Tourists are flocking to locations threatened by climate change. That only makes things worse.
“Last-chance tourism” is hastening the decline of destinations like the Florida Reef and the Galapagos Islands.
By Aditi Shrikant | March 18
As climate change worsens, last-chance tourism grows. When Canadian researchers started exploring last-chance tourism almost a decade ago, they faced backlash from scientists who feared this term was too alarmist, according to E&E News, a news organization focused on energy and climate. But with 71 percent of the American population now agreeing that climate change is real, the term last-chance tourism is more statement than prediction.
Their 2010 study, done in Churchill, Manitoba, a city that offers dozens of tours of the dwindling polar bear population, found that the increasing vulnerability of polar bears motivated a majority of visitors to travel there. Sixty percent of visitors said they would still want to see polar bears even if they looked emaciated, and 71 percent said that if the polar bear population in Churchill were destroyed, they would simply go somewhere else to view them.
Since its introduction, the phenomenon has been identified at other destinations. In a 2016 study of the Great Barrier Reef, researchers found that almost 70 percent of visitors wanted to visit the reef “before it was gone.” For $1,500, tourists go gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, which houses 880 of the 100,000 to 200,000 gorillas left in the world. Lauren Alley, a representative from National Glacier Park, told E&E that many visitors tell her they want to see the glaciers before they melt away. In the mid-1800s, the park had 150 glaciers; only 26 are left.
Whether or not these destinations are being marketed specifically as last-chance destinations, their imminent disappearance is definitely part of their appeal. The irony is that by visiting these fragile ecosystems, travelers are actually accelerating their demise. And as cities try to deal with the damage tourism leaves behind, they must ask themselves: How does a region limit an industry that drives its economy? …
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