Environmental protection and natural resource conservation, today, has many facets and aspects that are not clearly projected in the mainstream conservation models and programmes, either by the governments or by any other conservation organisations. And this could be due to the clichéd and comfortable, existing systems that seem to be very convenient. But, we need to move out of this comfort zone and bring in new methods and approaches that will truly involve and engage the community at various levels & stages. One such creative approach would be to promote ‘Ecotourism’ in its true sense. In fact Ecotourism is nothing but a sub-component of the broad term known as ‘Sustainable Tourism’. World over, Ecotourism is already used as an effective tool for the sustainable development. And therefore, it has become the chief reason why majority of the developing nations are suddenly and gladly embracing it. In addition, these countries have also been incorporating the ecotourism approaches in their economic policy framework and conservation programmes.
Very briefly, Ecotourism, which is an alternative and nature based tourism, mainly involves an exposure to natural areas so as to experience, understand, affiliate, study and eventually protect these natural regions, which largely enables the economic, social, cultural and ecological development of communities. The main focus is primarily on experiencing and learning about the environment, ecology, flora, fauna and their habitats. It also dwells on the cultural heritage of the region, which is mostly the fallout of its surrounding environment. It is therefore possible to develop a symbiotic and healthy relationship between environment and tourism if this philosophy can become a part of the national & economic policies with appropriate planning and strategy. It is also established that ecotourism, especially, if it is rural-based and involves the local communities, can provide direct & larger benefits in terms of monetary support and financial independence. This will also help in cutting down the pressure from various unsustainable initiatives that actually exploit and misuse natural resources. Also, Ecotourism, integrated with routine economic activities can become a sustainable livelihood model that can be practiced and replicated elsewhere. Therefore, ecotourism needs to be an inclusive mechanism for the healthy development of societies and communities, especially in developing countries.
In the true sense, Ecotourism supports community development in a significant way by providing an alternate source of livelihood to the community which is the most sustainable way of generating employment and raising income levels. The key objective of Ecotourism is to experience ecological assets, appreciate natural landscapes, promote judicious use of resources and finally bring in economic benefits to local communities. In simple terms - Ecotourism involves local communities in promoting their ecological & cultural landscapes, which in turn supports their livelihoods by bringing in economic incentives. Thus, it can be said that Ecotourism contributes to environmental conservation, sustains livelihoods, promotes healthy recreational activities and maintains a balance between resource utilization and exploitation. But at the same time, if Ecotourism needs to be sustainable, it must be holistic, comprehensive and inclusive.
Karnataka, in fact can be a model state for the country with its rich and diverse ecosystems and eco-regions: the ‘Western Ghats’ which is a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, the Coastal & Marine Ecosystems skirting the Ghats, the Grasslands lying adjacent to the eastern side of the Ghats, the Deccan Plateau extending from the Grasslands, the Northern Semi-Arid plains, the Southern Nilgiri Biospere and their surrounding Eco-Regions: this unique diversity within one state is a rare phenomenon.
The southern peninsular India is a different & unique landscape that needs special attention and developmental outlook. And this complexity needs to be understood by the decision-makers that will wide-ranging policy implications. In fact Karnataka needs to develop an integrated economic policy framework that will highlight the need for natural resource conservation and link economic activities and programmes with strong ecological foundation. This will not only sustain Karnataka, but it will also support the neighbouring states by building harmonious relationships through trans-boundary ecological initiatives that are essential and critical for them too....