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Mangrove plant

What Is Blue Carbon and Why Does It Matter?

Though terrestrial forests typically get most of the attention, they are not the only ecosystems that possess a natural ability to fight climate change. There are three coastal ecosystems that are also highly effective at sequestering carbon dioxide: mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes. The carbon that is captured and stored by these coastal ecosystems is known as “blue carbon.” Pound for pound, these blue carbon ecosystems can actually store up to 10 times more carbon than tropical rainforests!

Palau ocean and land view

Palau: Carbon Neutral Tourism Destination

The Pacific Island nation of Palau is a tiny, yet remarkable country characterized by surreal landscapes, pristine seas, and a long cultural history. The archipelago is made up of more than 340 lush green islands jutting out from the glimmering ocean, only nine of which are inhabited.

Remote Palau island

Remote and Secluded

Palau is truly a hidden island paradise. The archipelago is surrounded on all sides by the vast Pacific Ocean and is located 400 miles north of Papua New Guinea, 550 miles east of the Philippines, and 800 miles southwest of Guam.

Pristine Marine Wonders

Palau’s waters teem with an abundance of marine life including over 500 species of coral and 1,300 types of fish. Thanks to its incredible natural beauty and biodiversity, Palau is considered to be one of the world’s top diving destinations.

Woman kayaking in Palau

Dependent on Tourism

In 2019, 90,000 tourists visited Palau. That’s five times the islands’ population. Tourism is the country’s main source of income and provides vital jobs for local people. In total, it accounts for nearly a third of Palau’s GDP.

Commitment to Sustainability

Though Palau may be tiny, it is bursting with big, bold ambitions. Environmental stewardship has always been the way of the Palauan people who know that their country’s future depends on healthy reefs, jungles, and beaches.

Issues

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Vulnerability to Climate Change

As a remote island nation, Palau is extremely vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Rising sea levels and intensified tropical cyclones threaten to destroy houses, beaches, and infrastructure. Coral bleaching and acidic waters endanger the marine life that tourists come to see. Climate change is also expected to disrupt global supply chains, leading to food insecurity.

Learn more about how climate change is impacting destinations. 

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Carbon Footprint of Tourism

Tourism depends heavily on fossil fuels and produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. Consider the carbon footprint of a vacation to Palau. Getting to the remote islands typically requires flying thousands of miles. Once in Palau, tourists generate CO2 by going on boat rides, turning up the AC, eating imported foods, and engaging in other activities.

Learn more about the activities that contribute to tourism’s carbon footprint. 

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Reliance on Imported Food

Palau’s hotels and restaurants rely on overseas imports to feed their guests. In fact, 85-90% of the country’s food is imported from abroad. The importation of food and drinks produces carbon emissions and causes dollars to leave the local economy. Imported foods also tend to be more packaged and processed which contributes to waste management and health problems. 

OUR ROLE

Palau Carbon Neutral Destination Program

With climate change a very real threat to Palau’s existence, Sustainable Travel International is implementing a project in partnership with Slow Food and the Palau Bureau of Tourism to help the archipelago become the world’s first carbon neutral destination. The project will combat climate change and boost community resilience by:

  • Neutralizing tourism’s carbon footprint
  • Improving the livelihoods of local food producers
  • Increasing local food security
  • Empowering women to participate more fully in the tourism value chain
  • Conserving coastal ecosystems that act as carbon sinks
  • Reducing food waste and building a circular economy

Our Approach

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Strengthening Local Food Production

The project will build the capacity of local farmers, fishers, and other producers to produce high quality products and market them to tourism businesses. 

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Promoting Local Foods

The project will reduce Palau’s dependence on imported foods and celebrate the islands’ gastronomic heritage by helping hotels and restaurants incorporate local ingredients into their menus.

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Including Women

Palauan women are heavily involved in production activities such as farming taro and vegetables, crab harvesting, certain forms of fishing, and producing honeys and jams. Attention will be given to further link these female producers to the tourism value chain.

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Encouraging Sustainable Resource Use

The project is optimizing resource use by encouraging local producers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and helping chefs make the most of local food products. 

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Developing a Destination Carbon Calculator

We are creating an online platform that will enable tourists to calculate the carbon footprint of their trip to Palau, including flights, lodging, dining, excursions, and ground transport.

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Funding Conservation Projects

Visitors will be able to offset their carbon footprint by contributing to conservation projects. These projects will reduce emissions and boost climate resilience by protecting/restoring coastal ecosystems that act as blue carbon sinks and natural storm barriers.

Our Partners

  • Palau Tourism Bureau
  • Slow Food
  • COFE
  • Taiwan ICDF
  • Palau Pledge
  • Palau Visitors Authority

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Tourist biking around town

How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Travels

We are currently battling a terrible global crisis. Over the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken millions of lives, shut down tourism, and threatened the livelihoods of countless people. Though COVID-19 is front of mind right now, there is another crisis that will bring even graver consequences for humanity and imperil the destinations we love. That threat is climate change. 
Rhino and birds in Africa

How Tourism Benefits Nature and Wildlife

The Great Barrier Reef. Yellowstone. The Amazon Rainforest. One of the top reasons that tourists are drawn to destinations such as these is because of their rich biodiversity and unique landscapes. 

According to Brand USA, 2 of the top 5 motivators for selecting vacation spots are ecotourism and nature. Wanderlusters are seeking experiences that reflect the true essence of the places they are visiting. In other words, they want to visit places with unspoiled environments and thriving native wildlife.

We often hear about all of the ways that humans are destroying wild places and jeopardizing the health of the planet – and rightfully so. Over 75% of land environments have been severely altered by humans and species are facing extinction at up to 1000x the natural rate. While there’s no denying that irresponsible tourism contributes to this devastation, we shouldn’t overlook the important role that sustainable and well-managed tourism plays in advancing conservation and protecting our world’s treasured ecosystems. These benefits have only been further evidenced by the current COVID-19 crisis and the resulting halt in tourism.

Monitoring Lenga Tree Reforestation in Torres del Paine

After forest fires scorched Torres del Paine's landscape, reforestation efforts are bringing forth new life and helping to rehabilitate the park

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is known to many as the 8th wonder of the world. With granite peaks that pierce the wind-blistered sky and glaciers that extend for miles into the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, it’s no wonder that tourism here has grown exponentially in the last decade. While this tourism brings significant economic growth and opportunity to surrounding communities, it sometimes comes at a cost to the park’s ecology. 

Since 1985, there have been three man-made forest fires in the park. All of these fires were started by tourists. The fires ravaged almost 1/3 of the park’s surface area, leaving many dense Patagonian forests unrecognizable and barren. These forests are primarily made up of two types of trees: lenga and ñirre. These native species have adapted to Patagonia’s strong weather and harsh climate, and contribute to the region’s iconic landscape. They also play an important role in sustaining the park’s biodiversity and ensuring watershed health. Indeed, many of the park’s 40 different mammals and 115 bird species, including the endangered huemul deer, rely on the park’s forest ecosystems for their habitat. 

Naturally occurring forest fires are nonexistent in this part of the world. That means when a species like lenga is devastated by human-induced fires, it won’t automatically recover. As a result, humans must intervene to rehabilitate and revegetate the ecosystems. 

In response to the fires, Chile’s National Forest Corporation, CONAF, began ecological restoration efforts to accelerate recuperation of the park’s damaged forest ecosystems. Lenga seedlings are cultivated in a nursery until they are ready to be transferred into the park. They are then replanted in small clusters, or “nuclei,” of 100 in the least resilient fire-affected areas. To date, more than 810,000 lenga seedlings have been planted in the park.

Our Role

Our Torres del Paine Legacy Fund program supports CONAF’s restoration efforts by monitoring the reforested lenga nuclei. Local Chilean volunteers join us on field expeditions to collect data on the health and growth of the young seedlings. This data helps CONAF understand the tendencies of lenga and identify ways to improve reforestation efforts. In addition, the volunteers learn about the environmental challenges the park faces when it comes to reforestation and increasing tourism. 

In October 2019, a group of 10 Chilean volunteers accompanied by our Legacy Fund Field Director embarked on a monitoring expedition into the park. Over the course of eight days, they monitored the health of more than 13,800 lenga plants. Primarily working in the Pudeto and Carretas sectors of the park, these volunteers endured snow, howling wind, and off-trail terrain to gather data on the replanted lenga.

Between the previous monitor in 2017 and this expedition, few plants had died off. In fact, the majority had grown at a healthy rate. In many nuclei, the number of live plants was as high as 98 out of the original 100. These high initial survival rates show promise for the long-term health of these forests. 

Our volunteers from all over Chile were the heart and soul of this week of monitoring. Thanks to their positive attitudes and eagerness to learn, we were able to support the park and provide data that will be expounded upon in continued reforestation efforts. 

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is always looking for new supporters to lend a hand or contribute financially. For more information about this program and our work in Chilean Patagonia, click here or visit the Legacy Fund’s website at suppporttdp.org.

Protect the Places You Love

Help preserve this iconic, yet fragile landscape and other destinations around the globe. Make a donation today.

Our Partners

  • CONAF

Related Work

Engaging Students in Reforestation

Involving local schools in restoring Torres del Paine National Park’s native ecosystem after damage caused by several man-made forest fires.

Improving Recycling Infrastructure

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park.

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