Tuesday, August 5, 2008


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With Global Warming becoming an eminent threat there is growing awareness to going green. The need to save mother Earth, conserving its resources to share with future generations as live experiences and not stories of the past. Warning calls by Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio for preserving the only planet we have is more than a cause but a need for it to be a way of life.

Every bearing of our lives is going eco-friendly, from energy saving light bulbs and carpooling to eco-friendly pajamas and hair spray. Since the late 1980s the increase in environmental awareness and the obligation to protect eco-systems, gave birth to ecotourism, responsible tourism or also called sustainable tourism.

For centuries only 6% of Egypt's land has been frequented by tourists, seeking the historical aspects that have been overemphasized through novels & chronicles. With the remaining 94% considered lifeless, barren wastelands. These areas included three magnificent deserts (the Sinai Desert, the Eastern Desert and the Western Desert), mangroves, lakes, mountains and 2,700 km (1,678 m) of unspoiled coastlines. Since the evolution of ecotourism and the demand to explore and enjoy this hidden side of Egypt, there has been a demand for more environmentally conscious eco-lodges, and higher maintenance and preservation over natural protectores.

But what exactly is meant by ecotourism? As defined by the world's oldest and largest ecotourism organization and the global source of knowledge and advocacy in ecotourism, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) states that it is:
"Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990)

Experiencing the fastest growth of all sub-sectors in the tourism industry, this popularity represents a change in tourist perceptions, increased environmental awareness, and a desire to explore natural environments. Such changes have become as much a statement affirming one's social identity, educational sophistication, and disposable income as it has about preserving the Amazon rainforest or the Caribbean reef for posterity. And for ecotourism to be successful certain guidelines and principles must be followed:
· minimize impact
· build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
· provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
· provide direct financial benefits for conservation
· provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
· raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climate

The concepts of ecotourism maybe obvious in that they need to minimize the negative economic, environmental and social impacts, while preserving and improving the condition of the local people and their heritage. These very concepts are often used as a marketing tool to promote tourism which is related to nature. These greenwashing habits (disinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image) only use labels like "green" and "eco-friendly", to mislead tourists and manipulate their concern for the environment. So just because a hotel is located on a splendid landscape does not mean it's eco-friendly until it fulfills its obligations, behaving in an environmentally responsible way.
This may have been happening in Hurgada and Sharm el Sheik, but in recent years legislation has been enforced by the Egyptian Affairs Agency to prevent new development from destroying the coastline, coral reefs or tidal flats. Becoming the major focus of investment by the Egyptian government and the World Bank to protect what is left of the unique heritage that was once plagues by thoughtless development.
Since the hosting of Sustainable Tourism Egypt (STE) 2003, the International Conference on Tourism Development in Environmentally Sensitive Areas there has been major endeavors and strategic plans to conserve and protect the unique, abundant natural treasure of Egypt's heritage. There is also concern for these protected areas to pay their way to generate revenue that can be use to fund for the management of its conservation. Moreover to provide the residence of these areas with additional income and establish community businesses.

In the wake of the declaration of Wadi El-Hitan as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO, there are more restrictions to number of visitors and stricter enforcemnt on regulation and guidelines to protectores. In the Nabq protected area, there are rehabilitation initiatives to recover its sensitive eco-systems. The largest mangrove stand in the Gulf of Aqaba and the northernmost mangroves in the Indian Ocean/Red Sea area front the shoreline of Nabq, making it the largest coastal park, at 600 km2 of protected area of outstanding natural beauty sheltering a variety of ecosystems.

There has been a campaign to crack down on hunting in Egypt in the Siwa Oasis and around Lake Nasser, Egypt's primary water reservoir. Furthermore, there have been negotiations with government authorities to reduce the bureaucratic restrictions on deep desert tours and safaris. The numerous bureaucratic obstacles and procedures are time consuming but these problems are not experienced by tourists, as they are taken care of before their arrival.

The location of the Stromer’s Tidal Giant dinosaur in Bahariya Oasis is now under protection as farmers are trying to use the land for agricultural purposes and presently, there is a focus on saving the Petrified Forest protectorate east of Cairo, as there have been attempts to initiate urban development projects in the area. The selling of the Red Sea’s protected Giftun Island was successfully halted. The Egyptian government rejected the proposal for a multi-million development plan and an international campaign "Save Giftun" helped rise public awareness to preserve Egypt's heritage.

Efforts to save the Spinner dolphins of the Gulf of Samadi (in the vicinity of the town of Marsa Alam in the Red Sea) have been also successful. The Samadi is a horseshoe-shaped reef that forms a shallow lagoon in the center, and constitutes an important natural habitat for spinner dolphins, where tourists get the magical opportunity to swim with wild, free, friendly dolphins.

21 km north of Hurgada, is the first independent touristic town. El Gouna (or Lagoon) has its own electricity plant, a sewage treatment plant, roads, lagoons, and has installed satellite phones, a transportation network, two marinas, a Nubian-style village, an airport, a hospital and an international school. More investors are being encouraged to build eco-lodges in protected areas such as the Red Sea’s Wadi El-Gemal, and Qarit Umm Al-Sagheer, north of Siwa. The government and developers have significant roles to play in adopting and implementing environmentally sound policies and practices to avoid the degradation of the natural heritage of Egypt for the sake of current and future generations alike.
About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem