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January 24, 2016 / cmfletcher

On being a conflicted tourist

123on the reef

On the reef  platform

Today we went on an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world. Tomorrow we go to the Daintree Rainforest. So in two days we have been to Uluru and  the Reef, what we intended, the top spots on any tourist’s destinations in Australia, and what I have now is guilt.

These are natural wonders, and so should be preserved. But preserving them requires that people know and care about them. And that, for most people, requires seeing them. So tourism is both harming and protecting these natural sites. The effect on culture can be even more devastating as Benedict XVI pointed out in Caritas et Veritate (61).

Balancing the harms and good is extremely complex. Our excursion was on a large boat that docked at a purpose built platform from which passengers could snorkel, scuba dive, walk into an underwater observatory or go out on a  submersible vessel that had the passengers sitting under water. Two marine biologists were on board to talk about the reef and lead special snorkeling trips. The area for snorkeling was marked, and we tourists were contained, as it were, and the harm we were doing limited. However, it didn’t prevent someone from throwing litter into the water.

I had my little digital camera and it cannot do justice to what we saw from the submersible. We saw 4 sea turtles swimming by, many varieties of fish, lots of corals — staghorn, that looks like branches and grows quickly, plate and stone coral which take ages to grow. The stone coral we saw was probably 200-300 years old. Altogether a fascinating place, and having been here I am much more likely to donate to causes to protect this natural wonder.

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