2017: The Year for Sustainable Tourism and Biological Diversity

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika

Integrating Biodiversity in Development

On May 22, countries and organizations celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity for 2017, this year dedicated to the conciliation of the sustainable economic development of the sector of tourism, and the conservation of the natural habitat through the CBD Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development, and the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme.

Those initiatives were built on the recognition that rich and variated landscapes, while providing an important competitive advantage for the tourism economies, suffer from the increasing threat of biodiversity losses due to unsustainable practices in the sector.  Yet, another paradigm in the tourism can reinforce the case for biodiversity conservation by enforcing sustainable policies and practices.

Nature of Rio de Janeiro: A Popular Destination

Rio de Janeiro is the most populated metropolitan city of the Brazilian coasts and strategically important for the national economic development throughout history. The city concentrates a great volume of activities related to tourism being one of Brazil’s primary all-year resorts for millions of international tourists. Its attractiveness to the sector of tourism is attributed equally to its rich cultural and natural heritage, both of which are celebrated by UNESCO with the World Heritage Status: the outstanding natural landscape of Rio de Janeiro varies from the steep green hills to the mangrove coastlines surrounding the Guanabara Bay, and merge with the expansion of human settlements in the metropolitan area resulting in a unique urban setting.

Nevertheless, the surrounding landscape of this historic and attractive city is being undermined due to constant environmental pressures that generate the modern lifestyle in the dense metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro. Incidentally, during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the image of the city was damaged due to the choice of Guanabara Bay as competition area despite being excessively polluted, exposing the need for the regeneration of the tourism sector through a new sustainable economic development model for the city.

Guanabara Bay: A Rich Biodiversity Tank

On this day, Rio de Janeiro’s natural landscapes still has a lot to celebrate for its vast, diverse and yet little explored biodiversity. In his forthcoming documentary, the “Urban Bay”, which is produced in collaboration with the RIO+ Centre, the marine biologist and photographer Ricardo Gomes depicts for the first time the extraordinary biodiversity that the Guanabara Bay nourishes in its seabed despite human led pressures on the environment.

During the past 15 years of continuous filming and exploration, Ricardo Gomes manages to film and register approximately 240 species in the region including rays, sponges and even coral reefs of Guanabara Bay. This extraordinary, nonetheless fragile, estuary maintains its resilience despite being subject to constant pollution by the surrounding metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro. Its visible degradation, as registered over the years, is only an indication of what humanity could jeopardize by pushing the limits of climate change.

“I view Guanabara Bay as a big mirror reflecting what the human is doing to the ocean”.

Urban Bay – Acidification from Ricardo Gomes:

According to the UNEP-WCMC 2009 report on the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity, even small changes to the ocean chemistry, due to pollution as well as sea-surface temperatures that are a result of human-led climate change, may have unpredictable impacts including coral reef damage and disruption of ecosystem services such as shelter and provision of nutrients for species, with subsequent changes to the marine food chain.

But, marine biodiversity collapse would not stop there; particularly for the developing countries, such as Brazil, coastal and marine ecosystems provide far more valuable socio-economic services than benefits for the tourism sector, including food security, leisure, protection from soil erosion in the coasts etc.

Is this threat reversible? Today, the International Day for Biological Diversity, is an excellent occasion to reinforce the dedication of the international community in safeguarding our fragile ecosystems, both terrestrial and marine, for our common future.