Sustainable tourism is about the development of responsible recreational activities, that integrate fundamental concepts such as the conservation of natural and cultural resources, the sustainability of local wellbeing through ensuring an economic viability, and awareness-building of visitors and activity managers through education and environmental interpretation.
Through this idea, comes the idea of ecotourism, which focuses directly on rural and pristine areas. The characterisitics of these places, together with the foundations of sustainable tourism, encourage and inspire environmental and social responsibility in those who are lucky enough to visit.
Ecuador is among the top nationsconsidered home to a high quantity of taxonomic groups. Ecuador reaches first place in almost every group of flora and fauna per square kilometre.
Consequently, the National System of Protected Areas is the main conservation strategy that protects Ecuador´s biodiversity; species, dwellers, communities and ecosystems that ensure the supply of a great quantity of ecosystem services: water regulations, mitigation and adaptation to climate changes, renewable energy generation, protein provision, raw materials, and enjoyment of natural scenery, among others.
The impressive biodiversity in Ecuador is due to the fact that within its borders some geographic and climatic phenomena concur that stimulate the presence of innumerable species:
- The country´s location in the planet’s tropical zone,
- The presence of the Andes mountain range,
- The confluence of ocean currents off its coasts,
- The genetic variety by physical isolation barriers
The protected natural areas have become important within research laboratories.
Ecuador´s biodiversity has been studied by hundreds of national and international scientists, especially in topics related to ecology, botany, zoology and biology.
The Environmental Ministry, with the construction of strategic national environmental research guidelines (lineamientos estrategicos nacionales de Investigacion ambiental- “LENIA”), helps prioritize and plan environmental research with the objective of contributing to the strengthening of generation, enforcement, and addressing of knowledge for the improvement of environmental quality, in this way supporting the sustainable developing of “good living” (buen vivir).
(Ron, K y T, Escarabay. 2014. El Biocomercio, un mecanismo para la conservación. pp. 276 El país de la Biodiversidad: Ecuador.)
Bio-commerce is the group of recollection, production, processing, and commercialization activities of goods and services derived from the native biodiversity under a criteria of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Bio-commerce differs from traditional commerce because it not only perceives utilities and/or proceeds, but it also promotes human and economic development of the local population without interfering with the natural balance and the biologic diversity.
Commerce of biodiversity goods and services has increased worldwide due to a greater demand for natural, organic and ecological products that are environmentally friendly.
For Ecuador, bio-commerce provides an opportunity to develop business strategies that increase competitiveness, facilitate networking and generate environmental, social and economic benefits.
Environmental education becomes one of the fundamental pillars of interactions with local communities that inhabit the protected areas and its surrounding areas.
Moreover, it serves as a medium to make visible the importance and function of the protected areas and the resources that these areas shelter, and looks to generate awareness about the conservation and sustainable use of these resources.
Dates such as “Environment Day” (June 5th), World Wetlands Day (February 2nd), World Water Day (March 22nd), among others, are commemorated in different events by the Environmental Ministry, reminding communities and their authorities about the commitment that should exist for environmental protection, and within this process to reach children with the message of conservation and care is one of the main objectives, with the integration of the different levels and types of education being indispensable for this task.
Even though the Green Classroom Program is destined to the capacitation of officials that work within the protected areas, there are numerous capacitations that are given outside this program with the objective of meeting strategic requirements for the management of protected areas that are coupled with the area’s necessities and current state.
As such, with the purpose of making the protected area visible to the surrounding population there are training workshops that allow the coordination of an effective management, allowing in some cases, to offer alternatives for sustainable production, leadership, project planning and implementation, and more.
The vision within the Environmental Ministry’s Strategic Plan includes sustainability criteria based on biological conservation, maintenance of environmental services, sustainable use of natural resources, and social participation.
Financial sustainability is the capacity to ensure long term, stable and sufficient financial resources, to distribute them on time and accordingly to overlay the total direct and indirect costs of the protected areas, and to ensure that they are managed effectively and efficiently according to the conservation and management objectives (Adapted from Emerton et al, 2006).
The Ecuadorian constitution of 2,008 recognizes the Nature Rights. This criteria is welcomed in the National Plan for “Good Living” (Buen Vivir) in Objective IV “Ensuring Nature Rights and promoting a healthy sustainable environment”. It is emphasized that the principle of Sumak Kawsay or “Good Living” (Buen Vivir) is in concordance with the endogenous development based on the sustainable exploitation of natural resources.
Within the context of a business model, financial sustainability within SNAP is one of the edges that, through adequate planning, ensures the acquisition of necessary resources for the conservation of the protected areas (and of the whole system in general) regarding the management and handling of the different programs and an adequate maintenance of the existing infrastructure.
Earth’s climate has always been changing, but now it looks like it does so more drastically, at a quicker and more dangerous rate. Earthly climate variations have their natural causes but are also anthropogenic; they are produced at different time scales and affect temperatures, precipitations, cloud conditions and ocean currents.
Climate change has an additional particularity: there is great uncertainty, we don’t know with certainty how or when people will be affected individually, societies, ecosystems and nature in general, although there have been some tendencies documented.
This process is considered one of the greatest threats to biological diversity. According to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (Panel Intergubernamental para el Cambio Climatico- IPCC), many fauna and flora species are in danger of extinction due to climate change and its associated effects. This can have a large impact not only on biodiversity itself, but on the fulfilling of environmental services and functions that are key for human development: provision of potable water, food and medicines, water and environmental regulation, and the protection against erosion, flooding, among others.
The protected areas of Ecuador are indispensable for: biological diversity conservation and the provision of environmental services in many climate changing scenarios. The reason why it is fundamental to strengthen the National System of Protected Areas as a strategic component is that it contributes to lessen vulnerability of Ecuadorian natural heritage and society to climate change. Both society and ecosystems need to start adapting to climate change through different strategies that diminish its potential effects.
To make climate change less drastic, society needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas) and from deforestation. In greenhouse gas emissions reduction, the protected areas have a very important role: since it is the ecosystems that capture and gather carbon dioxide, one of the most abundant greenhouse gases.
The forests, moorlands, and mangroves protected through SNAP are the fundamental ecosystems in mitigation and adaptation to Ecuador’s climate change, given that they capture greenhouse gases and regulate the provision of environmental services such as water.