Ecotours can offer adventure to those who tread lightly Conservation: A growing sector of the travel industry seeks to explore the world without damaging it. Locally, the National Aquarium is offering a number of such trips.

March 02, 1997|By Ulla Karki | Ulla Karki,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Whether it's the beaches of Cancun, Mexico, or the woods in Banff, Canada, tourism often threatens to damage the areas it seeks to celebrate. However, as an ecotraveler, you can combine adventure and conservation.

As the demand grows to travel farther and farther in search of untouched nature, the ecologically sensitive form of travel known as ecotourism has become the fastest-developing sector of the tourism industry, growing at nearly 30 percent a year.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is doing its bit by sponsoring several trips that emphasize the preservation of wildlife and the environment.

In the aquarium's trips, participants can be active members of a research team -- or even a school of dolphins.

Week with dolphins

Lauren Herndon, 17, a student at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, went on "A Week at DolphinLab" trip for teens at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla., last summer.

Lauren calls the trip "awesome."

"There were 17 dolphins at the research center," Lauren says, "and by the end of the week we knew each dolphin's name and, surprisingly enough, were able to tell them apart.

"We were able to swim with the dolphins, which was both exciting and freaky. It was exciting to be in the water with an amazing animal which was willing to play with me; however, I never knew where one of the dolphins would pop up.

tTC "The seminars were boring at the time, but afterward I have realized how much I learned from them. I think I really want to work with animals in the future," Lauren adds.

Ecotrips often combine adventure with opportunities to learn about the environment and the local culture, or even to collect information for research.

During the aquarium's Sea Turtle Watch trip to South Carolina, participants join researchers gathering information about the sea turtle to protect the endangered species.

At the Apex Predator Shark Expedition in Walker's Cay Marine Park in Bahamas, travelers assist in a groundbreaking electronic tagging project to collect data on sharks.

Leave egos at home

However, travelers should realize that ecotravel is not "egotravel".

Marion DeGroff, a Baltimore resident who has participated in numerous ecotrips throughout the world, points out that intruding into wild areas can never be totally environmentally sensitive. Ecotravel simply tries to minimize the impact on nature.

For the most part, the things an ecotraveler should do are much the same things people do at home to preserve their environment: don't leave trash, use recyclable items and use water and electricity sensibly.

DeGroff says she decided to participate in ecotravel because she wanted to learn about nature and different cultures.

"I have learned an enormous amount, and most of the trips have been just wonderful," she says.

"I can't say which trip was the best. In Africa you see all the wonderful animals and birds, whereas in the Galapagos Islands you can see how life began."

DeGroff, in fact, was about to take a trip to Honduras, also organized by the aquarium.

Valerie Chase is a staff biologist at the aquarium and a veteran in organizing ecologically sensitive trips. When she creates an itinerary, she considers whether the trip might damage the landscape, whether it is possible to travel by foot and whether the area is safe.

She tries to plan trips to countries that support ecological projects, and chooses habitats that are in good shape and without too much human influence.

Also, a site that is scattered widely across the landscape is better, she says, than a cluster of hotels, and the value of the site is increased if it is in a natural reserve or park.

Many ecotrips offer an opportunity to get really close to nature.

DeGroff recalled an occurrence in a tent camp in Tanzania. A lioness was just outside her tent, and she and her tent-mate wanted to record the "coughing noise it was making, because we thought that otherwise nobody was going to believe us. We weren't scared at all, but just as we were about to put the tape-recorder on, a loud snoring from the tent next to us scared the lioness away."

The next morning, she adds, the trip leader confirmed "that it really had been a lioness."

National Aquarium trips

A Week at DolphinLab: Grassy Key, Fla.; adults July 13-19; teen-agers (ages 15-18) July 27-Aug. 2; $1,870 members/$1,910 nonmembers

Sea Turtle Watch: Pritchard's Island, S.C.; teen-agers (ages 14-18) July 1-6; $1,200 members/$1,250 nonmembers

Chattanooga, Here We Come: Tennessee Aquarium trip; June 5-8; $658 members/$698 nonmembers

Apex Predator Shark Expedition: Diving Adventures; Walker's Cay Marine Park, Bahamas; July 30-Aug. 4; $1,750 members/ $1,795 nonmembers

For information: (410) 727-FISH

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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