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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Leave nothing but footprints

Tourist litter causes ecological, economic devastation

The Philippines announced on April 5 that the island of Boracay, a popular tourist destination known for its bright blue water and white sand beaches, would be closed to tourists for six months due to sustained environmental damage.

The closure is in large part due to infrastructure problems and a sewer system that has failed to keep up with an influx of tourists, but the Philippines isn’t the only place suffering the ill effects of travellers. Last year, picturesque Cinque Terre, Italy cited environmental concerns when releasing plans to cap the amount of people allowed to visit. In April 2015, the Seychelles announced that plans were underway to limit the number of annual visitors. Santorini began limiting the amount of cruise ship tourists in 2017. And in October 2016, Thai authorities stated that Koh Tachai would be closed indefinitely to tourists and that travel to three other islands would be heavily restricted, citing severe damage to the fragile coral reef ecosystem.

Even destinations closer to home are feeling the effects; residents of San Francisco’s Mission District are regularly incensed by the hundreds of pounds of trash left in Dolores Park after sunny days. When speaking to SFGate, San Francisco Parks and Recreation spokesperson Sarah Madland said, “The issues with trash are not issues of infrastructure, this is about entitled and appalling behavior.”

Every year, careless tourists descend on vacation destinations, trash them for a long weekend and head home, leaving formerly beautiful beaches completely blanketed in crushed beer cans and red cups; in some places, the sand is barely visible under the thick coat of plastic. This means the locals — and the local ecosystem — are forced to deal with the mess. Litter from tourists, especially in popular destinations and areas that have seen recent rapid growth in the volume of visitors, can destroy animal and plant life, devastating ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

This behavior is particularly repugnant when viewed in the context that many of the tropical paradises popular with travellers, like the Caribbean, Hawaii and Southeast Asia, are still suffering from the lingering effects of European colonialism. Such destinations have remained cheap to visit, in large part because imperial rule and resource extraction over the 19th century rendered tourism the only viable economic base after colonized nations gained independence. Another generation of Europeans and Americans taking advantage of the Global South’s economic precarity doesn’t just add insult to injury. Treating entire nations the way rock stars treat hotel rooms does real, lasting damage to the people who have to live with polluted water and poisoned wildlife after the party’s over.

Memorial Day weekend will be here before long, and hundreds of UC Davis students will flock to Lake Shasta for Houseboats. In past years, the annual debauchery has drawn the ire of the National Forest Service for the mess left behind by houseboaters. Adults — that means you, dear readers — shouldn’t have to be reminded to pick up after themselves, but year after year, public lands are left covered in garbage.

The Editorial Board urges travellers, whether they’re heading across the globe or just to a local park, to treat the places they visit with respect, leave as little trace as possible and remember that the mess doesn’t go away when you go home.



Written by: The Editorial Board 


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