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The Balance Between Tourism and Environmentalism

  • 05 May, 2022
  • Harrison Kaye
The Balance Between Tourism and Environmentalism
A Beach in Penghu National Scenic Area

Taiwan has a wide range of different destinations that make it a great place for tourists. Many people around the world are patiently waiting for Taiwan to lift its Covid-19 restrictions and open the borders so they can explore everything that Taiwan has to offer. However, many of Taiwan’s key tourist destinations are feeling the effects of climate change, and so they might not be around forever.

One climate change phenomenon that is threatening Taiwan’s tourist spots is rising sea levels. Taiwan’s sea level rise has actually been shown to be the fastest in the world. A 2017 research paper from Taiwan’s University of Science and Technology suggests that Taiwan’s offshore islands such as Penghu, Kimen and Orchid Island are all at risk of disappearing due to rising sea levels. The sea-level rise in Penghu in particular is more than twice as fast as the global average. 

Another place that has been affected by climate change is Xiaoliuqiu, a small island off the west coast of Taiwan that is famous for its turtles. Climate change and pollution can cause extreme stress to coral reefs, in a phenomenon called coral bleaching. The coral in Xiaoliuqiu has declined in recent years, and that poses a huge threat to the biodiversity of the area and the ecosystems that rely on the coral. According to research from the National Museum of Marine Biology, the overtourism of the area has directly played a part in this coral bleaching. Some argue that putting measures in place to control the amount of tourists visiting Xiaoliuqiu would damage the local economy, because many locals rely on tourism to make a living. But if the coral reefs continue to be damaged and the local ecosystems continue to decline, then tourism in Xiaoliuqiu would surely take an even greater hit in the long run.

Xiaoliuqiu is a great example of how tourism in Taiwan is extremely vulnerable to climate change and yet at the same time contributes to it. According to research, globally tourism produces about 8% of overall CO2 emissions. Around half of this comes from transport, the biggest culprit being flying. Domestic tourism that relies on Taiwan’s buses, trains and ferries of course don’t feed into this figure as much and this is mainly a concern for international tourism. However, the easiest way to get to some of Taiwan’s outlying islands is by plane, while many people still choose to drive to tourist destinations around Taiwan, meaning domestic tourism is still a contributor in no small part to climate change.

It’s clear that moving forward tourism is going to have to become more eco-friendly if it wants to survive as an industry. Achieving this, however, is no easy task. Travelling with the environment and the local community in mind, also known as ecotourism, has grown in popularity in recent years, and although it by no means erases the climate impact of tourism entirely, it helps reduce some of this impact. In Xiaoliuqiu, for example, the country government and the motorcycle rental industry on the island introduced plans to cut down on the number of tourists renting gas-powered motorbikes that pollute the environment. Instead, they’ve been promoting the use of electric battery powered scooters as the best way to get around the island and have introduced four recharging stations around the island. These recharging stations allow you to replace a used battery with a charged one at no extra cost, making electric scooters the more convenient, eco-friendly choice for tourists.

In addition to this, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency has been working together with private groups, the tourism industry and local governments to run green tour routes around Taiwan. The scheme started in 2020 and has over 500 routes that promote green travel, environmentally friendly activities and eco-consciousness. By the end of last year, more than 10,000 people had taken part in one of these green travel routes.

For Taiwan to prevent the loss of its beautiful tourist destinations, it’s going to have to control the very thing that maintains these destinations themselves: tourism. Ecotourism is of course not the only thing that will help curb climate change, rising sea levels and destruction of precious ecosystems, but is one way that can have a direct impact. Hopefully Taiwan’s shift to more eco-friendly ways of travelling around the island will inspire change on an even greater level, and people will be able to enjoy Taiwan’s tourist spots for generations to come. 

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