Is ecotourism an oxymoron?

I came across a short piece on the Magellanic penguins of Punta Tombo in the Salem-News today.

The writer Gail Parker hits on a theme that is sure to sharpen in the year ahead, and one that I often wrestle with.


She asks if ecotourism is an oxymoron.

According to my fictional researcher based at Punta Tombo (story download), it certainly is. Tourists absolutely and inadvertently cause the deaths of penguins. Yet this must be weighed against the trauma that would be inflicted upon them if tourists did not travel thousands of miles to see them.

More than two decades ago, the Japanese wanted to harvest the penguins, using their skin for women’s gloves. Local researchers shed light on these plans and, thank goodness, they didn’t come to fruition.

Now, with a hundred thousand annual visitors, it’s safe to say that the penguin colony is protected.

But we must not love them to death. There was a time there were more penguins than people along these shores. Not anymore.

My big concern is not so much the tourists but the ships off the coast, the ones that catch these penguins in their fishing nets, the ones that steal the food, forcing penguins to venture further and further from their nests. This, I believe, is the far greater threat.

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