The palm-fringed islands of the South Pacific offer vacationers an alternative to sunbathing and swimming -- grim lessons on the effects of global warming, delegates at a conference in Belize said.
BELIZE CITY -- The palm-fringed islands of the South Pacific offer vacationers an alternative to sunbathing and swimming -- grim lessons on the effects of global warming, delegates at a conference in Belize said.
The 22 low-lying Oceania island states depend on the nearly $2 billion a year they earn from hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to their crystal blue waters and vivid coral reefs.
Yet the islands, including Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands, are among the most vulnerable places on earth to climate change and they want to educate visitors about their plight.
The tiny island nation of Tuvalu, for example, hopes that spreading awareness of its rising tides could put off the day when it gets swallowed by the sea.
"The biggest tourist numbers in Tuvalu in the past few years have come from people wanting to observe those king tides," said Pacific Island tourism expert Simon Milne.
"It's one thing to sit in your living room and watch a program about Tuvalu disappearing under the waves but another to actually see it," said Milne, who works at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.
New Zealand has agreed to take around half of Tuvalu's 10,000 people and give them jobs on farms if the island becomes swamped into extinction.
But participants in a May 27-30 climate change meeting in the tiny Central American nation of Belize are not giving up the fight yet.
"There is an opportunity to talk to tourists about what we are experiencing," said Jyotishma Rajan Naicker, a Fijian who works with the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF.
"Tourists come from all over the world and when they go back home they take our message with them."
STRANDED BY STORMS
The South Pacific islands are already feeling the effect of climate change, with stronger cyclones battering their shores and ecosystems and higher sea temperatures and acidity bleaching and killing chunks of coral reef.
The WWF runs a climate change education project that works with tour operators like scuba diving instructors so they in turn can pass their knowledge onto vacationers.
Tourists to small islands worldwide will experience more of the negative effects of climate change as warming oceans increase the intensity of storms and waves and erode beaches.
"If there is a hurricane or a cyclone and flights are canceled they can be stranded in the country, usually with no water or electricity and that is when they really realize what the people in the country go through," said Rajan Naicker.
Thousands of journalists, researchers and curious onlookers now flock to Tuvalu during high-tide months, according to Milne, providing valuable income to the beleaguered nation.
The flip side of this boom is that tourism using long-haul airline flights is a major source of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas held most responsible for climate change.
"On one level tourism is responsible for global warming, but on another level it is one of the most powerful tools we have to spread awareness," Rajan Naicker said.
The Belize meeting brought together Arctic peoples and tropical islanders suffering the worst effects of global temperature rises, which are widely blamed on human use of fossil fuels.