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6 tips for a greener beach vacation

International travel has exploded to the 20e and 21e centuries. In 1950, 25 million people traveled abroad. In 2019, they were nearly 1.5 billion. Tourists have been drawn to the coasts, from Thailand to Hawaii. Their flights alone have contributed to most of the growing carbon footprint of travel.

At the end of the 20e century, the vacationer’s paradise needed help. Sustainable tourism has emerged: a concept that involves the adoption of practices aimed at reducing the negative social, economic and environmental effects of mass tourism.

As I explain in my new book, The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach, it is difficult to achieve true sustainability in beach tourism. Despite this, I have discovered places and practices that make it possible to respond effectively to the climate crisis.

Travelers can help by making certain choices, by providing support, by being aware of the impact of tourism on the coast, but also by reducing their own carbon footprint. Here are six ideas you should consider on your next sunny getaway to ensure the most eco-responsible trip possible.

(Read: How to support sustainable tourism?)

SETTLING AWAY FROM THE BEACHES

Hotels and other high concrete structures built directly on the beach block the flow of sand, inevitably causing erosion. Once the sand is gone, beach resort owners face tough choices: build a seawall to secure the land, continually replenish the beach, or abandon the building altogether.

Resorts should be set back from beaches and ideally consist of several small buildings rather than one large fixed building. Using materials and techniques that make it easier to move and repair after storms are also a good idea.

Eco-responsible idea: Nicaraguan law requires that new buildings be sited 50 meters from the high tide line. This has prompted hotels like Maderas Village to build cabins in the hills, among the trees. For its construction, the complex used local wood and palm leaves. These measures allow for better views and breezes for guests, faster recovery from storms, and preservation of the shoreline ecosystem.

REDUCE LONG DISTANCE FLIGHTS

For a beach vacation requiring a long plane trip, the journey can represent 75% of the total carbon footprint. This means that no matter how sustainable the end-of-the-world resort you go to, the overall impact of your stay cannot be eco-friendly. Instead, consider heading to a beach town closer to home (perhaps a town you can reach by train or other public transport) rather than the Maldives or the Bahamas, for example.

In some countries, regulations may soon make these decisions for travellers. In Europe, countries are already enacting laws to discourage air travel. France has banned domestic flights for trips that can be made by train in two and a half hours or less, and Austria has banned flights under 40 euros. The UK, meanwhile, has considered banning frequent-flyer programs that reward travelers for long-distance flights.

Smart and sustainable: Choosing a destination closer to home can make a huge difference to your vacation’s carbon footprint. If you fly, it may be worth offsetting your carbon footprint for the trip. If you try to avoid flying, you won’t be alone. In Sweden, will flight-shaming change our travel habits? | Les EchosFlight-shaming has become a real societal force, and the number of passengers at the country’s airports fell by 4% in 2019.

STOP IDEALIZING PALMS

Palm trees are long-standing symbols of beach culture, and are as likely to be planted on the sands of Cancun as along the French Riviera. Coconut palms are only native to parts of the Malay Peninsula and India, however, and they are nearly useless for creating sustainable shorelines. Their shallow roots hardly help to stop erosion. They don’t absorb as much carbon as other tree species, provide little shade, and require a lot of water to maintain.

When the coconut tree spread to hotels around the world, many native plants disappeared, especially the mangroves that line many tropical beaches, from Florida to Central America to South Africa. and the Fiji Islands. Growing mangroves would offer natural and effective protection to coastlines.

(Read: In Florida, the urgency of raising the coastline before the water rises.)

Plant for a specific purpose: The city of West Palm Beach, Florida now requires that trees be planted in its parking lots, and that 75% of those trees provide shade: in other words, no palm trees. Some stations have joined this movement. The Six Senses chain, for example, is incorporating mangroves into the landscaping of some of its resorts, particularly in Thailand, in hopes of helping to redefine the ideal image of the beachfront.

GIVE TOURISM BACK TO LOCAL POPULATIONS

If one is not native to the country, it is difficult to understand both the culture and the landscape of a coastline. Therefore, even when foreign hotel companies have the best intentions, they often struggle to understand and manage the situation on the ground, and gain buy-in from the local population. For example, if a new coastal protection program interferes with the work of local fishermen without seeking to understand their needs and help them adapt, it is unlikely to be effective. Local people understand that these situations are complex; they should therefore be given the opportunity to contribute to their progress.

Additionally, leaving the decision-making, management and ownership of tourism to local communities helps ensure that more income from tourism stays within the local economy, rather than being sent to foreign businesses.

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