Utne Blogs > Environment

The Ecotourist’s Dilemma

 by Julie Hanus

Tags: Environment, green living, wilderness and wildlife, ecotourism, tourism, polar bears, global warming, journalism, ethics, Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall,

polar bear swimmingYou can—but should you? In 2007 the global ecotourism industry ferried 55 million U.S. vacationers around the world on better, greener holidays. And every one of them should have been asking themselves that question. The editor in chief of Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall, eloquently broaches ecotourism’s ethical dilemma in a candid, even haunting editorial.

“The polar bear alongside the boat makes a low chuffing sound,” Theall writes. “He dives to escape us. Each time he surfaces, he moves farther into open water, farther from land. A few passengers ask our guide, Wally, if we’re stressing the bear. I don’t hear his answer. I’m too busy kneeling low on the deck with my Canon. I stretch out one hand. The bear swims just beneath it, and he’s magnificent. . . .Only after I’ve clicked off about 100 images does it occur to me that Wally might be chasing this bear because of me. I’m with a travel magazine. I’m worse than global warming. I’m a journalist.”

 “Guilt’s a heavy souvenir,” writes Theall, who last saw the polar bear, confused and agitated, swimming out toward open water. Although Wally later reassures her that the bear most likely made it back to land, she finds a sobering ecotourism parable in the experience—what is legal is not always what is right.

Source: Women’s Adventure

Image by suneko, licensed under Creative Commons.