Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Trouble in Paradise

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Trouble in Paradise

Article excerpt

How much tourism can the Caribbean's white sand beaches and turquoise waters absorb?

When the U.S. war correspondent Martha Gellhorn visited the British Virgin Islands in the 1940s, she came across a cove "where nothing had changed since time began, a half circle of white sand, flanked by huge squarish smooth rocks ... and the water turquoise blue."When she returned many years later, she found her cove "full of sun-tanned bodies and ringed by boats ... there were bottles and plastic debris on the sea-bed and picnic litter on the sand."

Tourism has taken over the Caribbean: in 1997 more than 14 million people took their holidays there, with some three million more dropping in from cruises. "Tar balls" on beaches indicate that oil tankers and other ships dump their oil and garbage overboard (despite laws against such practice), while pollution off Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico is causing serious concern.

However, it is the ever-growing cruise-ship industry which is a particular focus of concern for the Caribbean Sea. The larger and newer cruise ships have adopted a "greener" approach, with modern waste-processing facilities, according to the Center for Marine Conservation Organization in Washington. Yet a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit concluded that "there is much evidence that dumping of rubbish at sea does take place."

It is not just the seas that have been affected by the demands of the tourist industry. Those fragile ecosystems surrounding so many Caribbean islands, the coral reefs, are under stress as well. In Tobago, tourists destroy exposed coral by walking on it in plastic sandals; in the Bahamas souvenir shops loot the reefs for stock, loading their shelves with shells, dead coral and seahorses; in Granada, beach vendors sell earrings made out of rare black coral.

The expanding cruise-ship industry

Cruise-passenger arrivals (in thousands)

Year                 1992     1993     1994     1995     1996

World               12,600   26,822   31,696   29,750   34,428
Africa                 158      180      232      238      287
The Americas        10,436   10,632   10,680   10,717   12,216
East Asia/Pacific      343      273      294      305      324
Europe               1,644   15,720   20,471   18,469   21,570
Middle East              2        4        5        7       16
South Asia              17       13       14       14       15

Source: World Tourism Organization, Madrid 1998. … 
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