FUNDY ISSUES #21
Spring 2002Putting the Fun In Fundy
Possibilities and Pitfalls of Ecotourism
"Ideally, ecotourism should do little, if any, lasting damage to
Canada, with its vast stretches of largely unspoiled wilderness and exceptional diversity of landscapes and wildlife, has long been a popular destination for tourists keen on the outdoors. Ecotourism now accounts for 10% of all tourism revenue, generates about $400 million annually and creates more than 10,000 jobs in Canada. Maritime destinations, particularly the Bay of Fundy region, are also sharing in this growing ecotourism boom. Such picturesque coastal areas are particular magnets for city dwellers. The Bay's legendary tides, working fishing villages and ruggedly scenic coastline have long drawn tourists to the area. Over the past decade, the New Brunswick Tourism Department has been aggressively marketing the many natural wonders of "New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy". In contrast, promotion of the Fundy shore of Nova Scotia has been rather low-key, although recent initiatives such as the Fundy Shore Ecotour in the upper Bay are a step in the right direction. Many communities and small businesses on both sides of the Bay are also expanding their efforts to attract more ecotourists by identifying and developing new opportunities in their region for outdoor recreation. And most of them are finding that the Bay of Fundy is rich in possibilities.
Fun in Fundy
Specially designated tourist routes allow ready access to coastal areas all around the Bay of Fundy. In New Brunswick, the 450 kilometre long "Fundy Coastal Drive" extends from St. Stephen on Maine's border to Aulac on the Nova Scotia frontier. The provincial tourist guide promises that this route offers a "front-row seat to one of the worlds most incredible natural phenomena". Then, across the border in Nova Scotia, the Glooscap Trail, named after a legendary Mikmaq hunter, continues its meandering way out along the Chignecto Peninsula to Advocate Harbour before looping back around the Minas Basin to Truro and Windsor. At intervals, the distinctive "Fundy Shore Ecotour" signs call attention to natural features of particular interest in each of the region's six distinctive eco-zones. From Windsor, the Evangeline Trail threads its leisurely way through the pastoral Annapolis Valley to Digby and then on along the exposed "Acadian Shore" to Yarmouth. These linked "tourist trails" provide ready access to diverse marine vistas all along the length of the Nova Scotia coastline of the Bay of Fundy.
There are many opportunities for those who want to experience the Bay of Fundy even more closely and more viscerally. Coastal hiking trails of varying degrees of ruggedness abound, providing exercise and stunning vistas for casual strollers and seasoned hikers alike. Grand Manan, Fundy National Park, Cape Chignecto and Blomidon Provincial Parks, Cape Split and Brier Island are just a few of the locations that boast networks of coastal hiking or cycling trails that are second to none. Many communities around the Bay have also created their own coastal trails for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. Examples of such local initiative include the Delaps Cove Wilderness Trail near Annapolis Royal, the Thomas Cove Coastal Reserve near Economy, Nova Scotia and the Sackville Waterfowl Park in Sackville, New Brunswick.
It is now also possible to experience the Bay of Fundy even more closely! Sea kayaking has become an increasingly popular way to intimately explore less accessible coastlines and habitats around the Bay. A number of adventure tour companies on both sides of the Bay now cater to this growing demand. The awesome power of Fundy's tides and the treacherous nature of its currents and rips makes paddling with experienced local guides almost a necessity. Yet another way to experience the brute force of these surging waters is to ride a large, motorized rubber raft on the rolling crest of a tidal "bore". These racing mounds of roiling water, which can be up to three metres high, surge far inland along some of the rivers that empty into the upper Bay. This is one of the few places where you can experience the excitement of white water rafting while heading upriver! The tidal rafting mecca is undoubtedly the Shubenacadie River at the head of the Minas Basin, where several companies thrill thousands of adventure-seekers every season. Meanwhile, for those intrepid individuals who literally want to immerse themselves in Fundy, there are expanding opportunities to enjoy coastal scuba diving excursions led by knowledgeable local guides on both sides of the outer Bay.
Of course, Fundy can also be enjoyed at a much more leisurely, less frenetic pace. Its beaches allow one to simply walk and enjoy the scenery or search the shoreline for its varied treasures. In areas such as Cape Chignecto, 600-foot coastal cliffs create breathtaking seascapes. Elsewhere, as at the Hopewell rocks, for example, the powerful tides have sculpted the softer sea cliffs into unusual "flower pots", or sea stacks, and excavated deep coastal caves. Beachcombers will find the strand strewn with a wealth of unusual treasures, ranging from artistically contorted driftwood to colourful fishing floats as well as an intriguing trove of other wood, glass and plastic flotsam originating from all around the North Atlantic.
Visitors with a more geological bent, often nicknamed "rockhounds", find the beaches around the upper Bay a rich source of varied types of minerals. The lure of semiprecious stones such as agates, amethysts, and zeolites attract many collectors to the area. Ancient plant and animal fossils from many different geological epochs are also continually being eroded from the sedimentary cliffs and deposited on the beaches, particularly around Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay. Because of their geological uniqueness and great scientific value, many of these fossil beds are off limits to casual collectors. However, visitors can see samples and learn more about the rocks, gemstones, fossils and geological history of the region at places such as the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro and the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
In many parts of the world, there is yet another form of ecotourism that is rapidly growing in popularity. So called "working ecotours" are described as "adventure travel with a conscience", and involve working alongside scientists as they carry out field studies in their particular disciplines. Participants are typically asked to pay a fee that covers their keep and also contributes towards funding the research. The volunteers help with the study and thus gain hands-on experience in a facet of science or natural history that interests them, under the guidance of a professional. The Earthwatch Institute, founded in 1981, links scientists around the world with people interested in volunteering for projects for one to three weeks. Volunteers can engage in archaeological digs, conservation projects, global change monitoring programs, wildlife studies, collecting trips and a wide range of ecological studies in diverse habitats. At present, in the Fundy region such opportunities are few, mostly small-scale and largely informal. They include helping with bird banding projects - mostly shorebirds in the upper Bay and migrating songbirds and other species on islands near the mouth of the Bay. Surge Inc., a whale watch and research organization based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, offers paying volunteers an opportunity to assist a research scientist in his whale studies for periods ranging from a few hours up to 5 days. This is undoubtedly a type of ecotourism with some scope for further expansion in the Fundy region.
Balancing Benefits and Costs
However, there can also be too much of a good thing. At many popular tourist destinations, the sheer numbers of visitors are threatening the integrity of the habitats or the survival of the species that they have come to enjoy. There is a very fine and poorly defined balance between promoting a natural attraction and inadvertently destroying it. Around the Bay of Fundy, governments and other agencies and groups have devoted a lot of effort and resources to attracting as many tourists into the region as possible. However, too often, they act as if the "eco" in "ecotourism" is short for "economy" and not "ecology". Regrettably, they have tended to put much less effort into thinking about the possible adverse effects of this increased traffic upon the ecosystems and into devising ways of avoiding or reducing them. Promoters have to recognize that there may be limits beyond which some types of tourist activities are just no longer environmentally sustainable. It is not only the rising numbers of tourists that can interfere with delicate natural balances, but also the expanding network of roads, trails, accommodations and other facilities that they need. Often the expansion of this so-called "tourist infrastructure" occurs piecemeal, in small, seemingly harmless steps. Little thought is given to the accumulating environmental impacts until it is too late. The following are just a few examples of situations in the Fundy region where there may be an increasing potential for conflict between an expanding ecotourism industry and some of the natural features that sustain it.
Several communities flanking the mouth of the Bay, particularly on Brier Island and Long Island in Nova Scotia and around Grand Manan Island and Passamaquoddy Bay in New Brunswick, are home to more than two dozen successful whale watching enterprises. Whale watching is mostly a small-scale, locally-based, environmentally friendly and economically significant activity in these small coastal communities. It is also valuable in that it raises peoples awareness of marine mammals and educates them about the need for efforts to monitor, protect and conserve the threatened and endangered populations. In many instances, the operators of whale watch vessels are also fishermen in their off-season. Their expanding knowledge about the whales and their substantial economic interest in the well-being of the whale populations no doubt makes them think twice about engaging in fishing practices that might harm marine mammals. Whale watching enterprises also make a valuable contribution to the scientific study of whales. Many tour operators keep charts, logs and photographic records of sightings of whales and detailed observations of their behaviour. This information is routinely added to the data banks of marine mammal scientists. Because whale watch operators are numerous, geographically scattered and range widely and often over their local waters, their observations can provide scientists with very useful information that would be extremely costly and laborious for them to obtain by themselves. In the Bay of Fundy and many other areas, the daily sighting reports of the tour operators are also added to an up-to-date electronic map of the distribution of whales in the region. This information is then used to alert passing ships to concentrations of whales in their vicinity, allowing the crew to take steps to reduce the likelihood of collisions.
Although whale watching appears to be an environmentally friendly, sustainable and scientifically beneficial activity, it may have a darker side. The growing number of boats involved in such tours in the Fundy region could pose a problem. Their skippers are understandably keen to provide passengers with as many close-up views of whales as possible. Aerial surveillance and radio reports from other operators, combined with fast, powerful boats, enable them to quickly find and approach any whales in the area. The inevitable result is sometimes too many boats chasing just a few whales. The constant jockeying for position and the noise of the boats could disturb the whales, interfering with their feeding or resting, causing them to expend energy trying to get away. Fortunately, most tour operators in Fundy recognize that their continued success in the business is dependent on the well-being of the whales. Thus, they have worked with environmental groups and government agencies to create a voluntary code of ethics for whale watching. This states how closely vessels can approach whales, limits the number of vessels that can be in the area at one time and forbids any active pursuit of the animals. For now, this approach seems to be working. However, continued research and monitoring of the situation are needed. It may eventually become necessary to limit the number of whale watch enterprises or vessels in any region and regulate their activities more stringently.
What's in the Wake?
The economic benefits of this cruise tourism are substantial; it is estimated that in the past dozen years such visitors contributed over $29 million to the local economy. Less obvious, and more worrisome, are some of the possible environmental effects of these large vessels. Each carries a complement of passengers and crew comparable to the populations of many medium-sized Fundy coastal towns, and generates an equivalent amount of wastes. These include airborne pollutants from the huge oil-fired engines, as well as waterborne wastes discharged untreated into the sea such as raw sewage, oily bilge water, garbage and toxic chemicals from onboard services such as dry-cleaning or photo processing. A recent study of cruise ships in Alaskan waters revealed that 95% of them werent complying with federal dumping regulations. The state has now introduced tougher legislation to control pollution from cruise ships, funding the needed monitoring and enforcement by a surcharge on each passenger. There is little comparable information about cruise ship pollution in Fundy waters because there hasn't been any routine monitoring of discharges and inspections of waste treatment systems. Some larger cruise lines are voluntarily improving their procedures for handling wastes and thus reducing the environmental impacts. It is possible too that the added shipping could increase the danger to whales in Fundy, since vessel strikes are one of the major causes of death for whales, particularly endangered North Atlantic right whales. A number of whales in waters off the West Coast were struck and killed by cruise ships in the last few years. Newly developed plans to move shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy away from areas frequented by whales and a new system of alerting vessels to the presence of whales should minimize such disastrous encounters. Unless the number of cruise ships visiting the region increases dramatically, it is unlikely that they will pose a major threat to the whales or significantly add to pollution in the coastal waters.
There are many other activities that may also undermine a region's ability to attract ecotourists. For example, in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick forestry practices are poorly regulated and widely considered unsustainable. Huge swaths of public and private woodlands are devastated annually by highly mechanized clear cutting throughout the region. Mature, ecologically healthy and biologically diverse natural forests are a rarity in the Maritimes. Any extended wilderness journey on foot or by canoe is sure to be marred by encounters with the unsightly aftermath of commercial deforestation. Hunting also threatens the peace of mind of wilderness travelers seeking an enjoyable outdoor experience for its own sake. Most woodlands are virtually off-limits to safety conscious naturalists and hikers during the fall hunting season. Recurring proposals for a spring bear hunt, and the introduction of wild turkeys for a spring hunt, threaten to close the woodlands to other legitimate users for even longer periods.
The beauty of some coastal areas around the Bay of Fundy, particularly in southwestern New Brunswick, have been marred by the introduction of salmon aquaculture operations in many sheltered embayments. Encountering these massed fish pens detracts from the wilderness experience associated with sea kayaking. A mining industry proposal to extract titanium from the sediments of the lower Shubenacadie River is now being assessed by government regulators. A large floating dredge would suck up large volumes of the river sediment, extract the valuable titanium and release the residue back into the water. The proponents claim that this will have negligible ecological effects has yet to be properly evaluated. There are also uncertainties about the effects of such large-scale dredging on the popular tidal bore rafting operations on this river. At the very least, it would deflate the wilderness experience aspect of the excursion.
Many visitors to the Maritimes are impressed by the relatively unrestricted access to coastal areas, particularly in some of the more scenic, out-of-the-way spots. However, in some areas, such as the Parrsboro shore, developers or wealthy individuals are acquiring large tracts of the most desirable coastal land for the construction of seasonal or year-round residences. This is steadily diminishing traditional access to the coast for residents and tourists alike. While this is not yet a pressing problem in most of the Fundy region, governments need to carefully monitor the situation and take steps to ensure that there will continue to be ample public access to our most scenic coastal regions.
"the Phenomenal Fundy Coast" and "One of the Marine Wonders of the World".
Ecotourism: An Introduction. David A. Fennell. Routledge, London. 224 pages. (2000).
Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise? Martha Honey. Island Press, Washington, DC. 350 pages. (1999).
Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station - whales and whale watching information.www.personal.nbnet.nb.ca/gmwhale/watching.htm
United Nations Environmental Program, "About Ecotourism". www.unepie.org/pc/tourism/ecotourism/home.htm
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES): Ecotourism Explorer. www.ecotourism.org
Fundy Geological Museum. www.museum.gov.ns.ca/fgm/index.html
Surge Inc. , Whale Watch Research Tours. St. Andrews, NB. www.whale-watch.bigstep.com/
Earthwatch Institute - Information about scientific tourism programs worldwide.www.earthwatch.org
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The Environmental Conservation Branch
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