Apathy – The Greatest Threat to our Environment

This is an article written by Michael Neal * in the US.

” So what do you think is the greatest threat to the environment?

We hear a lot about climate change, overfishing, mercury in the air and water – and that’s just what was in today’s paper. All are valid concerns, but I believe one other threat, if not the greatest threat, is the apathy of future generations.

Why are future and even present generations apathetic to the threats to the environment? Is there a disconnect when kids (and adults) aren’t exposed to the outdoors? Without this exposure, kids don’t learn to see the beauty or feel a connection to the outdoor world. Let’s go back in time for a moment.

Thirty-five years ago, (ancient history for the younger readers and just yesterday for those that are a bit seasoned by time) kids, like me, played outdoors. We wandered through fields, built forts in the woods, caught frogs in ponds. Many of us had relatives who took us fishing. We were immersed in the natural world. Spending so much time outdoors, we connected with nature. Even if we weren’t actually studying the environment, we were absorbing an inner sense of it. Fishing, for example, actually laid the groundwork for many becoming conservationists and researchers.

Today, the majority of children don’t have that same connect with nature. We, as a society, are taught to keep our kids safe. It would be wrong to let a child wander through the woods alone or to go fishing in the pond by themselves. It is much safer to have them come home after school, come in the house, watch TV and play on the computer.

Maybe you’re thinking, “this is not me, I take my kids fishing and boating.” Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir but we need more converts. I take out thousands of children of many ages for short eco-tours. It is amazing. When I have young kids on the boat they almost all have an interest in the outdoor world and what lives in it, but as they get older that interest wanes.

When I talk to older kids who do have a greater interest, I find their parents are usually avid outdoors people.

We will only protect what we love and we will only love what we know. We have to get children outside. We need to support scouting organizations that encourage outdoor recreation. We need to support school systems that make the outdoors a classroom. Beyond supporting, we also need to be involved.

If you have children, get them involved. Boating, fishing, sailing, exploring; we can’t rely on schools and organizations to teach our kids about the outdoors, kids need to enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t have kids, then look around. Do you have extended family you can take out? Do you have neighbours you can share this outdoor world with?

We are bombarded with messages of despair about the problems with our environment. Many people have gotten involved and work valiantly to affect change. Many of us are tired and a bit worn out from our everyday lives and don’t have the time to protest the deforestation of the jungles of Brazil. We can, though, make the time to get a child outdoors. The feeling of joy you receive when a child sees a dolphin for the first time or catches their first fish is amazing.

Perhaps the child who feels a connection to the outdoors will become the scientist who figures out the answers to climate change, overfishing and mercury in the water and air. Make the time to make a difference to a child and perhaps the world. ”

I could not agree more with what Mike writes.

* Michael Neal is the owner / operator of Bull River Cruises, in Savannah, Georgia, USA. See www.bullriver.com

Western Ocean Weekends in 2010

I’m delighted to announce dates for our three-day walking tours of North West Mayo in 2010.

Western Ocean Weekends will take place on these dates –

May 14 thru 16,

June 18 thru 20,

July 16 thru 18,

August 13 thru 15,

September 10 thru 12,

October 1 thru 3.

Come along and join our small groups on easy to moderate level walks in forests, bogs, low lying hills, cliff-tops and off-shore islands of Co. Mayo.

World Tourism Day 2009

Sunday September 27 is World Tourism Day.

I hope to be passing it on a boat off Kerry on a whale watching trip. Check out www.iwdg.ie if you are ever interested in going out to see what dolphins and whales you might find off Ireland’s west coast. The best season is just now – late Sept and early Oct, as the migrating whales pass Ireland.

This year’s World Tourism Day theme is “Celebrating Diversity”. The diversity of marine life is what I hope to celebrate.

‘Kerry’ and ‘diversity’ also bring to mind the continuing efforts to re-introduce White Tailed Sea Eagles back into Ireland. What a wonderful and beautiful project. I think, to date, over 30 birds have been brought from Norway. This re-introduction project is one arm of Ireland’s attempts to enhance and protect native biodiversity, under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Convention, which dates from 1993, has three objectives :

1. To conserve biological diversity.

2. To use biological diversity in a sustainable manner.

3. To share the benefits of biological diversity fairly and equitably.

Leisure Centres Crippling Hotels

An interesting but not surprising article in last week’s Irish Independent describes how many Irish hotels are suffering greatly from the cost of running a leisure centre, incorporating swimming pools and sometimes jacuzzis, saunas and spas.

One example describes an unnamed western hotel with annual bill of € 300,000 for gas and electricity, “with much of the total … accounted for by its leisure centre”.

A businessman involved in the sector tells the reporter how many hotels are owned by builders who, although they knew how much it would cost to build a leisure centre, “didn’t know what it cost to run one”.

Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) chief executive, John Power, describes how leisure centres add hugely to the costs of running a hotel, citing energy as a large cost factor.

Validity is leant to a widely held belief, when the article states that while 8-in-10 people choose a hotel because it has a leisure centre, only 2-in-10 actually use it when they stay there. I’ve always believed that. Whenever I stay in a hotel, I do make sure to take a swim, but am always amazed at how few other guests are there.

Having said that, with a staff of maybe 4 or 5, plus the energy consumed to keep them running, it really makes little difference whether or not guests use the facility. There is no extra revenue anyway. Extra revenue can only be achieved from the local population and club membership fees. That’s a tough ask in the current climate.

Finally, the article mentions another big problem for Irish hotels in 2009. Massive recent building has brought a huge over-capacity to the sector, with an extra 21,000 beds provided in the market since 2002. Occupancy rates have fallen to 52%.

Footnote : I alluded to club membership above. I once joined a nearby hotel’s swimming pool and gymnasium club. The staff were so poorly trained and discourteous that I left and never rejoined. good facilities are one thing – quality staff quite another.

Western Ocean Weekends

I’m delighted to announce our next three-day walking events in Mayo’s magnificent North West corner.

Saturday to Monday, July 18 to 20.

Friday to Sunday, August 14 to 16.

Iniskea South Island

Iniskea South Island

Day One combines 5 hours in the huge Sheskin Forest and bog complex, with a further 2 1/2 hours on a spectacular cliff-top walk along the Atlantic Coast.

Day Two brings us out to the uninhabited Iniskea Islands, 2 km out in the Atlantic.

Day Three brings us to the gentle hilltops, beaches and sand dunes of the remote Mullet Peninsula. Beautiful views in all directions.

Accommodation is in local guesthouses on The Mullet. The weekend includes 2 x B&B, 2 x dinner, 3 x packed lunches, full guiding throughout and the boat out to the island on Day Two.

As always, do come with good hiking boots (preferably waterproof) and wet gear. This is Mayo. Most of all, come with a love of the outdoors and its inhabitants that we will observe, but not disturb.

If you would like to join our small group for this Western Ocean Weekend, call us on 094 – 9027797, or e-mail info [at] tourismpure [dot] com.

Some Places to Visit in Ireland’s West

If you’re living in or visiting Ireland’s West, you might like to consider some of these places for a nice walk or some fun out with the family :

1. Moore Hall, near Carnacon, south County Mayo.

Ruined “big house” plus surrounding forests – much of it planted conifers, but also quite a bit of native broadleaves. Nice walks around Lough Carra.

2. Lough Key Forest Park, near Boyle, north Co. Roscommon.

Okay, there’s the paying part, but there is also loads to do without parting with your cash. Kilometres of forest walks, most of it through native and non-native broadleaves, parts also through conifers. Lakeside walks. Feed the swans and ducks. Look at the passing cruisers, etc.

3. The Suck Valley Way, Athleague, south Co. Roscommon.

Head for the lovely Visitor Centre in a former church. Walk along the bank of the River Suck as far as Castlestrange and its La Tene Stone. If you’re up to it, continue to the quaint and pretty riverside village of Castlecoote.

4. Mountbellew Demesne, Mountbellew, north Co. Galway.

Very large and dense conifer plantation has good walks. See its old forge. If you’re lucky, you might spot some deer, or test your skills in finding their footprints.

5. Arigna Mining Experience, near Drumshanbo, mid Co. Leitrim.

Perhaps Ireland’s best paying tourist attraction (in my humble opinion). Visit the old coal mine, guided by the actual miners themselves. If I remember correctly, mining ceased circa 1990 and the guys themselves now bring visitors around. When they’ve retired in the future, I doubt if the experience will ever be the same, so get there soon.

6. Old Head Wood, beyond Westport, west Co. Mayo.

Forget the beach (as pleasant as it is). Walk beyond the beach and discover the amazing, though small, Old Head Wood. Walk through it at a slow pace and take in this tiny piece of old Atlantic Wood. Then exit the far side and walk along the cliff top fields, until you get a clear view of the great Atlantic Ocean and Clare Island in front of you. Spot the Cormorants, Seals, Dolphins, etc. Take note of the poor trees, bent over at 90 degrees eastwards from the fierce and unrelenting Atlantic winds.

Tourism and Travel

“We stopped in Fiji, Wellington, Sydney, Perth, etc., etc.”

International tourism now makes up around 30% of all international services trade and is valued at some $ 900 billion p.a. People do love to tell others where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. Here in Ireland, you’re just a bit passé if you haven’t been to either New Zealand or Australia. You’re most definitely of a different era if you haven’t had a few beers in Manhattan.

Almost by definition, you have to travel quite a distance to be a tourist – or at least one with a certain coolness. It’s not by accident that Ryanair has developed into Europe’s largest airline. “Give it to them and they will come” might be their motto. Put on the routes and they will be filled.

But therein lies a conundrum for so-called ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

I’ve mentioned this before and I keep coming back to it in my own head. You only have to look at The Galapagos story. If tourists travel, damage will follow. Of that, there can be no doubt. Clearly, if tourists do not travel to areas of pristine beauty, then the pristine beauty stands a much better chance of survival.

Should tourism be limited to places which have already suffered its consequences ?

Bialowieza National Park in Poland famously boasts its Strict Reserve, into which tourists may only enter with a registered guide. But enter they may.

There are truly wonderful initiatives out there, such as Leave No Trace, of which I am a trainer, trying to limit peoples’ impacts. But by times, I have to ask myself if the best way of leaving no trace would not simply be to stay out altogether.

On the other hand, I know that this is purely theoretical. The reality is that man has spread his tentacles all over the planet. Even into Antarctica. We travel to a given place ‘because it’s there’. Siberia will soon realise this and become a major nature and adventure tourism destination.

So, given that we will continue to travel, I guess we might as well try to do so in a reasonable fashion that doesn’t damage the environment as much as other forms of tourism.

Maybe we don’t need to pollute an area’s water table. Maybe we don’t need to exploit all the local workers with miserable wages and poor working conditions. Maybe we don’t need to force our western culture upon a destination. Maybe we don’t need to take that high powered motor boat out on the lovely lake. Maybe we don’t need to throw our litter around. Maybe we don’t need a sex slave. Maybe we don’t need to stay in a five star hotel cossetted away from the local life brimming outside the gated property.

So ecotourism (or at least sustainable tourism) is probably, on the balance of it, a positive notion. We will travel, so let’s make an effort at least. But unless its promoters and service providers are completely serious and authentic about reducing their impacts on the environment, it might just be make-believe for those of us who feel the need to tick the boxes for Perth, Windhoek and so on.