The Ecological Problems
Associated with Ecotourism and Ecoresort Developments
Itam Ekpenyong Bassey,
Ita Ekpe Esien,
Dept. of Civil Engineering,
The rise of ecotourism in the world, since the last quarter of the 20th century, has created very attractive economic opportunities for the developing countries; many of them have been rushing to take advantage of these opportunities. Ecotourism often leads large numbers of international tourists to fragile and pristine natural environments in the rural regions of the developing countries, where the foremost attractions of ecotourism are located. In this paper the ecological problems of ecotourism in a specific group of fragile and pristine natural environments (mountain forest and tropical rainforest ecosystems) are discussed with specific reference to the problems of formulation of appropriate architectural conceptions for ecoresort developments in such circumstances.
Introduction – Trends in the Evolution of the Concept of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is a relatively very new direction in international tourism; it emerged about the 1980s as a distinct arm of the global tourism industry. According to D. A. Fennell  the term “ecotourism” is a very recent term in the lexicon of the world. According to D. Weaver , the term ecotourism was unknown in the English language until as recently as the mid 1980s; yet by the beginning of the 21st century, this form of recreational activity had emerged as a major component of the global tourism industry and an important focus of academics within the field of tourism studies. According to Fennel, “there has been some confusion surrounding the etymology or origin of the term ‘ecotourism’”. There is, however, considerable consensus on the view that the origin of the term ‘ecotourism’ is attributed to Ceballos-Lascurain. According to G. Wall  (in Jafari, J., editor; Encyclopedia of tourism; pp. 165-6):
The term 'ecotourism' is usually attributed to Ceballos-Lascurain, who defined it as 'tourism that consists in travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas.' (Wall 2000: 165-166).
According C. W. Shanklin , ecotourism is “defined as trips taken in which travelers learn about and appreciate the environment or trips taken to advance the cause of conservation”. This definition explicitly sets out two principal attributes of ecotourism. Firstly, it is directed towards the purpose of creating the possibilities for the tourists to learn. Secondly, it should be directed towards the purpose of conservation of natural and cultural heritages of the region; thus expressing the expected ecological benefits of ecotourism. A more recent and more comprehensive definition proposed by M. Honey  categorically emphasizes four fundamental attributes of ecotourism:
· it should satisfy the quests of tourists for knowledge about the natural and cultural heritages of the region;
· it should become a means of generating funds for conservation;
· it should grant direct benefits to local communities in specific respect to their economic development and political empowerment;
· it should foster respect for cultures and the rights of the indigenous peoples.
The review of the contemporary definitions and concepts of ecotourism has revealed that learning, environmental sustainability, conservation and the well being of the indigenous peoples constitute its major platforms [6, 8, 13, 16, 17].
The Ecological Problems of Ecotourism in Delicate
Mountain environments are very sensitive to change because the cold temperatures result in short growing periods of the vegetation. In the event of damage to vegetation, subsequent regeneration of damaged vegetation is difficult. Mountain environments are now very attractive for ecotourism and sporting activities: trekking, snowboarding, mountain biking and winter sports. Immense economic benefits accrue from mountain tourism for the development of rural areas located on mountains. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimated that in 1997, 24 million tourists (3-4 percent of the international tourism arrivals worldwide) were directly associated with winter sports on mountains. However, mountain tourism has been responsible for the ecological degradation of mountain environments in many parts of the world. Deforestation of the sides of the mountains could result in the significant ecological threats: the risk of avalanches, landslides and disruption of ecosystems, resulting in the loss of habitats and the destruction of wildlife [7, 14, 15].
 has cited the case of Tatopani in
tropical rainforests constitute another rich and vulnerable ecosystem that is presently
becoming very attractive in ecotourism; its rich biological diversities
constitute its foremost attraction to international tourists. R. Akinyemi 
has reported a comparative analysis of the biological diversities of the
tropical rainforests with a typical ecosystem in the temperate regions of the
 has demonstrated the contributions that ecotourism and ecoresort developments
are capable of making towards the preservation of biological diversities in the
tropical rainforests of sub-Saharan Africa; citing the example of the gorilla
The tropical rainforests constitute a very vulnerable ecosystem, characterized by very heavy rainfalls; estimated minimum average annual rainfall is 1750-2000mm (and the maximum could be as high as 4500-4800mm). This ecosystem is located in regions, where the annual insolation is very high at the earth’s surface - between 200 and 240 watts/m2 (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). The principal peculiarity of this ecosystem is that its stability is entirely dependent on its trees. Excessive deforestation exposes the soils to very intense solar radiation; the soils thus rapidly dry up and harden, resulting in the inhibition of the processes of regeneration of the ecosystem. Following the loss of the trees, floods and erosion become prevalent, during the subsequent periods of the heavy rainfalls; and these ultimately result in total destruction of the ecosystem and it rich biological diversities [1, 12].
Fig. 1. Insolation: 1a (at the Stratosphere); 1b (at the earth’s surface). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 2. Distribution of tropical rainforests in the world. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ecotourism and the
specific instance of ecotourism and ecoresort developments in the district of
a) It is a rich tropical rainforest ecosystem, with rich biological diversities, some of which are endemic and others among which are facing the threat of extinction;
b) It serves as the watershed for the immediate district and also for a large region, located beyond it.
investigations in this district have already revealed that it is very rich in
biological diversities; with about 12 percent of the species being classified
as endemic . At the Earth Summit (1992), held in
Ecoresort Development in the Cross River National Park District
According to H. Ayala [2, 3], the fundamental principle in the design and construction of ecoresorts is ecological sensitivity. The designs of masterplans, buildings and road infrastructures of ecoresorts should always be based on the approach of harmonizing hospitality with the aspiration to preserve the natural and cultural specificities of the ecosystem. The concept of environmental sensitivity is also explicitly declared in the definition of ecoresort proposed by R. K. Dowling (in Jafari, J., editor; Encyclopedia of tourism; pp. 165) :
An ecoresort is a self-contained, upmarket, nature-based accommodation facility. It is characterised by environmentally sensitive design, development and management which minimises its adverse impact on the environment, particularly in the areas of energy and waste management, water conservation and purchasing. An ecoresort acts as a window to the natural world and as a vehicle for environmental learning and understanding. (Dowling 2000: 165).
case of the
Ecological sensitivity and ecological affinity are thus the fundamental principles that must guide ecotourism and the architecture of ecoresorts in this ecosystem. Within the context of the tropical rainforest ecosystem these principles have their specific interpretations, and the following principal factors should be observed:
· the trees within this ecosystem constitute its mainstay and in the event of deforestation, it becomes very difficult for the ecosystem to be regenerated;
· rainfalls are very heavy and in the event of deforestation the soil rapidly hardens (on account of the intense insolation), quickly loses its ability to facilitate the percolation of rainwater, and this results in serious ecological problems – floods, erosion and landslides;
· thus ecoresort developments must be organized in such a manner that the majority of the existing trees and other aspects of the natural vegetation of the ecosystem are preserved intact;
Correspondingly, ecoresort developments within this ecosystem should be guided by the architectural approaches that are summarized here below.
· In the formation of ecoresorts, the most fundamental principle is the preservation of the ecological integrity of the ecosystem.
· The buildings and complexes should be small and widely spaced in order that excessive transformations of the natural landscapes of the forest environments and of the physical structures of the territory would be avoided.
· The choice of a location for ecoresort development should not only be guided by its attractiveness to tourists; it should also be based on the scientific studies that will grant appropriate interpretations about the vulnerability of the chosen location to sustained anthropogenic impacts associated with ecotourism.
In sizes and capacities, ecoresorts should be small in order to
avoid the exertion of excessive ecological impacts on any single portion of the
territory. It is recommended that ecoresorts, in the district of the
· It is desirable that ecoresort buildings should be constructed on stilts, in order that the buildings should not obstruct the natural paths of rainwater over the territory. By this means the spaces under the buildings remain useful for infiltration of rainwater; and thus imperviousness ratio of the territory is maintained at the lowest possible level.
· Sporting activities such as football and golf demand large areas of cleared forestlands; they are thus unacceptable for ecoresort developments in this ecosystem, especially within the districts of the national park complex.
· Notwithstanding the fact that, within this ecosystem, ecoresort developments occur in rural regions (where essential engineering infrastructural services like water, sewage and electricity are either entirely absent or below international standards), ecoresorts are expected to provide international tourists with appropriate standards of services.
· In the specific case of hot water supply, it would be essential to apply solar hot water systems (which have become very affordable in the 21st century) in order to curtail the tendencies of excessive extraction of fuelwood from the tropical rainforests for the purpose of providing international tourists with regular supplies of hot water.
fundamental principle in the architecture of ecoresorts is contextualism; the ecoresort
(its buildings and complexes) should be capable of granting international
tourists appropriate interpretations about the natural and cultural
specificities of the region. This has been interpreted to mean that traditional
architectural styles should be applied in the designs of ecoresort buildings
and complexes; and also that local building materials and technologies should
be applied in the construction of ecoresort buildings and complexes. With respect
to the principle of contextualism, the following considerations must be made,
pertaining to ecoresort developments in the districts of the
· The concept of the wooden cottage, which appears to be attractive in the forest environments, should be viewed with caution in ecoresort developments in tropical rainforest ecosystem. Construction of wooden cottages would likely result in excessive demands for timber and consequently, in large-scale destruction of forests.
Earth is more widely used for the construction of traditional
buildings in sub-Saharan
· The use of local materials and technologies in the development of ecoresorts would make the costs of their construction and maintenance more affordable, and therefore make the whole project more sustainable, in the long run.
Environmental Engineering Considerations in Ecoresort Developments in the Cross River National Park District
general theme of this work has been that ecotourism and ecoresort developments
in delicate forests environments (like the tropical rainforests) could result
in serious ecological problems. The fact that the district of the
Design and construction of road infrastructures in watershed districts have their own peculiarities, which could be broadly described as “ecological conformity”. By ecological conformity, it is understood that such projects must follow the environmental standards that apply to watershed districts. The primary ecological function of a watershed is the facilitation of groundwater recharge processes; and development projects in such districts should not result in the impairment of the watershed from the performance of this primary ecological function. Two parameters that must be applied in the evaluation of the effectiveness of the designs of roads and walkways in watershed districts are impervious cover and imperviousness ratio (or simply imperviousness). Impervious cover is defined as any surface in the given landscape that cannot absorb or infiltrate rainwater; and imperviousness is defined as the percentage of impervious cover in a development site or watershed. In physical developments in this district, it is essential to ensure that the pathways of rainwater into the underground aquifers remain unhindered. In the construction of road infrastructure for ecoresort developments therefore, the need arises for the evaluation of the characteristics of two groups of materials and techniques that are applicable as pavements: permeable and non-permeable pavements .
Non-permeable pavements such as asphalt, concrete and stone have the advantage of durability; and thus the costs of periodic maintenance are relatively low. However, research has shown that they are very inappropriate for situations such as this; the use of such materials as pavements results in the obstruction of the processes of percolation of rainwater into the subsoil, resulting in excessive surface runoffs of storm water. Excessive storm water runoffs, in turn, result in floods and erosions; and also in siltation of surface waters, which is associated with pollution of water resources and destruction of aquatic ecosystems. The ecological consequences arising from the impairment of infiltration and the costs of remediation of ecological hazards (floods, erosions and siltation of water bodies) make this technique very unacceptable for ecoresort developments in this ecosystem .
Permeable pavements (also called porous pavements or alternative pavements) consist of permeable surface materials bonded into any underlying porous layer of stone (see Fig 3). This composite system receives surface runoffs and facilitates their infiltration into the subsoil. Where it is properly constructed, the rainwater is noticeable on the surface only for very few minutes even during heavy rainfalls. The materials usually applied for this construction technique include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, grass pavers etc. In appearance, porous asphalt and pervious concrete look very much like versions traditionally used for impervious pavements; they differ very significantly in internal structures in that fine aggregates are not used in their manufacture and they contain fine pores that permit the percolation of water from their respective surfaces .
Fig. 3. Diagrammatic detail of porous pavements, recommended for the construction of roads and walkways in watershed districts (adapted from: Wikimedia Commons, with slight modifications by the authors). Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The use of earth roads in this circumstance would have the advantage that it permits the infiltration of rainwater for the purposes of groundwater recharge. However, the major disadvantages of this approach would be low durability and the risks of erosion. Earth roads would not also be acceptable for ecoresort developments because it is essential to ensure that ecoresorts conform to the standards of the international hospitality industry.
respect to the construction of roads and walkways in ecoresort developments within
the watershed districts of the
· the construction of roads and walkways should be based on the use of permeable or pervious pavements;
· in the extreme circumstances in which the use of impervious pavements would be considered unavoidable, then the drainage channels on the sides of such roads and walkways should be detailed in the form of vegetated drains;
· vegetated drains should be carefully detailed (in combination with systems of retention basins and/or constructed wetlands where necessary) in such a manner as to enable them to facilitate the rapid infiltration of the stormwaters that are directed into them, without the risks of floods and erosion;
· other peculiarities of engineering design and construction of roads and walkways will depend on the specificities of the given territory.
The most fundamental principles of ecoresort developments are: environmental sustainability or ecological safety, ecological sensitivity and contextualism. In the development on ecoresorts in delicate forest environments, such as the tropical rainforests, the architectural designs of ecoresort buildings and complexes, the choice of sites for the location and distribution of ecoresorts within the territory, the distribution of buildings within the ecoresort, as well as the construction of roads and other forms of engineering infrastructure must always be made conformable to these fundamental principles.
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