by Professor Ralf Buckley Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research
Ecotourism featured strongly at an international conference on coral reefs and climate change, held in Okinawa, Japan on 29-30 June.
The Ryukyu chain, named for a 16th century dynasty, supports US air bases, island resorts and dive tourism. Islands such as Iriomote also support ecotourism based on tropical forests, threatened species and traditional cultures.
World Heritage protection
Following successful World Heritage listing for the remote Ogasawara group, led by former Griffith Environment student Dr Naomi Doak, Japan now plans to nominate some of the southern Ryukyus. These could potentially include the Senkaku Is, currently also claimed by China, so there are geopolitical overtones.
This reflects research on tourism geopolitics by Griffith’s Professor David Weaver.The meeting was held at the Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology, a new and very well-funded graduate research university. It was hosted by Mr Nobuteru Ishihara, Japan’s young and dynamic Minister for Environment, who proposed a pan-Pacific technical assistance network. Conference details are at http://www.env.go.jp/en/
Global research focus
The keynote speaker was Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who presented global research results to be incorporated in the next IPCCAssessment Report. There were representatives from around the Pacific, and also from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Australian representatives included Dr Andrew Skeat, CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.There were technical presentations on power supply technologies using waves, tides, salinity gradients, and wastes to generate energy; on restoration of coral and mangrove ecosystems; and on multi-use marine protected areas.
The role of tourism
There are tourism components to all of these.
A specialist panel on ecotourism was led by Professor Yurie Kaizu, commissioner of the Japan Ecotourism Society, editor of Japan’s first book on ecotourism, and longstanding colleague of Griffith University’s International Centre for Ecotourism Research.
My own task was to review the global role of ecotourism in relation to reef and island conservation and climate change.
I suggested that whilst tourism creates impacts on reefs and islands both through local activities and by contributing to global climate change, it can also improve resilience of reef and island ecosystems by displacing other higher-impact industries and providing social, economic and political support for conservation. And indeed, perhaps this conference itself was one example of such politics at work.