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how to go green in the caribbean

caribbeanLike island destinations everywhere, those in the Caribbean are a fragile paradise. The pressure created by droves of holidaymakers and their increasing demands is leaving a depressing litany of damage. According to the World Resources Institute, two-thirds of the Caribbean’s beaches are already eroded; wildlife is being displaced by huge hotel complexes, water sports cause coastal, coral-reef and marine pollution, while more and more wetlands are being destroyed to develop golf courses.

Sure, if you’re anything like me, you go on holiday to have a good time, not to save the world. But, be honest, wouldn’t you like to know your family break could be about giving, not just taking? Well, take heart. Ecotourism is going mainstream, and the Caribbean is feeling the effect. Take Aruba, where visitors can get hands-on with the Dutch Caribbean island’s ground-breaking annual reef care project. Started in 1994, the Aruba Reef Care Project remains one of the island’s most ambitious environmental projects to involve both tourists and residents. It now forms just one of a series of measures aimed at making Aruba a world-leading ‘green’ destination.

caribbean Around 900 volunteers join the reef care project, scheduled for September 21 this year. It covers a 20-miles stretch of the southern coastline, including those in front of the main resort hotels. Volunteers are asked to collect any litter from beaches, while snorkelers and divers remove debris from the sea which could potentially threaten the island’s diverse marine life. A valued opportunity for visitors to work with locals and help preserve Aruba’s prized coral reefs, the project is supported by the Aruba Tourism Authority and many hotels. Some of these provide packed lunches for participants and offer prizes for star volunteers.

Aruba has adopted a policy of reducing its dependency on fossil fuel energy and CO2 emissions. It has joined the Carbon War Room’s Ten Island Challenge with other Caribbean islands aiming for a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy. Aruba’s Prime Minister, Mike Eman has outlined the challenge: ‘When we came into government in 2009, we undertook an analysis of how far we have come as a nation in the last 25 years, both in population and in the success of our tourism industry,’ he told me. ‘Aruba has grown from 200,000 visitors a year to nearly 1.5 million and increased from 2,000 hotel rooms to 8,000. And all of this is a very small country, with a population density of 500 people per square kilometre – that is higher than New York,’ Prime Minister Eman continued: ‘It was time for us as a nation to reassess where we should go in the next 25 years and it was clear to us we should focus on quality not quantity in expanding our economy, without making heavy demands on our infrastructure and natural resources.’

caribbean In 2009 Aruba took a major step in the production of alternative energy with the opening of the Vader Piet Wind Park at the eastern end of the island. A second park is now planned for a site nearby. Sustainable projects to upgrade and improve the island’s infrastructure include a ‘Green Corridor’ project introduced last year. This consists of the widening of an existing road between the centrally-located capital Oranjestad and San Nicolas, 10 miles south, plus the maintenance of three routes south and east. Green areas en route are being conserved and maintained and the green corridor will also include cycle paths, sustainable lighting, landscaping and facilities for public transport. The Aruba government has also launched a US$350 million ‘Bo Aruba’ project to upgrade various sites in Oranjestad and other locations around the island. Among these initiatives is a traffic relief programme to take traffic out of central areas of the city and create pedestrian-friendly zones, linked to the recently-introduced tram system, running on renewable energy. A further landmark project is Aruba’s Linear Park, which when complete will be the longest of its kind n the Caribbean. With the downtown section almost complete, the park will ultimately create an accessible, scenic link between the airport and the resorts along Palm Beach 10 miles to the north. It will be a fully-landscaped corridor to include cycle and pedestrian paths, restrooms, kiosks, parking spaces and trees. Aimed to provide a relaxation area for both visitors and locals, the park will be lit by LED lighting, significantly reducing electricity consumption.

There are individual Caribbean properties too that are busy making a big difference. Set in the small seaside fishing village of Treasure Beach on Jamaica’s south coast, boutique resort Jakes offers guests a unique, bohemian Jamaican holiday hideaway while simultaneously supporting the local caribbeancommunity with their ‘Give Back Getaway’ offering. Jakes first opened its doors in 1995 as a humble seaside restaurant before it gradually evolved into the chic and stylish bijou resort it is today. Now they’re eager to give back. During their ‘Give Back Getaway’ guests can enjoy a rewarding and enriching holiday experience by learning about and integrating with Treasure Beach through:

  • Helping out at local schools with reading, sports and craft clubs
  • Helping coach the Academy teams at Breds Treasure Beach Sports Park
  • Helping out the farmers of Pedro Plains
  • Helping the team at Galleon Fishing Sanctuary and the recently launched ‘Great Galleon’ – a boat providing a educational platform to monitor the fishing supplies and share knowledge on the findings with both those who work there and the local community
  • Helping construct new facilities – such as General Colin Powell Challenge Course, which begins construction by the Jamaica Defense Force next week –   at the Breds Treasure Beach Sports Park.

caribbean ‘Giving back’ to his local community is close to the heart of Jakes’ owner Jason Henzell. Founded by Jason in 1998, BREDS (short for “bredren”, a local greeting amongst Treasure Beach residents) focuses on the development and promotion of Education, Sports and Heritage in Treasure Beach and is wholly run by volunteers and funded by donations. Speaking about the ‘Give Back Getaway’ offering Jason told me, “We’re always happy to encourage our visitors to Jakes to experience the local area and culture and what better way to do that than to get out there and meet our community through lending them a helping hand in whatever way possible? Whether its simply sharing a skill such as craft or music or heading to Pedro Plains to pick veggies for the day, it’s a great way for guests to learn more about the people of Treasure Beach and add a little extra something to their holiday experience.”

The aim is to saturate Caribbean holiday spots with a renewed beauty that’s more than skin deep. The challenge is to match tour companies that deliver on their promises with family holidaymakers that care enough to make a difference.

“It would be fabulous if all families could instill in their children the idea that when we’re on holiday we are all guests in somebody else’s home,” says Tricia Barnett, of the campaigning organisation Tourism Concern. “While it is your holiday for just two weeks, it is someone else’s home for a lifetime.”

caribbean Well, you can start right from the moment you pencil in a date on the calendar. When it comes to booking your island holiday, try to seek out tour companies that mention environmental or conservation issues, and those that invest some of their profits back into local charities and initiatives. One great online booking source is Responsible Travel.

Consider scaling back on accommodation. Few visitors to the Caribbean realise that staying in huge, all-inclusive hotel complexes or using luxury cruise liners provides almost no benefit to the island people. Many less scrupulous hotel chains use disproportionate amounts of valuable local resources (water, for example), while cruise ships create pollution and erosion which affect the livelihood of local fishermen. By staying in smaller, locally run hotels you can minimise your family’s impact on both the environment and the culture.

Once you arrive, help support the local economy by buying produce that has been made or grown nearby. And be sure to pay a fair price for the goods or services you buy. Haggling for the lowest possible price might save you pennies, but deprive the vendor of a day’s salary. Use public transport, hire a bike, visit local restaurants and carnivals, find out where the locals go, and get off the well-trodden tourist route. That way, you will not only get under the skin of the island, but ensure that your money goes into the pockets of those who need it most.

caribbean There is no better way to experience the culture of a nation than through its people. Heavily patrolled, all-inclusive hotels only serve to heighten visitors’ fears of life beyond the duty-free gift-shop and create a feeling among locals that tourists are there to be endured, not enjoyed. Abandon the lame hotel lounge, learn some local lingo and put the guidebook away for a while. Ask questions instead: you will find out more from the lady at the local grocery store than you will from any guidebook.

Jamaica’s Meet-the-People campaign teams up family visitors with Jamaican hosts who share a common profession or interest. In true Jamaican fashion, these volunteers offer a hand of friendship to visitors who want to know Jamaicans and the island way of life. From shopping at a craft market, to enjoying a traditional meal or visiting a local church or school, the focus is uniquely Jamaican, and opens a pathway to Jamaica’s rich heritage. The Bahamas runs a similar People to People programme.

For more inspiration on going green to the caribbean, go get lost recommends

Clean Breaks: 500 new ways to see the world (Rough Guide Travel Guides)

Fodor’s Caribbean 2013 (Full-color Travel Guide)

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