‘Ecotourism’ isn’t a particularly sexy term – shabby huts, cold showers and middle-aged couples in sandals is what normally springs to mind. However, I’ve dedicated the whole of 2015 to encouraging more ecotourists (or ecoadventurers, as I’m trying to rebrand us) because wildlife-watching can be a world away from sitting in a hide with binoculars and I believe it’s the best tool we have to protect endangered animals.
My mission for 2015 is to write about and photograph 12 wildlife hotspots in the 12 months of this year. So far I have shared the water with an anaconda, rock climbed with marmosets, snorkelled with manatees and turtles, set camera traps for tigers, swam with whale sharks, cuddled a sea lion, got a little too close to a Komodo dragon, watched a baby gorilla feeding, and stroked a grey whale.
The aim is to inspire one million holidaymakers to do more with their precious time off work – and I promise that these destinations hold more riches than sunbathing in a 5-star, all-inclusive resort.
In fact, this was the very sentiment that David Attenborough recently suggested to Barak Obama as the single best way to solve all of the planet’s biggest environmental problems. No film, photo, poem or book can recreate the sensation of being with wild animals. We are reminded that we too are just animals and that commonality is what binds us. There is no conservation tool more powerful than a person who has bathed in this feeling.
From a less emotional angle, the hard earned cash that you spend on your wildlife holiday makes these animals worth more alive than dead. Ecotourism can also provide employment for local people and adds a real value to areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Yes, travelling itself has consequences for our planet, but people have and will always travel. My aim is to simply re-imagine the pleasures that you can experience from a trip – less about eating, drinking and sunbathing – and more about exploring, learning and observing. I guarantee that if you try an ecoadventure, you’ll have something more meaningful to say when you’re asked ‘How was your holiday?’
This article was originally published on Virgin.com