I'm Faith Lapidus.  And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about visiting places to enjoy the natural environment or ecology. This kind of holiday vacation is called ecotourism. (ee-co-TOUR-ism)

We begin our holiday in the northeastern United States. We are in the town of Bar Harbor, Maine. We have paid money to take a three-hour trip on a large boat. We will be traveling several kilometers off the coast to look for whales. We hope to see several kinds of whales -- the huge humpback, the finback and the smaller minke.

A small storm passed the area last night and the water is rough. The ocean makes the large boat move in several directions at once. The movement of the boat makes walking difficult.

The trip out to the ocean takes about forty-five minutes. Soon, the captain slows the engines. We begin to wait. A member of the crew says they have seen whales here for the past several days. If we are lucky we too will see a few.

Suddenly a crewmember shouts, "There — on the left side of the boat. Look! It's a humpback whale." About ninety meters from our boat, a huge humpback whale raises its head above the water. Slowly, it begins to move down again. Moments later the huge tail clears the water and then slowly moves below the waves.

A crewmember tells everyone to look for a smooth area of water. That means the whale will be again rising to the surface. Minutes later, a smooth area is seen to the left. The color of the water turns from deep blue to light green and the whale again comes to the surface. This time, two whales appear.

Now everyone is standing on the left side of the boat holding a camera. The captain of the boat is careful not to come too close to the whales. He does not want to frighten or harm the huge animals.

A few minutes later, it is time to return to the harbor. The passengers will take back with us several photographs of the whales. We will also take memories of one of nature's largest animals. We will always remember how we shared a few minutes with these wonderful creatures.

We have just experienced what travel industry officials call ecotourism. The word ecotourism means several things. It is a holiday vacation that can include visiting and learning about local areas and cultures. It can mean visiting extremely wild areas. It can also mean learning about nature, animals, birds, plants and new ways to live on our planet. And it is tourism designed to limit damage to the environment.

Our three-hour trip to see humpback whales off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine was a small ecotourism adventure.

Travel and holiday experts say ecotourism is the fastest growing part of the holiday vacation industry. It is possible to visit almost any country to learn about the culture, history, food, plants, animals or anything else that might interest you. You can learn about and watch whales in the American states of Maine and Hawaii, and in Mexico.

You can visit a natural protected area in Costa Rica, one of the top ecotourism countries in the world. You can travel to the huge national parks in several African countries to see and photograph lions, elephants and other wild animals.

You can swim deep under water to experience this beautiful world if you learn how to use special breathing equipment. Companies offer underwater exploration trips in Australia, Mexico, several islands in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and many other places.

Tourism, the travel and holiday industry, provides huge amounts of money to the economies of many nations. So ecotourism has become extremely important. And officials in the travel industry say ecotourism works to create, improve and protect holiday areas that people will want to visit.

Ecotourism also teaches the people who live in areas that tourists may want to visit and enjoy. Government agencies use ecotourism methods to teach these people how to develop these areas for visitors. The people learn to protect the natural environment so that they remain popular places to visit.

An example of this kind of protection is our whale-watching trip in Bar Harbor, Maine. The boat companies that operate such trips are very careful not to harm or frighten the whales. The boats do not come too close to the large animals.

Crewmembers on the boats warn passengers not to throw anything in the water. The boat companies work to protect the whales. They want the whales to return to the area and feel safe there.

Most professionals in the travel business learn very quickly that the environment must be protected if an area is to remain popular.

Some environmental scientists have strongly criticized the tourism industry. These scientists say the travel industry often fails to understand that thousands of people visiting an area can greatly harm the environment.

Environmental experts say people who visit an area are sometimes careless in their actions. They leave food, paper, and bottles behind. They harm plants, animals or objects important to a local culture.

The experts say people on holiday often do not understand the damage they can cause. In some cases the experts say ecotourism is killing animals and destroying the environment. They say it is destroying the very thing it is seeking to develop and protect.

A boat ride to watch whales is a good example of what environmentalists mean. Three years ago, a large humpback whale came up under a ship off the coast of the eastern state of Massachusetts. The whale was seriously injured. In another accident, a smaller minke whale was hit by a ship and killed. These accidents were caused by ships carrying people who paid money to see the whales.

However, travel industry officials say environmentalists do not understand how important economic growth can be to the local economy in a developing country. And they say ecotourism can be a very important part of that growth.

The World Tourism Organization is the leading international organization in travel and tourism. It serves as an international meeting place to discuss tourism policy issues and education. It works to help countries and local communities develop ecotourism areas.

The World Tourism Organization's members include one hundred thirty-eight countries and territories. It has more than three hundred-fifty members representing local governments, tourism organizations and private companies. The headquarters of the World Tourism Organization is in Madrid, Spain.

Last month, the World Tourism Organization held a meeting in Washington, D.C. Officials from many governments, international aid agencies and several of the world's leading universities attended the meeting.

It was the first meeting among many government agencies, developing countries and university officials. Their goal was to look for ways to cooperate and use the economic power of tourism to increase development.

At the meeting, the World Bank vice president and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank spoke about the importance of tourism.

Both said ecotourism creates jobs and brings money to local economies. They also said ecotourism creates the need for local people to learn to protect the environment. They said agencies and departments within each government must learn to work together to create a tourism industry that can help the economy.

The World Tourism Organization says tourism has become the main source of foreign money earnings in the forty-nine least developed countries in the world. But it says the money from tourism in these countries still represents only one percent of the world total. World Tourism Organization records show that there were more than seven hundred million international travelers last year. These visitors spent more than five hundred thousand million dollars.

The organization says there will be nine hundred million international tourist visits by the year two thousand ten. Experts say ecotourism is becoming an important part of the future for many countries in the world.

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - Ecotourism
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