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Sunday, 3rd May 2020

Eco-tourism, being more responsible, ethical and sustainable when travelling is on everyone’s lips nowadays.

And for good reason.

As custodians of the environment tapping into the eco-conscious mindset should be our top priority. The impact of tourism and the challenges South Africa’s people, local communities and nature and its creatures face, should be met with a travel style of giving back, being more aware and contributing to the greater good of the world.

And this concept is well-supported by South African Tourism as well.

The Eastern Cape boasts its fair share of conservation-related and eco-tourism activities on offer for visitors. In fact, the sleepy village of Storms River in Tsitsikamma, Storms River Adventures was one of the pioneers in the field of eco-tourism. The company became one of the first in South Africa to function under the principles of Fair Trade tourism and throughout the province, over the years, it has inspired others to also focus on long-term sustainability, fixing the imbalances from the past, recycling and preserving the environment.

Get involved: Eco-Tourism in the Eastern Cape

Nature-based Eco Tourism

The Eastern Cape is home to four national parks: Addo Elephant National Park, Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma section), Camdeboo National Park and Mountain Zebra National Park. Each park plays a significant role in protecting the environment, from Storms River’s Marine Protected Area and Addo’s Woody Cape that also includes the islands of the African penguin breeding colonies, to its conservation role in wildlife with Mountain Zebra National Park being part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project.

And there are also numerous private and provincial reserves, doing their bit from getting rid of alien plants, carefully monitoring wildlife and collecting highly valuable research to having on-site green initiatives and supporting a variety of projects to uplift local communities.

By supporting a park or reserve, which supports the environment, you as a visitor are in turn contributing to the bigger picture of conservation.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The Eastern Cape is home to six beaches with a Blue Flag status which means that conservation of its marine and coastal habits is of utmost priority, and it also raises environmental education and awareness while focusing on increasing sound environmental practices between tourists, local populations and beach management.

Cultural & Community-focused Eco-Tourism

Cultural and community-focused eco-tourism provides job security, upliftment and skill development to local communities which leads to long-term sustainability. Usually backpacker accommodation and eco-lodges take the lead here in the Eastern Cape and the Hogsback and Wild Coast regions are particularly known for its environmental contributions – especially in terms of removing alien vegetation, living self-sufficiently off the grid and recycling – as well as running projects benefitting the surrounding villages and Xhosa communities. The latter often taking place through cultural tours where visitors have the opportunity to learn more about the Xhosa way of life in rural settlements.

In the Eastern Cape Highlands the Ben 10 Challenge – an invitation to the public to tackle 10 passes in 7 days – supports eco-tourism by uplifting the local population in this remote area of South Africa. In St. Francis Bay there is Nomvula’s Knitters, a community-based and upliftment project and in the Karoo Heartland multiple projects and tours exist; for example Graaff-Reinet has township tours and one the focus points of the Cradock’s Schreiner’s Writers Festival is to nurture the love for literature in local schools through the annual Youth Programme.

Adventure Eco-Tourism

Being the adventure capital of South Africa, the Eastern Cape oozes with adventure activities, and the focus of these activities are to have a minimal impact on the environment and to ensure job creation and skills development. One such company is Tsitsikamma’s Storms River Adventures’ Canopy Tours, where they believe in conservation through adventure and empowering local communities for socio-economic upliftment. And in Addo, in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint Criss Cross Adventures introduced eco-quad biking tours in the form of electric eco-friendly quad bikes.

Staying Green

Numerous backpackers, lodges, guest houses and reserves in the Eastern Cape get the green stamp of approval through implementing a variety of green practices in the form of water-saving techniques and grey water, using solar panels, having an on-site vegetable garden or even bee hives, encouraging guests to plant trees and cutting out single-use plastic.

How you be a responsible tourist

There is no need to wait for a guest house, lodge or activity to go green and be responsible, there are a few changes you can make yourself. Right here, right now.

1)     Shift your focus to plastic (and waste) and become aware of how much plastic you use per day. Say no to single use plastics, and whenever you see plastic (or other trash) pick it up and dispose it.

2)     Wherever you go, be waterwise. Always.

3)     Let’s take ‘local is lekker’ to the next step and support locally. Try to purchase your fresh produce from local farmers/communities and support businesses – whether it is restaurants, tourism activities, local artists or shops – in your immediate area.

4)     Avoid taking ‘natural souvenirs’ – do not harm the environment through removing fauna or flora from its natural habitat.

5)     When visiting small towns, opt for walking or cycling when you explore, instead of driving.

6)     Avoid wildlife interactions, or activities that involve animals in captivity.

7)     Respect other cultures, traditions and beliefs.

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