Last-Chance Tourism Spurs Eco-Consciousness and Climate Change

The last-chance tourism market is booming. As many of the world’s natural wonders deteriorate and vanish, glaciers and coral reefs especially, people are urged to see them before it’s too late. Social media and tourism markets are massively influential in spurring wanderlust and driving our desire for travel.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a once vibrant coral reef busy with thousands of fish species, is suffering severe coral bleaching and loss of fish habitat. (Source: Jorge Lascar/Flickr)

Last-chance tourism is paradoxical. Tourists often visit remote destinations to take in the beauty and experience a place that may not be the same in the future. But in doing so, they are contributing to climate change, negatively impacting these destinations through carbon-intensive travel.

A recent study published in Annals of Tourism Research discusses the ethical challenges of last-chance tourism. Lead author Mark Groulx and colleagues examined tourists’ willingness to offset the environmental footprint of their travel by participating in carbon offset programs. The study is significant in understanding the role of place identity and attachment in this sector of tourism and the complexities around stewardship.  

Schemes are often presented as a voluntary fee. They allow travelers to invest in carbon reduction projects that balance out the carbon footprint of their travel. These projects could include carbon capture technologies or forest conservation efforts, as well as prevention of new emissions through investing in building wind farms and other green technologies. However, many tourists do not engage in offsetting schemes with rates of engagement below 10 percent for most popular tourist destinations.

The team compared two locations in Canada vulnerable to climate change: polar bear tourism in Churchill, Manitoba and glacier tourism in Jasper National Park. Polar bear populations are well known to be threatened by climate change. The call to save these beloved animals is a key selling point by activists in combating climate change. Warming directly impacts glaciers, and many of the world’s most important glaciers may disappear within the century.

Churchill is famous for its polar bear viewing, which has grown significantly since the 1980s. Birding, beluga whale watching, aurora borealis viewing, and dog sledding are also popular activities. Polar bear populations are in decline as seasonal sea ice diminishes especially during summer. According to a previous study, the Churchill polar bear population could become extinct in as little as 30 years.

Three polar bears enjoying some sun in Churchill. (Source: Trevor Bauer/Flickr)

Jasper National Park is one of the most heavily visited parks in Canada with a total of 2.33 million visitors in 2016. According to the authors, the Athabasca Glacier is a considerable tourism draw at the park. It hosts a number of visitor infrastructures such as the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center. The glacier, however, continues to retreat from climate change. Historical photography referenced in the new study reveals that the Athabasca Glacier receded approximately a kilometer between 1917 and 2006.

The survey conducted at the two sites was designed to measure visitors’ willingness to participate in carbon offsetting. Visitors were asked if they were willing to participate in carbon offset schemes, and if so, how much they were willing to spend. They were also asked how concerned they were about climate change: extremely concerned, concerned, or not concerned. Since the researchers knew that many visitors were unfamiliar with carbon offsets, they provided a simple explanation in the survey. Data was collected from visitors who engaged in glacier or polar bear viewing activities. They amassed a total of 267 surveys for Churchill and 396 for Jasper National Park.

Researchers found that visitors at Churchill were significantly more concerned about climate change than visitors in Jasper National Park. A greater percentage of people were willing to buy carbon offsets. Churchill visitors were also willing to pay far more for carbon offsets than JNP visitors, with a mean of $166.03 (Canadian) compared to $54.99 from JNP tourists. Those from both sites who were willing to purchase offsets also had a much greater sense of nature relatedness, place identity, and place attachment than those not willing.

Snow crawlers transport tourist up and across the glacier before returning to the lodge at Jasper National Park. (Source: diffuse/Flickr)

A review of 66 studies suggests that a stronger sense of place attachment and identity may foster climate change concern, which might influence travelers to engage more in carbon offsetting schemes. One explanation for the difference between Churchill and Jasper National Park tourists is the attraction of polar bears. Polar bears are considered to be a “highly-charismatic mega fauna” and are seen as the international mascot for climate change. People are able to connect more easily to the plight of these cute and endangered animals, and they are much better at capturing public attention and promoting emotional involvement relative to physical landscapes.

Although travelers produce a substantial carbon footprint through last-chance tourism, it may help bolster the sense of place attachment and identity that encourages tourists to engage in carbon offsetting. People sometimes build personal connections to places they visit, and this value they put on locations may lead them to take meaningful action to preserve them. Tourism is one of the most effective methods to getting people to engage in offsetting schemes. Once we develop an attachment, we are more likely to take on a responsibility to caring for the destination and contributing to environmental wellbeing.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Tourism in Tibet

Glaciers, Geoheritage, and Geotourism

The Andes Challenge: Extreme Sports, Tourism, and Science in Peru

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Photo Friday: Rephotography Captures Mountain Change

Mountains are some of the most rapidly changing landscapes on Earth thanks to climate change and other drivers. To observe these changes within the Canadian Rockies, the Mountain Legacy Project has utilized repeat photography of images taken from past surveys. Exploring changes is as easy as traversing to the project’s website and clicking a point on the map, revealing historical images and their modern counterparts.

Check out four of these photo comparisons below, and visit the Mountain Legacy Project Explorer to discover more wonders from the full catalog.

 

Mt. Edith Cavell within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Cavell Meadows
Photograph taken in 1915 of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph of Cavell Meadows
Photograph taken in 1999 of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Thunderbolt Peak
Photograph taken in 1915 of Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph Thunderbolt Peak
Photograph taken in 1999 of Thunderbolt Peak within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park

 

1915 Photograph of Mt. Majestic
Photograph taken in 1915 of Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

 

1999 Photograph of Mt. Majestic
Photograph taken in 1999 of Mt. Majestic within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).

Columbia Ice-fields within Jasper National Park

Photograph of 1918 Columbia Ice-Fields
Photograph taken in 1918 of the Columbia Ice-Fields taken within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).
2011 Photograph of the Columbia Ice-Fields
Photograph taken in 2011 of the Columbia Ice-Fields within Jasper National Park (Source: Mountain Legacy Project).
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Glacier Water Now In A Vodka Near You

Icebergs are harvested for use in a variety of different hard alcohols. (Source: Alaska Distillery)
Icebergs are harvested for use in a variety of different hard alcohols. (Source: Alaska Distillery)

Are you there vodka? It’s me, glacial water.

Protected for centuries from pollutants in the air and sea, water from glaciers has sprung up in a new market: liquor.

“It’s the notion that it’s kind of untouched by human hands,” Beverage World editor in chief Jeff Cioletti told Outside Magazine in 2013, “you can’t get water purer than that.”

The makers of Iceberg Vodka harvest their ice from Canada's Iceberg Alley. (Source: Iceberg Vodka)
The makers of Iceberg Vodka harvest their ice from Canada’s Iceberg Alley. (Source: Iceberg Vodka)

Water with fewer impurities is a key element in high-quality liquor. Though using glacial water small part of the market, several companies are using water trapped in glaciers for thousands of years to make vodka and other liquors, including Finlandia, Estonia’s Ston vodka, and Alaska Distillery.

Since glacier harvesting is not done substantially, there is little regulation of it. Alaska is the only U.S. state that requires permits in order to use the water. Scott Lindquist, the head distiller of Alaska Distillery, is the sole holder of such a permit. His company is using meltwater from icebergs broken off of the Harding Ice Field in Prince William Sound to make vodka. Yet, Lindquist is not alone, people from Newfoundland and Labrador, where permits are also required from the provincial government, have been harvesting icebergs for centuries. Ed Kean, a fifth-generation sea captain, seeks Canadian icebergs every year for a local vodka maker, a brewer, a winery and a bottled-water outfit in Newfoundland. Icebergs calved off the ice-shelf of Greenland arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador during spring and early summer and they can be harvested until late September.

Glacial water figures into many different spirits from the Alaska Distillery. (Source: Alaska Distillery)
Glacial water figures into many different spirits from the Alaska Distillery. (Source: Alaska Distillery)

Iceberg harvesting is not an easy job and choosing the right bergs is a skill. Years of experience is required to determine where and which iceberg to harvest as well as how to remove the ice without rolling the iceberg. People like Lindquist and Kean are particular about the glacial loot they gather. They prefer clean, round pieces not exposed to the sun too long to avoid evaporation of the “oldest and tastiest inner crystals”. Once they’ve found the suitable ice, they would scoop up or break off pieces of ice using tools like hydraulic claw. The difficulty of iceberg harvesting is the reason that Lindquist is the only remaining ice-harvesting permit holder in Alaska, which once stood at 12 issued permits.

Although beverages containing glacial water are attractive, it is also a challenging market. Despite the technical difficulties of iceberg harvesting, this activity may be opposed by tourism industries. Some local tourism officials in Newfoundland think iceberg harvesting is threatening the unspoiled beauty, which is a main tourist attraction each summer in Newfoundland. “Demand for iceberg is booming,” Kean told Wall Street Journal last year. Keeping up with demand for iceberg-infused drinks is another big challenge for these companies.

To learn more about icebergs in Newfoundland, check out GlacierHub’s story on Canada’s Iceberg Alley.

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Photo Friday: A Glacial Fear of Heights

Deep in the Canadian Rockies a glass walkway has been constructed extending ninety feet off a sudden cliff edge. The Glacier Skywalk opened in May of this year, and allows you to walk out into the empty space off the cliff’s edge and enjoy panoramic views of Jasper National Park in Alberta. Engineered by Simon J. Brown and John Kooymans with Read Jones Christoffersen Engineering, and designed by Sturgess Architecture, the walkway made out of glass, wood, and steel, and supported by an intricate cable support system, blends into the natural environment and appears to suspend itself in midair with no obvious foundation. Standing on the glass bend almost eight hundred fifty feet above the Sunwapta valley floor you might even feel a little like a mountain glacier high above the wilderness. Photographers Eva Kurilova and Marc Roy provide some images.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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After 100 Years of Glacier Loss, Alberta Braces for Erratic Water Flow

Overlooking the town of Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, with Bow River flowing across the town. Taken at the top of the Sulphur Mountain. (Photo: Yuanrong Zhou)
Overlooking the town of Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, with Bow River flowing across the town. Taken at the top of the Sulphur Mountain. (Photo: Yuanrong Zhou)

When I travelled to Banff National Park in Alberta last summer, I was impressed by the high white peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Locals joked that those who want to see the snowy, icy mountains should hurry, because such beautiful landscapes may soon cease to exist due to global warming. Sadly, what the local people said is true. A recent study suggests that glaciers along the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies will lose 80-90% of their volume by 2100.

“Temperature rise isn’t something you can see. But a glacier melting is something everybody can see,” Michael Zemp, director at the World Glacier Monitoring Service told National Geographic magazine in 2006, when discussing glacial loss in the Alps.

The majestic snowy crowns I spied in Banff form the Peyto glacier, situated at the headwater of the Mistaya River, which merges with the North Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan Crossing. It happens to be a reference site for the World Glacier Monitoring Service, a Zurich-based organization which gathers and distributes standardized data on glacier fluctuation. In its latest report WGMS noted that Peyto is losing 3.5 million cubic meters of water every year. That kind of volume of water can sustain a city with a population of 1.2 million, such as Calgary, for one day. Cumulatively, 70 percent of the Peyto Glacier ice mass melted since the mid-19th century, when scientists first began watching it.

Peyto Glacier at 1896, taken by Walter Wilcox. (Source: PARC Project P55 Report)
Peyto Glacier at 1896, taken by Walter Wilcox. (Source: PARC Project P55 Report)

Meltwater from glaciers on the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies, including Peyto Glacier, supply both the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, which flow into the Canadian Prairie Provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, to support municipal, industrial, as well as agricultural usages. With the dramatic retreat of glaciers along the east side, like Peyto Glacier, the two Saskatchewan River basins have seen significant declines in flow. In particular, the mean annual flow of Bow River at the South Saskatchewan River basin, which passes through Alberta, has decreased by 11.5 percent since 1910.

With melt season occurring earlier and earlier each year, spring floods have become more common, while water supply is low during the summer months, just when it is most needed. Specifically, the spring flow in Bow River has increased by 15.2 percent since 1910, though the annual flow has declined. Consequently, Alberta has experienced severe floods successively in June 2013 and June 2014 due to intensive precipitation as well as early snowmelt.

Heavy rain combined with earlier glacier melt into both the Elbow river and the Bow river flooded Calgary, Alberta in late June 2013. (Wayne Stadler/Flickr)
Heavy rain combined with earlier glacier melt into both the Elbow river and the Bow river flooded Calgary, Alberta in late June 2013. (Wayne Stadler/Flickr)

“In the last twelve years, the Prairie Provinces have seen the worst drought and the worst flooding since the settlement of western Canada,” John Pomeroy, director of the Center for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, told Yale Environment 360 earlier this year.

To adapt to future changes in water flows, new water management systems have been implemented in Alberta. In 2010, the Bow River Project was launched to analyze the Bow River System. Ultimately, scientists on the project recommended developing integrated management of the water system. Most recently, in March, the Bow River Project submitted its final report, Bow Basin Flood Mitigation and Watershed Management Project, which recommended measures that might prevent devastating floods in the region. In particular, the report proposed wetland storage and restoration of natural rivers to prevent future melt-related floods like those recently seen in Alberta.

But these are measures of adaptation rather than prevention. They won’t do anything to stop Peyto and glaciers like it from disappearing. Keeping these glaciers alive will take a different kind of effort, though I may not be around in 2100 to see what happens.

 

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Photo Friday: Mammals from glaciers

A number of images of glaciers in the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of North American Mammals. The dioramas in this exhibit feature sheep, goats, bears and caribou, all denizens of mountainous regions in the western US, Alaska and Canada. Ben Orlove visited the exhibit last Monday. This is the first GlacierHub post on mammals. We have featured birds from one island and from around the world.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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A trip down Canada’s “Iceberg Alley”

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I write this from Fogo Island, where the terrain and sea are sub-arctic, brushed and at times tormented by the strong and cold Labrador Current, which wards off the warmer waters of the Gulf stream. The Labrador Current is part of the counter-clockwise vortex of the western waters of the North Atlantic ocean that picks up the pieces of glaciers of Greenland. The broken pieces become icebergs, and the waters of the north east coast of Newfoundland, where Fogo Island sits, are known as “Iceberg Alley.”

In some years, like this one, 2014, icebergs from western Greenland (and, to a lesser extent, the Canadian Arctic) come close to shore in large numbers. Many remain grounded on shoal spots through the summer. As of this writing, August 10, 2014, twenty to twenty-five icebergs are known to be on the Funk Island Bank, within 100 miles of Fogo Island. There were hundreds here in May and June.

To someone like me, an outsider who happens to have visited for the past 42 years, the sight of icebergs brings wonder and delight and demands photos.

Tourist boat “Ketanya” (captain Aneas Emberley) returning from iceberg, whale, and fishing cruise. Joe Batt’s Point, August 2, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)
Tourist boat “Ketanya” (captain Aneas Emberley) returning from iceberg, whale, and fishing cruise. Joe Batt’s Point, August 2, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)

This year’s bounty is particularly joyful, because Newfoundland’s tourist economy, which increasingly sustains its rural “outport” communities, relies heavily on people like me. For the past several years, there were few icebergs to be seen during the peak tourist season, July and August, and that hurts Newfoundland, which uses icebergs as major attractions for tourists. (The provincial government established www.icebergfinder.com to help tourists and their hosts identify where they might have a chance of seeing icebergs from the shore or from boats.)

Local newspapers announced that 2014 was a “banner year” for iceberg sighting, and there are hopes that reports of this will stimulate more people to come next year. This year is also a “banner year” for warm weather, fish, and whales on Newfoundland’s northeast coast. In July and early August the one business providing boat trips for visitors to Fogo Island was able to promise not only getting close to icebergs but also calm seas, opportunities to watch humpback, finback, and minke whales, and chances to drop a line and catch codfish.

"Der Untergang der Titanic" (illustration by Willy Stöwer)
“Der Untergang der Titanic” (illustration by Willy Stöwer)

The dark side to icebergs is well known, although it is usually overlooked by tourists who take pleasure in their beauty. After all, Iceberg Alley is where the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down in April 1912, killing more than 1,500 people. The Canadian Ice Service’s reports on icebergs are used not only for tourism but also to warn ships of dangers at sea.

For local fishermen, a year like this is a problem, too, because icebergs can tear up crab pots and other fishing gear, normally put out once the sea ice has diminished in late April or May. Fishing crews must keep someone on watch all night to avoid collision with icebergs. As problematic are the smaller pieces of ice, the “bergy bits” and “growlers” that break off of the larger bergs. Bergy bits are small icebergs, roughly the size of a house. Growlers is the local name for pieces much the size of a grand piano (the similes come from Stephen Bruneau’s Icebergs of Newfoundland and Labrador). Small as they are, they are hard to see with radar and can be very damaging to boats and gear.

A “table” iceberg off the coast of Change Islands, August 4, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)
A “table” iceberg off the coast of Change Islands, August 4, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)

Fishermen are therefore very respectful and even fearful of icebergs. They take great care not to get too close to them, despite pleas from tourists. On the other hand, even smaller chunks of ice, often seen near foundered icebergs, can be captured with gaffs and nets and brought aboard, to provide fresh water for the crew and to take home to keep in the freezer, to be used as “iceberg ice” in drinks.

Over the last decade, with the rise of tourism, iceberg ice has gained some panache; who wouldn’t find it interesting to be told they were drinking 10,000-year-old fresh water taken from a piece of a glacier floating in the sea! Always enterprising, some Newfoundlanders have made businesses of providing iceberg ice, and there are companies that have licenses to harvest icebergs in Canadian waters. The Canadian Iceberg Vodka Corporation uses the small bits of ice that break off from bergs for its product.

A “sailing ship” iceberg off the coast of Fogo Island, July 17, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)
A “sailing ship” iceberg off the coast of Fogo Island, July 17, 2014. (Bonnie J. McCay)

Symbolic of what has happened in Newfoundland in recent decades is the fact that the iceberg vodka business took over an abandoned salt cod factory, in the coastal town of Port Union in 2013. For most of the 20th century, Port Union was a major fishing town and the home of a fishermen’s union. In 1992, the cod fishery was officially declared in “collapse” and local cod populations have only grown slowly The fishery may never recover economically. But like the fishery, iceberg vodka depends on the vagaries of nature, and a series of low iceberg years makes it vulnerable to collapse as well.

Iceberg presence and abundance along the coast of Newfoundland is variable, and people value them and fear them for different reasons and from different perspectives. Like the unusually warm and dry weather of the summer of 2014, it’s easy to think that the stunning parade of icebergs is one of the positive effects of global warming. Their appearance on the coast may increase for some time with the warming and melting of the glaciers of Greenland, as well as the glaciers of Canada’s Arctic islands. On the other hand, warmer North Atlantic waters hasten the melting of icebergs, too. In any case, their routes are not always close to the coasts, making life in Iceberg Alley as unpredictable as ever.

For more about the birth of icebergs in Greenland, click here.

And for another story linking glaciers and tourism, click here.

This guest post was written by Bonnie McCay Merritt of Rutgers University. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

 

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Photo Friday: Banff National Park

Founded in 1885, Banff National Park in Alberta is Canada’s oldest national park. Flickr user Adam Fagan features pictures of his 2012 trip to the national park.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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