Posted by: ecodestination | December 19, 2009

An eco hotel in a nature reserve – sustainable or destructive?

View from the MAYAB Holistic Center and Educational Retreat

MAYAB Holistic Center and Educational Retreat, opening this month, is more than an eco hotel because it educates its guests “about critical environmental issues facing the coastal ecosystems of the Sian Ka’an [Biosphere Reserve] and surrounding area.”

Eco education

This is crucial, and something I wish all eco hotels did. Think about it: what if someone wants to help the environment and so chooses to vacation at an eco hotel, but then wears regular sunscreen while checking out coral reefs? What if a couple celebrates their wedding on the coast of Quintana Roo, where so many severely endangered sea turtles go to nest? Or if people with good intentions visit bird sanctuaries and fail to keep their mouths shut? Noooooooo!


Violating the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

However, Mayab was built just north of Tulum in the Yucatán Peninsula within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a 1.3 million-acre nature reserve that also hosts Mayan ruins. I know what you’re thinking: this does not sound ecologically auspicious, sustainable and green as Mayab may tout itself to be. I absolutely agree.

Building a hotel – eco or otherwise – within a natural reserve is egregiously intrusive and atrocious.

(I’m not even going to go into the accommodations set up by the Sian Ka’an reserve itself!)

Photo by Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Sure, founder Delainia Haug means well, but placing its premises within a UNESCO World Heritage Site sounds like more of a marketing move than an environmentally magnanimous one.

As the eco hotel’s website says, “Approximately 36,000 tourists entered the reserve in the year 2000, and those numbers are expected to increase significantly each year.” And don’t forget “The increase in tourism and overdevelopment are threatening this fragile habitat.”

Oh, and “In the summer three species of endangered sea turtles come ashore to build their nests here.” I don’t think tourists should be trusted to respect nesting sites, no matter how ostensibly ecologically mindful they may be. Staying at a hotel placed right by these sites – not to mention being responsible for it – is irresponsible, to say the least.

How, then, could building a hotel within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere be ecologically responsible?

The good stuff

Apart from educating its guests, Mayab filters its grey and black water, turning the latter into organic matter. It is also developing a solar generated power system, composts, and recycles.

Also, retreats and programs are held to increase awareness about environmental issues.

What do you think?

Is its presence within a reserve ecologically laudable or destructive?

Leave a comment here and contact Delainia to voice your thoughts!

Posted by: ecodestination | December 15, 2009

Devouring rainforests for the love drug

If you think popping ecstasy has no influence on the environment, let me prove you wrong.


The Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia are the largest pristine area of rainforest in Southeast Asia. They host about 100 endangered species of animals.

Poachers and illegal logging have recently been expanding in the region. As the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime used to roam it, people stayed away. But once the fighting stopped, new criminals moved in. New roads have also made the area more accessible.

“Ecstasy oil”

The prized ingredient is sassafras oil, which is extracted from the extremely rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees – which are several hundred years old – through a distillation process. The raw, pungent, golden oil is most profitable as the necessary, key ingredient used to manufacture the illegal recreational drug ecstasy, a.k.a. MDMA.

The sale of sassafras oil is illegal in Cambodia, so criminal networks set up secret factories and then smuggle the oil out of the country, usually to Thailand or Vietnam, so it can be turned into a chemical used to make ecstasy.

Additional problems for the ecosystem

The ecosystem must also deal with the logging of trees other than the Mreah Prew Phnom, as the distillation process requires huge quantities of fuel wood.

Tim Wood of Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Cambodian rangers fly by helicopter to look for smoke and clearings – signs of secret factories– and later visit the sites by foot for days at a time.

The sites are built near streams because the distillation process requires water – and the toxic, carcinogenic by-products end up in the water. After the oil is extracted, the sites are abandoned.

Conservationists are worried that “empty forest syndrome” is taking over the Cardamom Mountains as poachers kill its wildlife for food during their “ecstasy oil” raids.

Set it on fire

Ironically, when sites are found, rangers destroy all equipment and set fire to it. This is considered a necessary evil to prevent the criminals from coming back to the site and reestablishing it once they return, if the site is found to be in use rather than abandoned.

What a mess.

“These factories are located close to streams and by-products from the distillation process causes significant pollution of the environment. In addition, the distillation process itself uses enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees. Finally, the factory workers typically engage in poaching wildlife from the surrounding forests to supplement their basic diets,” according to FFI.

Watch a video about the phenomenon here.

Something to think about the next time you consider buying ecstasy, kids. Tell your friends.

Posted by: ecodestination | December 3, 2009

The problem with carbon offsets

How carbon offsets work - image from Carbon Fund

Carbon Fund’s slogan is “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”

Sounds good, right?

But what about those people (most people?) who opt for carbon offsets merely to ease their guilt because they have never lifted a finger to reduce their ecologically destructive footprint?

Or – even worse – what if people buy carbon offsets so they can feel good about polluting more?  “I’m gone all day but I like to leave the AC on so it’s cool when I get back in the evening. Don’t worry – I offset my carbon footprint.” Or, “Honey, let’s each drive both our cars to the store even though we could carpool, just because we both enjoy driving so much!” You get the idea.

Entire companies are perniciously profiting from carbon offsets. Some don’t even follow through with their promises! Shameful.

And certain companies with laudable intentions are picking up on this:

In 2002 Responsible Travel became one of the first travel companies to offer customers the option of buying so-called carbon offsets to counter the planet-warming emissions generated by their airline flights.

But last month Responsible Travel canceled the program, saying that while it might help travelers feel virtuous, it was not helping to reduce global emissions. In fact, company officials said, it might even encourage some people to travel or consume more.

Examples of ecologically irresponsible behavior that irk me:

  • Leaving the water on while washing dishes or brushing one’s teeth
  • Turning the AC on but leaving the windows open
  • Opening the fridge and keeping the door open for 5 minutes while deciding on what to eat
  • Printing documents for no good reason
  • Taking 20-minute showers
  • Setting the AC at ludicrously low temperatures in the summer (or, in places like South Florida, almost all year long)
  • Foregoing recycling because it’s time-consuming or inconvenient
  • Foregoing reusing because new things are “nicer,” the latest trend, or debatably less work to just purchase new items
  • Using the dishwasher, washer, or dryer when nearly empty

And wouldn’t you be much more likely to keep these habits up if you were offsetting your carbon footprint? And wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to offset and modify your absolutely changeable habits?

At the same time…

Back to Carbon Fund’s slogan – “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t” – it is completely possible, or even likely, that many people will choose to reduce, reuse, recycle, and offset.

But, really, how many individuals do you know who are that devoted? Who are already making significant efforts to greenify (it’s a word!) their lifestyle? Are you?

Greenifying ourselves will require changing what we:

  • Eat (going vegan and buying locally)
  • Wear (no more leather, suede, vinyl, and so on; giving up clothes, shoes, cosmetics, and more manufactured with toxic chemicals; using biodegradable sunscreen at the beach; etc.)
  • Buy (opting for biodegradable cleaning products and paint, furniture, boycotting everything disposable and manufactured abroad, etc.)
  • How we travel (bike, walk, jog, carpool, travel less, vacation closer to home, etc.)

And, naturally, many more aspects of our lives.

It won’t be easy – but isn’t it our only choice?

Read more about the downside of carbon offsets here and here.

P.S. Find other companies that offer carbon offsets here and here.

Posted by: ecodestination | December 1, 2009

Volunteer at organic farms across the globe

Peter and Amanda are WWOOF hosts in the UK

Do you enjoy organic farming and other activities that further sustainability?

There are organic farms all over the globe that you can volunteer at in exchange for free lodging and free meals, plus learning about organic farming and related lifestyles. Some farms have just a couple of hosts while others have entire families or small communities you would stay and hang out with.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) was founded in 1971 in the UK. The organizations involved with this project connect people who wish to volunteer, aka “WWOOFers” (awesome), with those who wish to receive help and impart their knowledge and skills to others. You can usually even do it if you don’t speak the local language! These hosts are cool folk, apparently.

WWOOFing in Australia with alpacas

Volunteers: What you need to know

On the WWOOF website you can find lists of organic farms, smallholdings, and gardeners. Some of them only request/accept help during certain months or seasons, while others are open all year long. Additionally, tasks vary per farm and, of course, geographical location.

You can visit the list of farms/hosts, choose the ones you’d like to visit, and contact them directly to make arrangements. WWOOFers usually live as part of the family, so the environment tends to be cozy and friendly (I assume, as I’ve never volunteered for WWOOF).

If you volunteer, you will not have to pay (and you won’t get paid) except for a “small fee” to WWOOF, which hosts must pay also. The fee helps maintain and grow the project.

The hosts

All hosts grow their food organically, are in conversion, or use environmentally friendly techniques on their farms and so on. Volunteers get hands-on experience growing organic crops and, where possible, by performing other tasks, such as feeding cattle.

There are WWOOF farms you can volunteer at in all five continents. The countries include the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, the European Union, Turkey, Israel, Cameroon, Uganda, South Africa, Australia, India, Japan, and others (keep checking the website).

Conclusion, so to speak

This sounds like a totally sweet deal for the adventurous, outdoorsy types who also want to make our world a better place (corny but true, huh? That’s okay.). Also, those of you free enough to get around, of course (the especially lucky among us!).

If you have experience with WWOOF, please share your thoughts and impressions! It sounds great, but there are always two sides to every story (at least).


Posted by: ecodestination | November 17, 2009

Using art to raise awareness about deforestation

One of the trees shipped for the installation in Trafalgar Square - photo by BBC

The stumps and roots of 10 trees from Ghana are being displayed around Trafalgar Square in London as a ghost forest to get people thinking about deforestation in tropical forests. The height these trees would have reached in the rainforest are marked by laser beams!

That sounds pretty cool. The installation was set up on Monday morning and runs through November 22.

But it gets me thinking about the carbon footprint of having those massive, super heavy tree remains shipped over from the Suhuma forest reserve in western Ghana to the UK (about 3,165 miles!). And, uh, the trees will be shipped to Thorvaldsens Plads in Copenhagen next month for the UN Climate Change summit (another 596 miles). Yowza. The installation there will run from December 7-18.

Oxford artist Angela Palmer, who thought of and developed the installation, said she will “offset Ghost Forest’s carbon footprint by supporting an initiative to introduce efficient cook stoves – Gyapas – in Ghana.”

Whatever. I don’t think that’s good enough.

Anyway, Ghana and other countries have lost 90% of their rainforests over the last 50 years. That is ridiculous.

“The concept is to present a series of rainforest tree stumps as a ‘ghost forest’ – using the negative space created by the missing trunks as a metaphor for climate change, the absence representing the removal of the world’s ‘lungs’ through continued deforestation.” – Palmer

Most of the trees “fell naturally in adverse weather conditions,” she said. They are of the Denya, Dahuma, Danta, Hyedua, Mahogany, Wawa and three varieties of Celtis species.

Maybe next time the trees in such installations could be fake and resemble the trees logged in tropical or other forests.

I appreciate Palmer’s intention, but there is no need to hypocritically pollute the planet by shipping enormous tree stumps 3761 miles.

Read more here and here.

Posted by: ecodestination | November 10, 2009

US, EU slack on legislation despite upcoming Copenhagen summit

What the hell, government leaders?

Did you catch that BBC article last week reporting that the UK government believes it is  highly unlikely that a climate treaty will be agreed on in Copenhagen next month? Oh, and a full treaty is about a year away.

You’re kidding, right?

Just two years ago, governments across the globe promised to get their respective asses in gear at the summit in Copenhagen to take place in December 2009. Did they lose their calendars? Poor governments. It’s not like they have anyone to get their shit organized.

Let me rephrase, actually: it is the governments of more developed countries that are failing everyone else, while developing countries rightfully complain that they’re getting screwed.

“When we left (UN talks in) Bali two years ago, we all expected that would be agreeing on a legally binding outcome to respond to the urgency… that we were on the verge of catastrophic climate change, so we’re very disappointed,” said Selwin Hart from Barbados, speaking for the group of small island developing states.

“If we don’t take urgent and ambitious action, the reality is that some small island developing states will not be around within a couple of decades – certainly not by the end of the century.”

Activists hold placards as they sit near a hoarding with a world map during a press conference to mark the hundred days countdown to the Copenhagen summit, in New Delhi in August. Photo by

But EU delegates say the treaty is so complex that getting through the legal red tape will not be possible this year. Conversely, South Africa’s Alf Wills, who co-ordinates the G77/China bloc of developing countries on extending the Kyoto Protocol, thinks it’s a political issue, as officials aren’t agreeing on what moves to make. He said developing countries have already put their proposals forward.

Artur Runge-Metzger, chief negotiator for the European Commission, said a period of 3-6 months might yield results. And US delegates said their legislation will not be ready in the next 6 months.

Environmental groups rightly opine that developed countries haven’t gotten as far as other nations because, well, they chose not to.

“So much can blamed on the Big Carbon special interests driving Washington. If Europe doesn’t stand up to America to save this deal, there could be grave implications for millions across the world,” said Joss Garman of Greenpeace.

Come on, Obama, don’t let the world down.

By the way, here’s a great chart that lays out where countries stand on climate change issues.

Posted by: ecodestination | November 10, 2009

Western Australia’s sea levels rise, freak scientists out

The rise in sea levels

The rise in sea levels is going to ruin this kangaroo's party - photo by

If you’ve been wanting to check out Western Australia, you better get to it quick. Sea levels have increased by 8.6mm a year – at twice the world average rate – off the coast of Perth, said Australia’s National Tidal Centre. The global average is just over 3mm.

Scientists blame climate change.

Really? I am so shocked.

Anyway, Perth and the Kimberley region are experiencing the fastest rises in sea level.

It’s important to note that 80% of Australians live on the coast, and therefore low-lying communities may have to be evacuated in coming years due to flooding and erosion. Not to mention heavy rains, storm surges, and even tropical storms. Fun.

(I lived in Florida for 5 years, and I can tell you that many people take the yearly, 6-month-long hurricane season as an opportunity to host hurricane parties  when disaster strikes. Let’s just say that lots of alcohol is involved; I suppose it mitigates the panic.)

Officials are, of course, ruing the possibilities.

So why Western Australia?

Scientists say that tides are affected by the gravitational pull. Some climate scientists believe Australia is especially vulnerable to shifting climates and will experience increasing floods, droughts and storms. Sounds like Africa’s plight (more on that soon).

Let’s see what happens in Copenhagen next month. I mean, do we really want to live in a sea of storms all year long? As an ex-Florida resident, let me tell you, it’s no fun – hurricane parties notwithstanding.

Posted by: ecodestination | November 3, 2009

Bolivia’s northwest: newest eco destination

One of the 7 cabins at San Miguel Del Bala's eco lodge

One of the 7 cabins at San Miguel Del Bala's eco lodge

The indigenous Tacanas of the Amazon are betting on ecotourism to protect their territory, increase their income, and improve their quality of life.

This population of 235 inhabitants has built an eco lodge in the village of San Miguel del Bala on the banks of the Beni River in northwestern Bolivia with the help of NGOs.

The eco lodge’s 7 cabins are scattered throughout the rainforest and were constructed with local dry palm leaves and wood. It recycles waste and uses a wastewater treatment system.

San Miguel del Bala

San Miguel del Bala

To get an idea of the remoteness of San Miguel del Bala, let’s just say you must take a 40-minute boat ride to get there, all the way from the town of Rurrenbaque.

The village consists of 44 families mainly made up of fishers and farmers. It is not surprising, then, that they lack electricity and health care, although they do have potable water and a school for the local children, according to the community leader, Biter Supa.

Guests can take excursions with native guides to learn of ancient hunting methods and medicinal plants and visit natural pools, waterfalls, and a salitral cave. They can even visit some Tacana families’ homes, which are built of palm leaves and bamboo.

Madidi National Park, San Miguel del Bala

Madidi National Park, San Miguel del Bala

The Madidi National Park – 4.5 million acres of land of rich biodiversity – hosts 1,000 species of fauna and 6,000 of flora. You might want to get a malaria shot, by the way.

Peru’s government has designated sections of the park, areas called Tierras Comunitarias de Origen (TCOs), reservations for the indigenous populations. This is fantastic; we’ve already had an obscene excess of what one of my college professors called the “white men with guns” phenomenon, where, well, white men with guns come and kill/enslave/brutalize indigenous communities to rape the land (and the people).

This way the native population will be able to benefit from the nascent ecotourism industry. In fact, the community members manage their collectively owned territory and promote the participation and representation of members of all ages and sexes.

Hell yeah.

Also, if you’re staying for at least 10 days, you can join their Volunteer Program and stay at the eco lodge for a special rate by working just 4 hours daily. Super sweet.

Posted by: ecodestination | November 2, 2009

Good news for Save Eco Destinations!

I was contacted because Online has chosen Save Eco Destinations as one of five blogs on Travel for “green students.”

It’s pretty sweet.

Check it out here.


Posted by: ecodestination | October 30, 2009

Greenpeace rocks the Brazilian Amazon

Brazil's cattle sector takes up 80% of all deforested areas of the Amazon and is Brazil’s main source of carbon emissions

Brazil's cattle sector takes up 80% of all deforested areas of the Amazon and is Brazil’s main source of carbon emissions. Photo by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace can be a pain in the ass, but more often than not, I think they rule.

Here is one example: In June, the organization released a report called “Slaughtering the Amazon,” which explains why the Brazilian cattle industry is the main cause of deforestation on the planet, with one acre lost every 8 seconds on average.

Through the release of this information, more and more people became educated as to the link between deforestation and cattle ranching, which then bred widespread activism to boycott cattle products from the region.

Activists demanded that shoe companies Adidas, Nike, Timberland, Clarks, and Geox stop buying leather from the Amazon. And it worked!

Even more amazing,

Each of the companies, JBS-Friboi, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig, declared the adoption of environmental and social standards to ensure their products are free from cattle raised in newly deforested areas of the rainforest. The Brazilian Association of Supermarkets (ABRAS), which includes Walmart and Carrefour, attended the event and supports the call for zero deforestation.

JBS-Friboi, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig, by the way, are four of the world’s largest beef and leather companies and monopolize the world export market and supply. They have vowed to  ban the purchase of cattle from newly deforested land in the Amazon. This is huge.

Governor Blairo Maggi of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which is responsible for the leading rate of forest destruction in the Amazon and the country’s biggest cattle herd, said Mato Grosso would stand behind efforts to protect the rainforest and “provide high-resolution satellite images for monitoring.”

Well, I’m impressed.

More kick-ass news:

At the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Lula announced a target of 80% reduction in deforestation by 2020 for Brazil.

Hell yes. Go Brazil!

If only more nations would take the lead! I suppose they will when activists annoy them enough…

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