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Pioneering Conservation and Tourism Project Wins

New funding helps kick-start International Year of Ecotourism
New funding helps kick-start International Year of Ecotourism

PARIS, 24 January, 2002 - The goal of developing sustainable tourism in some of the world's most beautiful, yet fragile natural environments received a major boost today with the announcement of one million US dollars in support of a project linking conservation and tourism at six World Heritage sites.

Aveda, the global cosmetics company, has agreed to give US $500,000 to the project that is jointly managed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and RARE Center for Tropical Conservation. The new funds will be matched by an equal amount from the United Nations Foundation.

The World Heritage sites that will benefit from the new funding are the Sian Ka'an and El Vizcaino biosphere reserves in Mexico, Tikal national nark in Guatemala, the Rio Platano biosphere reserve in Honduras, and the Komodo and Ujung Kulon national parks in Indonesia. (See below for more information).

It is hoped that the project, which uses tourism to help mitigate threats to biodiversity conservation, will become a blue print for initiatives elsewhere where the demands of tourists can be balanced with the needs and cultural traditions of local people, the landscape and environment.

The news comes in advance of the official launch of the International Year of Ecotourism that will take place at UN headquarters in New York on 28 January.

"Ecotourism has many definitions, but as a general goal it should provide an opportunity to develop tourism in ways that minimize the industry's negative impacts and a way to actively promote the conservation of Earth's unique biodiversity," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. "Lets hope that this project will become a model for environmentally sound tourism around the world. A blue print that shows how ecotourism, as a tool for sustainable tourism, can be a means of avoiding environmental degradation while sharing the economic benefits with local people," he said.

"Aveda's environmental sustainability efforts focus on the protection of biodiversity," says Dominique Conseil, president of Aveda. "As ecosystems around the world are threatened, so too are indigenous populations. The fight for the defense of biodiversity and the one anthropologists lead for the protection of "ethno-biodiversity" are one and the same. They are about our own survival."

By working with managers, industry and local people the Heritage sites project will bring together conservation education, planning, business development, training and marketing techniques to create a model for using tourism to promote the protection of important habitats. A key part of the project is to involve tour operators in site specific activities so as to create better tourism products and sustainable management systems.

"The global tourism industry is currently generating few tangible benefits for World Heritage sites in developing countries," states Dr. Natarajan Ishwaran, Chief of the Natural Heritage Section at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "In many cases, site personnel and local stakeholders lack the resources, experience, and training necessary to use tourism as an effective tool for achieving long-term biodiversity conservation. This project will create a replicable strategy for addressing these challenges."

The loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitats, the production of waste and polluted effluent in areas that have little or no capacity to absorb them are just some of the environmental problems associated with tourism in sensitive, often remote and pristine locations. Ensuring that tourism is sustainable and doesn't negatively impact these important places is a key objective of the World Heritage site project. But, there is also the overarching issue of why sites need to develop tourism in the first place - the need for income for parks and economic incentives for local communities.

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, UNEP Assistant Executive Director and Director of the Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) points out that, "One of the project's strengths is that it rests on a partnership between protected areas, managers and the private sector to promote biodiversity conservation and economic development. These elements go hand in hand to guarantee long term sustainable development, which will truly benefit local communities," she said.

Many local managers of World Heritage sites are looking to sustainable tourism as a means of balancing the need for economic development with conservation, by bringing income into cash-strapped park budgets and impoverished local communities.

"These are some of the most important places on earth - our world's natural heritage - but to survive, they must be conserved by local people," says Brett Jenks, president of RARE Center for Tropical Conservation. "RARE is working with UNEP and UNESCO to unleash the potential of ecotourism to address the local political, economic, and social challenges to biodiversity conservation."

Linking Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism at World Heritage Sites is a four-year project with a budget of approximately US $3,500,000.


Note to journalists:
The International Year of Ecotourism will be officially launched at UN headquarters in New York on 28 January 2002. After the launch ceremony, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director and Francesco Frangialli, World Tourism Organization Secretary General, will hold a press conference at 12.45 p.m.

For more information contact Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson for Europe and Division of Technology Industry and Economics (DTIE) Press Officer on Tel; 33 1 4437 7613, Mobile; 33 6 2272 5842, email:

In New York, contact Jim Sniffen, UNEP Information Officer on Tel; 1 212 963 8094, email:

Note to Editors

International Year of Ecotourism

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Ecotourism. UNEP and the World Tourism Organisation (WTO ) are the lead agencies and have been mandated to coordinate and carry out international activities for and during the Year.

The Year is intended to offer an opportunity to review successful ecotourism experiences worldwide. It is a time to review ecotourism's effect on biodiversity, its potential contribution to sustainable development, its social, economic and environmental impacts, and the degree to which regulatory mechanisms and voluntary programmes are effective in monitoring and controlling those impacts.

The key global event for the Year will be the World Ecotourism Summit, to be held in Quebec City, Canada, from 19 to 22 May. This event is expected to be the largest ever gathering of the different stakeholders concerned with the issue.

As one contribution to the Year, UNEP and the International Ecotourism Society have jointly prepared a new guide that should act as a basic resource and reference book for governments and practitioners who want to develop environmentally and socially sound ecotourism practices. Ecotourism: Principles, Practices & Policies for Sustainability includes background data and reference sources as well as practical guidelines.

UNEP has also produced a special edition of its Industry and Environment magazine, Ecotourism and Sustainability and a Manual for the Year. For information about this and other products go to the UNEP Tourism web site at

World Heritage project sites

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)
Sian Ka'an, which means "Where the Sky is Born" in the Mayan language, lies on the Yucatán coast and houses lush tropical forests, mangroves, marshes, and the world's second largest coastal barrier reef. Sian Ka'an provides habitat for a wide variety of marine, terrestrial, and plant life and a home to Mayan and Mestizo communities of farmers and fishermen. It is under increasing pressure from high-impact, poorly planned tourism development spreading down the coast from Cancun.

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)
Centered in the Baja California peninsula, El Vizcaino is a site of stark contrasts. The coastal lagoons are vitally important reproduction and wintering refuges for the gray whale, harbor seal, California sea lion, and northern elephant seal, and habitat for four species of endangered marine turtles. Inland, the arid mountains of the Sierra de San Francisco houses ancient cave paintings. Threats to the ecological health of the reserve include industrial development on its borders, as well as over-fishing and poaching of wildlife.

Tikal National Park (Guatemala)
Sited within Central America's largest contiguous tropical rainforest, the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Tikal was a major site of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 10th century AD. The center of the site contains magnificent temples, palaces and public squares. Currently, poorly managed tourism is degrading Tikal's ecological integrity, while creating few benefits for the surrounding indigenous communities.

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
This vast reserve preserves Central America's most important remaining stand of humid tropical forest. It is home to abundant plants and animals and over 2,000 indigenous people, whose traditional lifestyles are threatened by encroaching settlements and agricultural development.

Ujung Kulon National Park (Indonesia)
Just three hours from Jakarta, this park protects natural beauty, unique geologic features, and endangered species. It includes Krakatau, an island important for the study of volcanoes, and the largest remnant of lowland rainforest in the Java plain. Several species of endangered plants and animals occur in the park, including one of the world's two remaining populations of Javan rhinoceros, a species which, at fewer than 50 individuals total, is on the brink of extinction.

Komodo National Park (Indonesia)
Komodo's rugged hillsides of dry savanna contrast starkly with its brilliant white sand coasts and coral reefs. Its volcanic islands house the endangered Komodo dragon, numbered at less than 6,000 individuals. Found nowhere else, this lizard is of great interest to scientists studying evolutionary theory. Komodo is also an important marine reserve, with 1,000 species of tropical fish. A boom in local population (800% growth over the past 60 years) has intensified the environmental pressures on all of Komodo's ecosystems.

For more information:
Oliver Hillel, Tourism Programme Coordinator, UNEP-DTIE
Tel; 33 1 4437 7621, Fax; 33 1 4437 1474, E-mail:

Arthur Pedersen, Consultant in Tourism and Heritage, UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Tel; 33 1 45681620, Fax; 33 1 45685570, E-mail:

Beth Trask, Director, Institutional Resources & Communications, RARE Center
Tel; 1 703 522-5070, Fax; 1 703 522-5027, E-mail:

UNEP's Sustainable Tourism Program
Focusing on policies, tools, and best practices for environmentally-sound tourism
Sustainable Tourism Web site:

The Tour Operators Initiative Web site:
A joint initiative between UNEP, UNESCO, WTO and tour operators. The initiative assists the members develop and implement environmental management and practices that minimise negative environmental and social impacts while optimising benefits.

UNESCO's World Heritage Program
UNESCO's World Heritage program works to protect natural and cultural properties of outstanding universal value against the threat of damage in a rapidly developing world.

RARE Center for Tropical Conservation
A U.S.-based nonprofit organization, RARE Center is active in 20 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific. Through specialized training programs and technical assistance, RARE helps parks and communities in developing countries use ecotourism to meet both conservation and economic development needs. Founded in 1973, RARE Center's mission is to protect the wildlands of globally significant biodiversity by enabling local people to benefit from their preservation.

UNEP News Release 2002/05

(Photo: Åke Bjørke)

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