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Environment

Aug 23, 2018

A Ban on Rafting and Poor Governance in Uttarakhand

Rafting has vastly boosted the local economy. The government didn’t provide these jobs, but has benefited from them. If not thankful, the state could have been a little mindful.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

The recent and total rafting ban, four years after a ban on rafting camps, has stirred uncomfortable conversations in the adventure community. Perhaps it’s time that we all learnt a lesson.

Here’s a good place to start: Eco-tourism is sustainable, helping the environment and the local community. Mass tourism is damaging and inconsiderate, usually with a detrimental effect on the natural environment.

Adventure sports can be integrated either sustainably or unsustainably. It largely depends on how they are introduced and handled by the regional government and the local community.

“Rafting is a self-generating business; people have found employment by themselves.”

The natural environment in Uttarakhand has a lot to offer as a peaceful retreat and a source of income, in ways that are respectful to nature and sustainable for the community. However, the government’s disorganised approach, focused on short-term-benefits, has landed this state in much trouble. Government bodies have legislated regulations and policies without consideration for a longterm strategy.

“Rafting is a self-generating business; people have found employment by themselves. The government gets taxes from the local development, but receives a lot more money from power and road projects. Comparatively, it’s not worth their time. They look at the bigger fish,” tells Pradeep Raj Singh, Founder of Paddy Adventures.

Recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in courts serve as warning signals against the impact of mass tourism. This is clearly the time for thoughtful organisation and constructive dialogue.

Both of the recent PILs led to court orders without advance notice. Detailed surveys of existing ecological footprints were missing and local employment was not considered.  The recent ban was imposed without taking into account that over 40,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by 280 rafting companies.

“Currently, there is no right leadership in the state. But there’s a lot of scope. You just need the right kind of approaches and perspectives.”

“We were given a permit every year to do adventure sports for 18 years, with listed rules and regulations,” laments Vipin, Founder of Red Chilli Adventures. “Yet the high court puts an order and asks the government to show the papers for rafting regulations. We personally lost business of 5-6 lakhs and I paid for those losses from my personal savings. It didn’t just affect the ones who own rafting companies, but also impacted the vegetable sellers, the hotel businesses, and transportation companies. Not just the rafting companies, but everyone lost business. For us, rafting is not even about business; it’s more of survival. The government has no jobs for people.”

Photo: Aquaterra

“There were so many PILs filed in the previous years, but nothing was done about them. Something like this was not required. There could have been a time limit, like a month’s notice. If the government didn’t submit sufficient documents, then they could have imposed a ban,” adds Pradeep from Paddy Adventures.

Both Pradeep and Vipin are rafting instructors who have been in the industry for over twenty years. They feel that the potential of organised and responsible tourism in Uttarakhand is untapped largely due to poor leadership, especially when compared to states like Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

“Currently, there is no right leadership in the state. But there’s a lot of scope. You just need the right kind of approaches and perspectives.  The first step needs to be taken properly but the first step is not happening. This recent ban is a big opportunity for that first step to take place,” shares Pradeep.

“They could have had a conversation and investigated more to see what’s there and what’s not before imposing the ban. Fortunately, Uttarakhand tourism has taken advice from rafting companies, including my own, to make some amendments in the policies. One was regarding rafting companies using smaller vehicles to carry big rafts. The other was about the training of guides to include mandatory first aid course and swift water rescue training,” adds Vipin.

“Now, before the season starts, things are looking positive.”

Globally, national parks are generally preserved and adventure sports are permitted in nature. There are rules, procedures, training, and guidelines in place. People are given the freedom to benefit from nature in a responsible manner, and the state largely plays the role of an enabler and facilitator. In a nation that truly cares about nature and understands its crucial role in sustaining the human population, the desire to protect the forest would come naturally. It would also take charge of communication that helps educate the population about the importance and benefits of acting responsibly.

The rafting season is about to start in Uttarakhand. Many are hoping that the court will reconsider the report submitted by the tourism board, and lift the ban.  Members of the recent meeting, who are senior rafting guides in established companies known for good compliance, addressed existing loopholes in the recent report.

“Right now everyone is sitting idle and waiting for something to happen. The ban was imposed in the wrong way, but luckily it was at the end of the season. Now, before the season starts, things are looking positive,” shares Pradeep.

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Environment

Sep 04, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef outlook is ‘very poor’. We have one last chance to save it.

It’s official. The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef has been downgraded from “poor” to “very poor” by the Australian government’s own experts.

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WRITTEN BY

Terry Hughes

That’s the conclusion of the latest five-yearly report from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, released on Friday. The report assessed literally hundreds of scientific studies published on the reef’s declining condition since the last report was published in 2014.

The past five years were a game-changer. Unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching episodes in 2016 and 2017, triggered by record-breaking warm sea temperatures, severely damaged two-thirds of the reef. Recovery since then has been slow and patchy.

Fish swimming among coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Looking to the future, the report said “the current rate of global warming will not allow the maintenance of a healthy reef for future generations […] the window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now”.

But that window of opportunity is being squandered so long as Australia’s and the world’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The evidence on the reef’s condition is unequivocal

A logical national response to the outlook report would be a pledge to curb activity that contributes to global warming and damages the reef. Such action would include a ban on the new extraction of fossil fuels, phasing out coal-fired electricity generation, transitioning to electrified transport, controlling land clearing and reducing local stressors on the reef such as land-based runoff from agriculture.

But federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s response to the outlook report suggested she saw no need to take dramatic action on emissions, when she declared: “it’s the best managed reef in the world”.

Major coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 have devastated the reef.

The federal government’s lack of climate action was underscored by another dire report card on Friday. Official quarterly greenhouse gas figures showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen to the highest annual levels since the 2012-13 financial year.

But rather than meaningfully tackle Australia’s contribution to climate change, the federal government has focused its efforts on fixing the damage wrought on the reef. For example as part of a A$444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the government has allocated $100 million for reef restoration and adaptation projects over the next five years or so.

Solutions being supported by the foundation include a sunscreen-like film to float on the water to prevent light penetration, and gathering and reseeding coral spawn Separately, Commonwealth funds are also being spent on projects such as giant underwater fans to bring cooler water to the surface.

But the scale of the problem is much, much larger than these tiny interventions.


Climate change is not the only threat to the reef

The second biggest impact on the Great Barrier Reef’s health is poor water quality, due to nutrient and sediment runoff into coastal habitats. Efforts to address that problem are also going badly.

This was confirmed in a confronting annual report card on the reef’s water quality, also released by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments on Friday.

The Great Barrier Reef attained world heritage status in the 1980s.
AAP

It showed authorities have failed to reach water quality targets set under the Reef 2050 Plan – Australia’s long-term plan for improving the condition of the reef.

For example the plan sets a target that by 2025, 90% of sugarcane land in reef catchments should have adopted improved farming practices. However the report showed the adoption had occurred on just 9.8% of land, earning the sugarcane sector a grade of “E”.

So yes, the reef is definitely in danger

The 2019 outlook report and other submissions from Australia will be assessed next year when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meets to determine if the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” – an outcome the federal government will fight hard to avoid.

An in-danger listing would signal to the world that the reef was in peril, and put the federal government under greater pressure to urgently prevent further damage. Such a listing would be embarrassing for Australia, which presents itself as a world’s-best manager of its natural assets.

Environment activists engaged in a protest action to bring attention to the dangers facing the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

The outlook report maintains that the attributes of the Great Barrier Reef
that led to its inscription as a world heritage area in 1981 are still intact, despite the loss of close to half of the corals in 2016 and 2017.

But by any rational assessment, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger. Most of the pressures on the reef are ongoing, and some are escalating – notably anthropogenic heating, also known as human-induced climate change.

Read more:
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief scientist: science will lie at the heart of our decisions

And current efforts to protect the reef are demonstrably failing. For example despite an ongoing “control” program, outbreaks of the damaging crown-of-thorns starfish – triggered by poor water quality – have spread throughout the reef.

The federal government has recently argued that climate change should not form the basis for an in-danger listing, because rising emissions are not the responsibility of individual countries. The argument comes despite Australia having one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the world.

But as Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise – an outcome supported by government policy – the continued downward trajectory of the Great Barrier Reef is inevitable.The Conversation

Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: A supplied image obtained Thursday, June 6, 2013 of holiday makers in the Great Barrier Reef, Tropical North Queensland, October 2008. ReefLive, a live 12-hour interactive online show about the reef, will be broadcast on YouTube from 10am (AEST) on Friday to coincide with World Ocean Day on Saturday. (AAP Image/Supplied by Tourism and Events Queensland, Richard Fitzpatrick) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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