2006-06-15 / News

Jamestowner guides tourists to better understanding of natural world

By Abby Anthony

As Jamestown residents know too well, tourism is one of the world's largest industries, providing endless opportunities for travelers to get away from everyday life, see new and exciting places, experience foreign cultures, pay $4 for a small ice cream cone, and acquire priceless mementos never to be seen or heard again.

Tourism can also play an important role in protecting fragile ecosystems and preserving biological diversity.

Consider forests. Not only are forests habitat for countless plant and animal species; forests also provide us with clean air and water, lumber, medicine, and recreational opportunities. Despite all the benefits forests provide, forests are threatened by extractive industries. For example, in 2002 more than 10,000 square miles of Brazil's Amazon rainforest were deforested due to logging, ranching, farming, and development. Nonetheless, these fragile ecosystems attract nature enthusiasts, birdwatchers, photographers, and other adventurers. Tourism can be a non-extractive industry that allows communities to benefit from their natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Ecological tourism, or ecotourism, emerged in the early 1990s as a tool for the conservation of the environment, the reduction of poverty, protection of local culture, and the promotion of responsible development. Mark Baker, a Jamestown resident and founder of Ecotour Expeditions, Inc., was at the front of this movement. In the early 1980's, Baker owned a timber company based in Cambridge, Mass. The company bought timber from the Amazon and sold it as raw material in the United States. As a bird-watcher, however, Baker's business interests conflicted with his interest in preserving bird habitat in the Amazon. While Baker adopted conservation minded business practices, in the final analysis he found that he could not reconcile his interest in the environment with his commercial activities and shut down the business in 1988.

Next, Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, founded an adventure travel company that eventually became Ecotour Expeditions.

Ecotour Expeditions was the first ecotourism enterprise in the United States, and it quickly became distinguished for its commitment to Brazil and the Amazon and its relationships with Brazilian scientists and local naturalist guides. Now in its 16th year, Ecotour Expeditions guides travelers deep into the Amazon and provides them the opportunity to observe nature in a careful, scientific manner.

Baker's clients travel into the Amazon on an 82-foot river boat guided by local Brazilians who grew up in the forest and have an

intimate knowledge of the area. The naturalist guides teach the guests about the different habitats in the rainforest and their delicate and complex dynamics. On a typical visit, his clients might see seven species of monkeys, caiman (giant Amazon crocodiles), macaws, toucans, and giant vultures. Recently, a group of Jamestown residents traveled to the Amazon with Baker - the group was particularly interested in bird-watching and had the opportunity to see 215 different bird species, including three types of macaws and four varieties of toucans.

According to Baker, Brazilians have a strong environmental consciousness, and the Amazon is central to Brazilian culture. Despite this culture of conservation, the Amazon is still threatened because it offers enormous

commercial possibilities to a country in desperate need of jobs. Committed to the future of Brazil, Baker is participating in the development of a management plan for the Central Amazon Environment Corridor, a reserve made up of vast protected areas and smaller areas that create travel corridors. The management plan is critical to preserving the Amazon's integrity while also recognizing that Brazil needs to develop in a thoughtful manner, Baker said.

According to Baker, Ecotour Expeditions is distinguished by the guides' intimate knowledge of the Amazon and their interest in natural history. The strong educational component raises guests' environmental and cultural awareness and respect, while having fun and observing the world's most exotic creatures. Several island residents including Chris and Candy Powell, Betsy Gooding, Mark Baker, Emily and Dick Boenning, Evelyn Rhodes, and Ed Long, recently took the Press on a trip to the Amazon jungle, where they spent eight days on the Negro, Branco, and Amazon rivers aboard the M/Y Tucano, owned by Ecotour Expeditions of Jamestown. Mark Baker is sitting in the second row, second from the right (next to Candy Powell).

For more information about ecotourism in general, visit www.ecotourism.org, the Web site of the International Ecotourism Society.

Return to top