top of page
  • Dave Groebel

What is Ecotourism?

St. Thomas

Today the phrase ecotourism has been attached to a wide range of vacation options that include experiences in nature. But what is ecotoursim and how can it help protect the environment? The term has been defined more narrowly by the Global Ecotourism Network (1):

Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff and the visited.

Their principals, guidelines and criteria for how ecotourism can help protect the environment include:

  • Produce direct financial benefits for conservation

  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry

  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate

  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts

  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities

  • Minimize physical, social, behavioral and psychological impacts on fauna and flora

  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of indigenous and local peoples and work in partnership to create empowerment

The definition has a greater emphasis on environmental conservation and education than the other commonly used term, “sustainable tourism,” that emphasizes minimal ecological and socio-cultural impacts while providing economic benefits to the local communities and host countries. (2)

It is also distinguished from “adventure tourism” that might involve activities such as low-impact rock climbing, SCUBA diving, backpacking or similar outdoor activities.

When a submarine tourist excursion, such as provided by Alpha Submarine Adventures, can meet the criteria for both ecotourism and sustainable tourism, it is a worthy of a closer look to see what it is offering beyond just a safe family experience to see coral reefs and marine life.

The coral reef ecology is undergoing dramatic and unprecedented damage from a variety of natural and man-made stressors. We will explore the details in future blogs. However, what is clear is that there may be no beautiful coral reefs, the marine life it sustains and the storm surge protections it provides, in the very near future.

Providing an educational opportunity to tens of thousands of visitors and residents every year to learn about the many benefits of coral reefs may encourage them to support organizations seeking to preserve and reestablish these fragile coral reef ecologies is how we help protect the environment with eco-tourism. They may also appreciate the need to be responsible in their own recreational activities such as snorkeling and SCUBA diving so as not to cause any damage. Students might be inspired to learn more and perhaps study subjects such as oceanography and marine science to help preserve the marine environment for themselves and future generations.

An additional component of our ecotourism mission is to help researchers collect detailed data on the water conditions effecting the coral reefs and marine life on every dive for longitudinal research purposes. Only a platform such as our submarine can carry the measurement instruments and collect water samples up to six times a day and throughout the year to measure variables such a water depth, temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity (i.e., suspended particulates), and other factors that might change over time.

The water samples can be analyzed by our research partners to see if pathogens or toxic chemicals are present. Discharge of freighter bilge water, industrial waste, strong storms and global warming are potential risk factors that need to be monitored. (3) By combining the data collection with videography of the health of the coral reefs, a stronger case can be made for “cause and effect” or correlations that could help prioritize efforts to save these marine habitats and make policy changes to reduce future impacts.

The ecotourism aspect of this research is to provide our passengers with the data collected on their dive and access to all the data, in more easily understood graphical forms, to provide a level of education and appreciation for the complex underwater world that we rarely see, but on which we are so dependent for our food, the safety of our coastal communities and our economies.

Support our cause by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign. Here is the link:

Join our mailing list to stay updated on our marine conservation efforts and events:

For more information about what ecotourism is and how it can help protect the environment, contact Steven White, Alpha Submarine Adventures.

(1) Definition and Key Concepts – GEN – Global Ecotourism Network (2) StandardsforParadise3.PDF ( (3) Van Woesik, R., and C. J. Randall. 2017. Coral disease hotspots in the Caribbean. Ecosphere 8(5):e01814.10.1002/esc2.1814. Available at: Coral disease hotspots in the Caribbean (

bottom of page