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Tourism and ecosystem services

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 02.15.

There is always a delicate dance between industries providing wealth for jurisdictions, and the potential harm they bring in the form of environmental impacts. This balance is particularly important in industries such as tourism. Ilja Leo Lang says sustainability measures are in place to protect the very ecosystem services the expedition cruise industry depends upon.

Ecosystem Services can be defined as the benefits society as a whole derives from nature. This is especially relevant when it comes to non-disturbance of animals and birds and non-material benefits such as the aesthetic value of a pristine, undisturbed Arctic environment.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has a comprehensive set of guidelines for operators in the Arctic who strive to employ practices and procedures that are substantially more protective of the environment, local cultures and cultural remains than the current requirements by local, national and international regulations. AECO’s members coordinate and implement innovative technologies and measures to reduce the environmental impact of cruising.

AECO’s environmental industry standards are essentially the expedition cruise industry’s contribution to sustain Arctic ecosystem services and biodiversity.

For example, AECO is in the forefront of educating tourists about how to behave in the Arctic. This happens through AECO’s guidelines about responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism, and by communicating the importance of protecting the Arctic to visitors in order to create ‘Arctic Ambassadors’. AECO members work with visitors in order to influence the local communities in a constructive way. This involves making expedition cruise guests adhere to AECO’s sound environmental and cultural standards for operations in the Arctic. AECO visitors are for example asked to contribute to local communities by purchasing certified craft and souvenirs, not to pick flowers, take stones or build cairns and to ask permission of residents before taking photos.

AECO’s Executive Director, Frigg Jørgensen says, “Basic measures in regard to providing passengers and guests with a correct code of conduct are vital for the success in small communities. AECO’s new Animated Guidelines which allow visitors to the Arctic to educate themselves about safe, environmentally-friendly and considerate behavior has proven to be particularly successful.”

For the expedition cruise industry, protection of Arctic ecosystem services and biodiversity relies upon communication and research. One example of this is AECO’s decade-long involvement with the Clean-Up Svalbard Campaign which involves cruise tourists in Svalbard in cleaning up tons of sea-transported garbage from beaches around the Svalbard archipelago. Another example is the ongoing collaboration between AECO and researchers from a number of universities. Among AECO’s many self-imposed mandatory industry guidelines is a biosecurity guideline, which describes measures such as cleaning of clothes and washing of boots in order to prevent seeds and alien species from spreading throughout the Arctic.

There are many individuals, governments, private companies and organizations that share the common goal of making sure the Arctic is used in a sustainable way. All want to protect this pristine area from negative impact and preserve it for the future.

Arctic cruise tourism can be a driver for a better Arctic environment – if the individual operators get together and cooperate with other sectors to raise the bar in regard to sustainability, voluntary guidelines and the implementation of ambitious best practices.

If the tourism industry as a stakeholder is involved in closer dialogue and cooperation with other sectors, the potential for reducing the environmental impact of human activities in the Arctic is huge.

Read more about AECO’s guidelines for Arctic operations.

Ilja Leo Lang is with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, an international organization for the expedition cruise industry, dedicated to responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the Arctic.

« Norway on track to capture benefits and values of ecosystem services | Arctic Biodiversity: essential system under threat »

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