of taxis, cars, people, and luggage for whom this is now nothing but an anonymous, sanitized, securitized springboard to and from somewhere else.

I too am about to embark on an adventure – leaving for South America (my first visit) in six hours time and becoming the guest of my gracious hosts in Ecuador where I am sharing my thoughts on Conscious Travel at the UNWTO’s second conference on Ethics and Tourism.

I’ve just left Tasmania – a place where the transition from one economy to another is still proving painful and divisive. Blessed by nature, the state is rich in mineral and natural resources.  Many Tasmanian families have built their livelihoods and far fewer have garnered great wealth from their extraction and exploitation. Despite diminishing net benefit to the community as a whole, they are reluctant to let go of a way of life that has sustained families with seemingly no ill effect for generations. It’s proving to be a clash of worldview. Those who can see how quickly human society is shifting its values; those who can see that dependency on a limited non-renewable resource is folly; and those who wish to ensure their grand children will have a life, let alone a livelihood, are demonized as anti development.

Ecuador is at a very different stage – with a rapidly expanding population and rising expectations, it also needs to build a sustainable economy. But as each of us knows personally, to participate in the global economy (now its only option) it needs to generate cash quickly. The Ecuadorians are fully aware that the Amazon is worth far more to humanity as a life support system, but until we humans recognize that without air to breathe, water to drink and biodiversity we are doomed to become another Mars, there apparently is no immediately accessible market for those life support services can satisfy the demand for jobs and cash. Ecuador was the first nation to recognize the Rights of Nature and it looks like New Zealand is moving in that direction with respect to the Whanaganui River at least,  thanks to the opportunities afforded by the Waitangi Treaty and the influence of a Maori perspective. Ecauador also did a while back what the Tasmanians have just commissioned and that is calculate the value of their forest as a sink for carbon and not as a source of oil and lumber.

This is why both places are looking to tourism as a plank of a new sustainable economy. But what kind of tourism will best fit, and produce the greatest net benefit over the longer term? How can it be developed from the start and not applied like a bandaid after the damage has already been done? These are the questions that need serious attention in both communities. A new model for tourism development, that is environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually fulfilling for all its participants, has to be envisioned from the outset and the people of Ecuador and Tasmania need to ensure a modern version of prospecting and speculation doesn’t pre-empt their options. If we don’t, then the children of the leaders in both places will be facing the ire and dismay of their people as is now happening in Venice and Bali – two priceless jewels that have now been trashed by greed, selfishness and myopia.

There are no simple answers and a conference on ethics and tourism isn’t going to scratch the surface for the simple reason that doing the right thing is being positioned as a choice and as an after thought. Until our most fundamental beliefs about the how the world works shift, until we wake up from the delusion that one species can grow indefinitely, applying a predatory, consumption-based economy that doesn’t give back, or “know its place” then the talk of ethics will evaporate like the morning mist over the Amazon.

The following video about the challenges in Ecuador is titled The Heart of Everywhere because its creators rightly recognize that the challenges in Ecuador encapsulate the issues affecting all of us. But imagine you are situated on a globe without either poles or national boundaries. In this case, every point is the centre of everywhere and that means that all problems are our problems and each of us, regardless of where we are located, shares equal responsibility for the whole.  In tourism, that means listening to our indigenous brethren and experiencing all places as alive – not dead;  and as  sacred – not profane. It means knowing that all manifestations of so called reality (inanimate and animate) are not just connected but in a constant but evolutionary dance with one another; and they are willing us to wake up and dance with them! Travel is one means whereby we can shift our perspective and develop lenses or eyes that see a version of reality that is “pregnant with possibilities”

I titled this blog post Where Do You Stand? because I want you to stop being a wallflower at the most amazing, colourful and creative party/happening on Planet Earth today. Join now and you can shape its future, set its rhythm and cadence or invent some steps of your own. At the very least subscribe to this blog and contribute to the discussion. In the next post I’ll share how my thinking is developing on the shape of an alternative model. I shared it with some very forward thinking people in Tasmania and they liked it. We’re hoping to co-develop it together in a totally open, inclusive process.

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