Whenever we save a park or marine area in B.C., it often seems that ecotourism is the main objective in mind.
The animals and plants come second to the money and jobs that can be created. With mounting new evidence from unintentional no-go areas where humans are not allowed, we are just now beginning to understand how tourists can negatively affect the environment and its animal residents.
One example is the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. The radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion zone is another. Wildlife is thriving in both of these areas in the complete absence of human visitors.
A Russian scientist studying Chernobyl has stated, “The mere presence of people is more damaging to wildlife than the radiation poisoning.”
The new study by Christine Gabriel in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska should have everybody rethinking whether whale watching should even be allowed to continue. Covid-19 has shut down the whale watching and cruise ship industry there. Once again, undisturbed wildlife is thriving. And not only that, the whales are acting differently now, resuming their natural behaviours.
When the boats were around all day making a racket, the whales would talk louder, stay closer together, and keep the conversation simple; maybe the same way you would if you were trying to have a dinner conversation over your noisy neighbor’s lawnmower. Without the whale watchers, the whales spread out to feed and can leave their young to play and explore. Because of the lack of noise, they are even able to take naps.
We should be ashamed. We used the word ecotourism, but in reality, it was just tourism.
I propose that the controversial Fairy Creek area become one of these no-go zones – except for scientists – and animal visitors. For all kinds of reasons too numerous to mention, the area between Barcester Bay and Escalante River on Hesquiat, south of Nootka Sound, would be a great candidate to become a no-go marine environment for whales.
We need to create the largest possible reserves where wildlife can thrive undisturbed – as the guiding principle of conservation. Tourism must come second.