Forests, Tourism, and Sustainability, a guest-post by Emma Everett

We have been in India for more than two weeks now, and I feel like I have been able to get a more in-depth view of sustainability issues here. We have been in Kerala for several days, and the people all over the state seem to have a solid understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability. Many have also shown us ways in which they conserve.

When we first got to Kerala, we were in a town called Thekkady, and we were staying a hotel that immediately struck me as being environmentally friendly. The reception area and the rooms were open air, meaning they had no central A/C. They had signs in every room informing guests to be considerate of their limited resources of water and power, and I came to find out that their hot water was solar heated.

Our hotel was located in an area where I felt like people generally cared about sustainability. I concluded that this was because we were in the Western Ghats, a place where conservation has been a concern for years. People there have always had to think about the balance between forms of land use: agricultural vs. natural. In other words, if there is too much land used for farming, the natural wildlife gets depleted. This is why wildlife conservation becomes important. For decades uncultivated land in the Western Ghats had been depleted with tea and coffee plantations, but now there are 20 National Parks and 68 Wildlife Sanctuaries, one of which we visited. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is very important to the people of Thekkady, and it conveys a sense of how important conservation is in this area. These designated spaces are also used to protect various animals like the Asian Elephant and Bengal Tiger, both of which have declining populations.

Also while in Thekkady, we visited an organic spice garden. Organic gardening has become increasingly popular in India, particularly in Kerala. People not only in India but around the world have grown to appreciate foods and other products that are grown with minimal harm to the environment. This is why the majority of organic spices grown in Kerala are strictly for export to places like the U.S. and Europe.

Once we left Thekkady, we headed for the houseboats for a night and then traveled into Kochi, a town on the western coast of Kerala that has been colonized by various European powers since the 16th century. On our first afternoon there, we took a walking tour around the beachfront and surrounding areas to get a feel for the town. I was immediately struck by the contradictions surrounding pollution there. When I first saw all of the modern public art, trendy cafes, and tourists from all over the world, I thought Kochi would a place where protecting the environment would be important to many people. And for some it obviously was. There were signs up all along the beach urging people not to litter, and trash bins were located everywhere. There was even a larger than life “trash sculpture” of an enormous crab on the beach. It was titled Mad Crab and was erected out of litter from the beach to prove how much trash there actually was, but with all of these efforts, the beach was still heavily littered. The water was also full of garbage.

Some of my classmates and I got the opportunity to witness how the Chinese fishing nets operated after we had been invited up on a platform by some local fisherman. I was amazed by the size of the net, and as it was raised from the water, we were all expecting there to be some innumerable number of fish to be brought with it, but to my surprise, after a long process, there was only 3 fish. I couldn’t believe it. This net was enormous. How could this be? But after some discussion with the man who first invited us, we realized how big of an impact water pollution has on these people’s lives. He told us how they lower and raise these large nets by hand over and over again all day just get a very small haul. He even showed us the toughness of his hands from pulling the ropes all day. This really struck me, because if there was more of an emphasis placed on cleaning up the water, the fish would flourish and the families in Kochi would have a much better opportunity to take advantage of a body of water that is supposed to be rich with runoff from the highlands.

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