We've rounded up three sustainable beaches you can visit responsibly
Remember travel? We sure do. Yet as we think about planning to explore our incredible planet again—either within our provinces and states, or abroad as borders slowly reopen and restrictions lift internationally—sustainability is at the forefront of our minds (and if it’s not, it should be). As the cool weather sets in, sunny beach days are top of mind. But how can we travel to our favourite beaches sustainably?
According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, tourism is responsible for eight percent of total global emissions, actively contributing to global warming. The year 2020 marked a new decade for our planet, the beginning of a 10-year window of opportunity to make impactful changes to avoid potentially irreversible damage from climate change.
Now more than ever, travelling sustainably is not just a fad or something to consider—it’s essential. Human activity is the dominant influence on the climate and our environment. And if we’ve learned anything from this global pandemic, it’s that the impact travel has on the planet is tangible—air travel, over-tourism, big ship cruising—are all taking a massive toll. Since access to air and boat travel has been limited, the canals of Venice have filled with sea life as cruise ships frequent the waters less, and the smog over parts of China has lifted, as seen from space.
While staying close to home might be the best thing for the environment—most of us won’t ever stop travelling. If anything, being forced to stay home and explore from the comfort of our couches has created an even greater inclination to see the world. Plus, sustainability isn’t only about carbon emissions, we also need to consider the economy. Tourism is a huge contributor to many countries’ economies. The travel industry accounted for 10 percent of the total global GDP in 2019 and was worth $9 trillion according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. So where should we travel to catch some rays sustainably?
Many coastal and island nations—which usually have few natural resources beyond their beaches and beautiful views—rely heavily on tourism. They are also the most susceptible to climate change and are vulnerable to things like extreme weather, coral bleaching and soil salinization. In places like the Maldives, tourism contributes to more than a third of the GDP. In Belize, it’s 15 percent; in Malta 15 percent; in Fiji 14 percent; and in Iceland 8.6 percent. According to Statista, Mexico is the most vulnerable of the world's largest economies with 15.5 percent of its GDP relying on the travel and tourism industry. Mexico is closely followed by Spain and Italy who have opened their borders to EU countries and a select list of countries. Sicily is trying to lure tourists by offering to pay for flights. Cancun has a campaign offering two free nights of accommodation for every two nights paid.
Take a look at which countries were hit hardest and will benefit most from your tourism dollars...
1. Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Mexico
Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the world’s aquarium—and rightfully so. The pristine water is teeming with life. Isla Espiritu Santo—a Natural Protected Area and UNESCO World Heritage Site—lies just off the coast of La Paz, in Baja California, Mexico. With towering cliffs and volcanic rock formations, it’s where the desert meets the sea.
Hop aboard a day trip with OnBoard Baja to discover some of the most pristine, untouched beaches in the region. Ask them to take you to El Mesteño—a secluded beach where the water is crystal clear and teal, like a jewel. The contrast of cactus-covered desert next to the colourful sea is unparalleled, and it pairs perfectly with the lunch they’ll prepare of freshly made fish and shrimp ceviche and tostadas.
Isla Espiritu Santo is full of sustainable wildlife experiences, including swimming with playful sea lions at and snorkeling alongside timid—yet extraordinarily fast—whale sharks, both of which are highly regulated and controlled. Onboard makes a huge effort to protect the wildlife and environment—putting the whales before the guests.
On the way to Isla Espiritu Santo, our boat was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of long-beaked common dolphins—leaping out and diving into the glistening sea, sparkling under the warm Baja sunshine in every single direction. There are moments in life that are pure magic and remind you of the magic of our planet, and the ocean we need to protect.Don’t want to leave? You can actually camp on the island with Todos Santos Eco Adventures at Camp Cecil, located on one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with glamping tents complete with king beds, soft linens, lanterns, bedside tables. Kayaking, snorkelling, hiking, and swimming are quite literally at your doorstep.
2. Halfmoon Caye, Belize
You’ve probably heard of the Great Blue Hole—a bucket-list spot for any in-the-know diver. The famous sinkhole, that when viewed from above is astonishing shades of blue. Filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and resident bull sharks, alongside the occasional hammerhead if you’re lucky. And the reef attached? It’s called Lighthouse Reef, and on its southwest corner, you’ll find Halfmoon Caye Natural Monument—a 45-acre enchanting crescent-shaped island with incredible array of life and some of the best diving in Belize.
Part of the Belize Barrier Reef System (the world’s second largest), at the Aquarium and Half Moon Wall dive sites, you’ll be surrounded by eagle rays charming with their intricate pattern and giant wingspan, stingrays, reef sharks and nurse sharks. On land, giant hermit crabs scurry away as you walk by, and six-foot-long iguanas stroll across the narrow trail that runs around the island, and it’s also the nesting site for the rare red-footed booby bird (4000+ of them), and frigate birds who flash their large red necks to attract their mates. It’s the kind of place you’d imagine David Attenborough narrating as you turn each corner, discovering a new creature lurking.Most people take a day trip to Halfmoon Caye as an add-on to their trip to the Blue Hole. You can camp on the protected lagoon fringed with white sandy beaches, which are nesting grounds for all three of Belize’s species of endangered sea turtles. Managed by the Belize Audubon Society, camping here supports conservation initiatives in this protected area, including infrastructure, research, education and enforcement of animal welfare practices. If glamping is more your style, book a night at Halfmoon Caye Basecamp complete with seaside canvas-walled tent cabanas that have beds, nightstands, and lighting, and dinner served in a common area prepared by Belizean chefs—it doesn’t get more magical.From Ramon’s Village Resort Dive Shop, you can take a day trip with a three-tank dive (or just snorkel if that’s more your speed), leaving bright and early at 5 a.m. from the dock out front of the resort, with great snacks, lunch cooked by your divemaster, and stops at the blue hole, lighthouse reef and of course, Halfmoon Caye.
3. Castaway Island, Fiji
The perfect blend of luxury and sustainability, Castaway Island is surrounded by coral reef, untouched jungle, and the friendliest smiles you might ever find on the planet. Known as “Qalito” to locals, the island—a speck in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean—is surrounded by white sand beaches, lush jungle, and a trail you can take to the island’s highest point to take it all in from above.
The reef surrounding Castaway is threatened by human activities, including pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, and global climate change. In partnership with the Mamanuca Environment Society, the Outrigger hotel has an ongoing commitment to preserve and protect its pristine marine environment with its OZONE program. Guests can take part in coral planting activities, using a sustainable epoxy glue to reattach living coral to the reef. The small pieces eventually grow to become huge colonies of coral.Steps from Castaway Island’s beachfront bures, the ocean teems with life—tiny stingrays nestle into the sand and bright blue starfish cling to the shallowest parts of the reef. The reef around Castaway Island is protected by a tabu (pronounced tam-bu), a traditional ban on fishing made in agreement with the chief of the neighbouring islands. Spinner dolphins leap, and below the surface, rainbow-coloured wrasse, moray eel, giant sea bass, urchins, and even giant clams fill the ocean surrounding. Take out a paddleboard, paddle a kayak and take it all in. If diving is your thing, the team at Castaway has a combined 100-plus years of experience in the surrounding waters and includes a native spear fisherman from nearby Tavua Island, and instructors who live off the water and its bounty. They know the island like the back of their hand.