Vacations and trips to the most threatened and endangered parts of the earth have become known as “last chance tourism” (LCT). Examples include Australia’s rapidly bleaching Great Barrier Reef, the melting ice sheets of Antarctica, and the alternately flood- and drought-ravaged islands of Galapagos and the Maldives.
“LCT is a niche tourism market focused on witnessing and experiencing a place before it disappears,” explain researchers Annah Piggott-McKellar and Karen McNamara, of Australia’s University of Queensland, in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism. The paradox here is that those people who are eager to visit these devastated places are actually contributing to their demise because of carbon emissions and population pressure.
Piggott-McKellar and McNamara collected data from among the approximately 2 million visitors who visit Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, a 133,000-square-mile network of islands boasting the world’s largest display of coral reefs. These reefs are threatened by coral bleaching due to increasingly warm waters. They are also damaged by hurricanes, dredging, agricultural runoff, coastal development, and sea-level rise. Early in 2016, ecologists predicted a potential ecosystem collapse for the reef by 2100.
Researchers have come to understand that tourists do not associate their own travel with risks to these vulnerable places. Using the reef as an example, the corals are damaged from reef walking, dropped anchors, boat fuel, and swimmers’ sweat and sunscreen runoff.
While we can applaud people for their concern and interest in the dying places, they need to understand that their actual presence creates more harm than good. Places like the Great Barrier Reef are too far gone at this point to pick as a destination spot. Better would be to support causes that take action against man-made destruction with the end-goal of saving these magnificent areas and protecting them for generations to come.