It’s fair to say that the balance between environmental protection and tourism is one which has been discussed over and over again.
How can we make sure that tourism, on which economic development so closely depends, has a limited, if any at all impact on the environment?
This dilemma is particularly true in smaller islands and it is one that The French Overseas Territories have all managed to successfully tackle:
Aware of the fragility of the ecosystems, of their exceptional nature, particularly rich in biodiversity, the authorities and tourism professionals have undertaken to preserve this heritage.
From the cirques of Reunion to the mangroves of the West Indies, from the rainforest in French Guiana to the dry plains of the Kanak land, as far as the Pacific atolls, all exotic landscapes to be discovered by lovers of ecotourism or nature hikes.
Many National parks have been created over the years to protect and develop the islands’ nature and landscape, to enhance the status of the natural cultural heritage for the benefit of the island’s sustainable development, and to develop information and public education.
So many things can be said about this subject I propose you to discover it in two steps, part 1 today along the French West Indies and Guiana, and part 2 tomorrow through the Indian Ocean and Polynesia.
Part 1: French West Indies
In Guadeloupe, the protected zone by the National Park, covers most of the tropical forest and mountainous volcanic area in the southern half of the island called Basse-Terre. Some ten rural cottages, various outdoor- activity services (e.g. sea kayaking), as well as diverse ecotourism sites (e.g., archaeological park of stone carvings, water garden) are all to be found within the park.
The National Park also co-ordinates the Nature Reserve of the “Grand cul-de-sac marin”, located between the Grande Terre and the Basse-Terre north of the Salée River: it comprises mangrove swamps, marsh forests, salt water marshes, wet meadows, coral reefs and seagrass meadows. This area has been listed by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve since 1992
In Martinique, the regional nature park, created in 1976, covers a large part of the island: the Caravelle nature reserve in the north of the park, the bird sanctuary on the Sainte Anne islets in the south of the park, and the naturally developed sites such as the Tivoli Domain or the Estripault Domain.
The Saint-Martin Nature Reserve, was itself created in 1998 and is aimed at protecting the biodiversity of the three ecosystems it contains. A paradise for nature lovers, the reserve stretches over 3,060 hectares, partly on land and partly on the sea. On land, a large number of sea birds species, iguanas, raccoons and mongooses freely roam in a delightful landscape made up of rocky coasts, beaches, ponds and mangrove swamps filled with red mangrove trees.
At sea, from January to May, turtles and, farther out, humpback whales can be seen; grassy sea beds and coral shelter a multitude of molluscs and fish, to the great delight of scuba divers.
A new trail which was inaugurated in 2009, the “Sentier de Froussards”, enables the least developed part of the island to be explored through a xerophilous forest.
The route de Coralita, which follows the coastline, is now home to a whale observatory and two wooden shelters perfect for stopping to take in the scenery.
The locality known as “Cul-de-Sac” is also moving towards eco-tourism by setting up a trail on piles in the mangrove around the Barrière pond.
French Guiana remains one of the last great wilderness areas to explore.
This territory has nearly 8 million hectares of rainforest, mostly classified as protected areas, and an exceptionally rich natural heritage consisting of some 1,300 types of trees, 190 species of mammals, 720 species of birds, and 480 species of fish, Therefore, established in 2007, the Guiana Amazonian National Park has been protecting a very special environment and the cultural heritage of the Amerindian and the ‘Noirs-Marrons’ communities.
On the edge of the Amazon basin, a Regional Natural Park covers an area of 6,998km2, with two focuses: to the east, the Kaw marshes, and to the west, the communes of Mana and Awala-Yalimapo. Apart from harbouring one of the last stable populations of black caiman in the world, the park is also one of the most favoured areas for Luth turtles to lay their eggs (around 10,000 per year).
The Nature Reserve on the island of Grand Connétable contains the only protected marine area on the Amazon coast, where rare or threatened species, such as the green turtles or giant groupers, can be found.
Gîtes (cottages) classed “Tropical Panda” by the WWF organization, are proof of the efforts for sustainable development made by the Guyanese population.
End of part 1 of 2.
To be continued on Monday…