Biodiversity publications archive

Two way track

Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism: an investigation of linkages, mutual benefits and future opportunities
Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 5

Noel Preece and Penny van Oosterzee, Ecoz-Ecology Australia and David James, Ecoservices Pty Ltd
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995

2. Policies, strategies and agreements on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity

2.1 International Convention on Biological Diversity

The protection of biodiversity is an important national objective. Australia is a party to the International Convention on Biodiversity which was ratified on 18 June 1993 and came into force internationally on 29 December 1993.

The overall objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

The Convention has global scope. Each country which is Party to the Convention has responsibility for the conservation and sustainable use of its own biological diversity. Parties also have a responsibility to manage their own processes and activities which may threaten biological diversity, regardless of where their effects occur.

Parties to the Convention are required to integrate conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity through the implementation of national strategies, plans and programs for sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry and for cross-sectoral matters such as land use planning and decision making. Interestingly, tourism, a major user of natural resources, has not been specified as a sector.

Given that tourism in Australia is largely dependent on and a major user of natural resources and biodiversity, it is recommended that it be identified specifically as a sector in national policies that deal with biodiversity, conservation, ESD and the environment, where it is not already identified.

Other important measures in the Convention are the enhancement of knowledge and understanding of biological diversity and the impacts on it. Parties are required to identify and monitor important ecosystems, species and genetic components of biological diversity, as well as processes and activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on biological diversity. In this way, countries are able to determine their priorities with regard to conservation and sustainable use measures which need to be undertaken.

Parties are required to give emphasis to in situ conservation through a broad range of actions, including the establishment and management of protected areas; conservation and sustainable use of biological resources within and outside protected areas; promotion of environmentally sound and sustainable development in areas adjacent to protected areas; rehabilitation and restoration of degraded ecosystems; control of alien species and genetically modified organisms; protection of threatened species and populations; and regulation of damaging processes and activities.

Various measures are to be undertaken by Parties to promote sustainable use of biological diversity. These include integrating consideration of the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources into national decisionmaking; adopting measures for the use of biological resources which avoid or minimise adverse impacts on biological diversity; supporting local populations to develop and implement remedial action in degraded areas; and encouraging cooperation between governmental authorities and the private sector in developing methods for the sustainable use of biological resources.

The Convention provides for the adoption of economically and socially sound incentive measures, such as proper pricing of biological resources and the use of tradable rights in their management. Such measures can be an effective means of encouraging the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

Parties are to introduce appropriate procedures for environmental impact assessment of projects, programs and policies that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biological diversity. The Convention also provides for the notification of activities which are likely to significantly damage biological diversity and the promotion of emergency response arrangements.

The Convention includes provision for encouraging public understanding of the significance of biological diversity and the measures for its conservation.

In announcing Australia's ratification in June 1993 of the Convention on Biodiversity, Ros Kelly, the then Federal Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, said:

Australia has a special role to play in protecting global biodiversity as we are one of approximately twelve countries containing almost 70 per cent of the world's species.

Senator Gareth Evans, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, said:

Many primary industries essential to our export earnings are dependent either directly or indirectly on our biological diversity and that of other countries. It is in our economic and environmental interests to take strong and decisive action under the guidance of the Convention to maximise the benefits to be gained from a healthy environment and ecologically sustainable development.

2.2 National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

A draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity has been prepared by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC Task Force on Biological Diversity 1993), in consultation with the Agricultural and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, the Australian Forest Council, the Australian and New Zealand Fisheries and Aquaculture Council, the Australian and New Zealand Minerals and Energy Council, and the Industry, Technology and Regional Development Council. No peak tourism body was included in consultations, although the views of local governments represented by the Australian Local Government Association, business (including tourism), industry, and the conservation movement were sought. The provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the draft national strategy prepared by the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, were taken into account in the preparation of the document.

The goal of the draft Strategy is to protect biological diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems. It aims to bridge the gap between current activities and the effective identification, conservation and management of Australia's biodiversity, and acknowledges the core objectives of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and accepts its guiding principles. The draft Strategy's primary focus is Australia's indigenous biological diversity.

The Draft Strategy covers all of Australia's biodiversity including terrestrial marine and other aquatic ecosystems and those of external territories. The establishment of a comprehensive, representative and adequate system of ecologically viable protected areas is central to the conservation of Australia's biodiversity. In addition, the strategy recognises the significant contribution environmentally sympathetic management of non-reserve areas can make in meeting biodiversity conservation objectives.

Objective 2.6 of the Draft Strategy deals with tourism and recreation. It aims to 'achieve the conservation of biological diversity through the adoption of ecologically sustainable management practices for tourism and recreation' (pg. 32). This objective is consistent with the National Tourism Strategy which has as its strategic environmental goal the sustainable development of tourism consistent with the conservation of our natural heritage. The actions associated with objective 2.6 deal with improving the knowledge base and a suite of actions which focus on improved management.

The Draft Strategy raises many issues which deal with tourism either directly or indirectly. These include integrated techniques for management for conservation; marine conservation strategies; incentives for conservation; information systems for the compilation of current knowledge; monitoring impacts on biological diversity; and resourcing the conservation and management of Australia's biological diversity.

Recommendation: that any national deliberations on the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity also incorporate the Tourism Sector.

2.3 National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development

The conservation of biodiversity is a foundation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (1992) adopted by Commonwealth, State and Local Governments (represented by the Australian Local Government Association), and guides policy and decision making, particularly in those industry sectors that rely on the use of natural resources.

For tourism, the Strategy aims to do this largely by encouraging strategic and regionally focused research. For example, organisations such as the Bureau of Tourism Research and other State and Territory agencies are encouraged to undertake further strategic and regionally focused research such as monitoring of international information, trends (such as ecotourism) and developments. In addition, Governments are encouraged to facilitate the most cost-effective and appropriate mechanisms for undertaking further research into the environmental, social, economic and cultural aspects of tourism, including the practical dimensions of theoretical concepts such as carrying capacity, environmental load and limits of acceptable environmental change.

The ESD process was supported and developed in conjunction with industry sectors. Since adoption, action on many of the recommendations has been slow.

It is recommended that the Ecologically Sustainable Development process be revitalised through the accelerated implementation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development. The ESD process was a significant step in achieving the long-term goals of an ecologically sustainable future for Australia.

2.4 National Forest Policy Statement

The National Forest Policy Statement was adopted by all States and Territories (except Tasmania) in 1992. Part of the vision shared by the signatories is that the unique character of the Australian forested landscape and the integrity and biological diversity of its associated environment is retained.

The conservation goals of the Policy Statement include managing Australia's forests in an ecologically sustainable manner for a range of uses, including tourism, recreation and the production of non-wood products. In order to facilitate ecologically sustainable tourism the Statement declares the Commonwealth will facilitate funding for research, marketing, the provision of interpretation facilities for visitors, the training of tourism operators, and the planning and management of tourism activities. A step in this direction is through the Bureau of Tourism Research which, the Statement states, will:

undertake tourism-oriented forest research, including economic research into the existing use and current and potential economic value of forests for tourism and recreation. This will involve liaison with forest management agencies and tourism research authorities to encourage the coordination and collection of standardised data on the types and level of visitor use of protected and other areas.

Relevant government agencies will also assess the impact of tourism on forest ecosystems by monitoring tourism activities. Where necessary, forest access will be managed to protect and conserve forest ecosystems.

Funding of $1.9 million over four years was provided under the Statement to encourage ecologically sustainable tourism activities in forest areas through the provision of infrastructure, education, training and research.

2.5 National Strategy for the Conservation of Australian Species and Ecological Communities Threatened with Extinction

This National Strategy is currently being developed by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, through the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council. The aim of the Draft Strategy, not yet released, is to enable 'Australia's species and ecological communities threatened with extinction to survive and thrive in their natural habitats and to retain their genetic diversity and potential for evolutionary development, and prevent additional species and ecological communities from becoming threatened.'

2.6 National Tourism Strategy

The National Tourism Strategy (CDoT 1992) was formulated to, among other goals, enhance community awareness of the economic, environmental and cultural significance of tourism. The Strategy's environmental goal is:

to provide for sustainable tourism development by encouraging responsible planning and management practices consistent with the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.

The strategy recognises that tourism and the environment are natural partners and that a large proportion of tourism depends on the natural environment. Importantly, it also recognises that tourism is often an economic justification for protection of the environment, and that most World Heritage Areas are significant tourist attractions. Conserving and improving the environment requires a cooperative effort between industry, conservation groups and government. Key issues addressed in the Strategy include Ecologically Sustainable Development, Coastal Tourism, the Great Barrier Reef, and National Parks and other Protected Areas, Regional Planning, Environmental Impact Assessment, Land-Use Capabilities, Economic Instruments, and Education and Research. The Strategy recognised that National Parks are becoming a vital strand in the fabric of Australia's tourism infrastructure. The Strategy advocates that the industry and government tourism bodies take responsibility for and active involvement in each of these issues to varying degrees.

Regional planning based on ecological systems (essentially bioregional planning – see section 3.2) is recognised as an important strategy in the development of tourism with the prime responsibilities falling on government bodies, not industry. We believe this to be a deficiency in the bioregional planning process advocated, and recommend that industry be intimately involved in the process.

Recommendation: that the tourism industry, through the Tourism Council of Australia and Regional Tourism Associations, be involved in the bioregional planning process pursued in section 3.2, and recommended in Australia's Tourism Strategy.

The Strategy recognises that the growth in tourism has resulted in increased pressures on the environment, and that additional resources are required to manage them. Economic instruments can serve to integrate economic and environmental policy, and can be price-based, including environmental taxes, charges and subsidies, and based on volume or quantity, such as tradable permits and quotas. The Strategy proposed support for the equitable application of the user-pays principle to offset the cost of public management of natural resources, and the possible application of economic instruments to 'control tourism demand pressures, provide incentives for environmentally-responsible tourism practices and penalise developers who infringe environmental regulations' (p68). We provide a number of economic instruments which accord with these recommendations in Section 8.6.

Of particular relevance to the conservation of biodiversity are the Education and Research recommendations. The Strategy (p69) advocates raising tourists' awareness of the environmental impacts of tourism activity, the development of high standard interpretive facilities in 'environmentally-significant tourism areas', the integration of environmental studies into tourism education and training programs, and more extensive research into environmental issues of importance to tourism. These issues are addressed in Section 7.4, Education.

2.7 National Ecotourism Strategy

The National Ecotourism Strategy (CDoT 1994a) was developed by the Department of Tourism after a period of wide public consultation. The vision statement of the Strategy is that:

Australia will have an ecologically and culturally sustainable ecotourism industry that will be internationally competitive and domestically viable. Ecotourism in Australia will set an international example for environmental quality and cultural authenticity while realising an appropriate return to the Australian community and conservation of the resource' (pg. 1).

The Strategy develops an overall policy framework for the planning, development and management of ecotourism in the belief that this is fundamental to optimising the benefits it offers. The strategy offers a strategic direction to the integration of regional planning based on ecologically sustainable principles, suggesting that ecotourism may have greater resource implications for the maintenance and monitoring of biodiversity and the integrity of cultural resources than many other forms of tourism activity. Objective 3 of the Strategy encourages a complementary approach between ecotourism and conservation.

We discuss this in Section 1.4 in relation to the relationship between biodiversity and NBE, particularly the fact that large operations such as on the Great Barrier Reef and at Yellow Waters in Kakadu National Park will have more resource implications for biodiversity conservation than small group tours which are often identified as 'ecotours'.

The implementation of the Strategy is to occur through a series of actions to encourage the effective delivery of ecotourism products and services in Australia. The Commonwealth Government has committed $10 million over the period 1993-97, to fund programs for the development and implementation of the National Ecotourism Strategy. A series of eight Commonwealth Government priorities and programs have been framed, dealing with accreditation, market research, energy and waste, infrastructure, education, baseline studies and monitoring, integrated regional planning, business development and conferences.

Funding through these programs in the first round of grants has included a range of projects in these categories. A review of the projects funded suggests to us that relatively less emphasis has been placed on developing regional ecotourism strategies, ecologically sustainable practice models and impact monitoring models, while too much has been spent on infrastructure, most of which is essentially the responsibility of national park management authorities, and usually within their programs and budgets.

Complementary programs include the Sites of National Tourism Significance Program which was announced as part of the Prime Minister's Statement on the Environment (1992). The Program allocated a total of $3.9 million over four years to encourage and facilitate the ecologically sustainable management and use of natural sites of national significance.

2.8 Summary

Most States and Territories in Australia have responded to these policies and have initiated strategic plans for tourism, ecotourism, and nature-based tourism development. A summary and evaluation of these plans is presented in Section 6 of this report. The tourism industry responded to the trend towards nature-based and ecotourism by establishing the Ecotourism Association of Australia in 1991.

The achievement of a high-quality visitor experience and the maintenance of a resource over generations are goals against which the success of NBE planning, development and management could be evaluated.

Despite the widespread commitment to a number of important agreements involving tourism and biodiversity conservation, progress towards implementation has been slow. It is strongly recommended that all governments review their plans of action in relation to this important area of policy and take tangible steps towards accelerating the terms of these agreements.

It is also apparent in our review of these strategies and those in section 6, that while the will is present in each of the states to implement ecologically sustainable practices, the actual implementation is deficient. All tourism strategies reviewed give strong positive support to the principle of ESD and environmental responsibility, but translation into action is rarely evident. We believe this is due to a lack of understanding of the process and lack of leadership on environmental matters. Governments, particularly the Federal Government, need to provide the structure and direction for tourism on environmental matters.

Recommendation: that governments review the deficiencies in understanding of environmental matters in the tourism industry and take appropriate steps to rectify these deficiencies.