South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project – Support through visitor education

South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project – Support through visitor education

For the last two centuries seabird colonies on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia have been devastated by invasive rats and mice introduced by sealers and whalers. In the absence of sufficient government funding to tackle the issue, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT, a UK charity) and the Friends of South Georgia Island (FSGI, a US non-profit) have been working with vessel operators to educate and enlist the support of the 6000-7000 visitors they bring to South Georgia each year. Alison Neil from the SGHT is answering our questions why the project is a good LT&C example:

Tourists who are privileged to travel to the remote parts of the globe such as South Georgia, and to experience the magnificent wildlife found in these places, can carry an important environmental message home. Many island species are under attack because of non-native invasive species introduced by man. People have a collective responsibility to repair the mistakes of the past and better protect the environment in the future, but members of the public often only become aware of environmental threats in remote places like South Georgia when they travel there.

Visitors to South Georgia fall in love with the island and want to help protect it and its wildlife. The Government of South Georgia has insufficient funding to tackle the big conservation challenges that the island faces, which is why the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) and the Friends of South Georgia Island (FOSGI) organisations were established.

Tourists welcome the opportunity to financially support environmental initiatives and the charities provide a mechanism for them to do so. Visitors are told about the conservation work when the team employed by the SGHT to run the Grytviken Museum (the island’s only tourist facility) comes on board their cruise ship, and when they visit the museum itself. The South Georgia Government also provides an educational briefing video to the cruise ships which every passenger must watch, and which explains the importance of biosecurity measures for visitors. Over the last few tourist seasons, the fundraising efforts in South Georgia have generated £200K / USD 320K per Antarctic season. This funding is vital to the continuation of the Habitat Restoration project.

SGHT and FOSGI are forging ever closer links with the vessel operators as the project progresses, providing them with tools such as DVD footage of the conservation work that will entertain as well as inform visitors. The next step in the relationship is likely to combine tourism and fundraising even more closely by organising a cruise for potential and existing major donors to visit the island and be inspired first-hand by the wildlife.

Charities should be encouraged to work with tourism companies to engage their clients. Tourists actually want to make a positive impact on the places that they visit, so tourism professionals generally welcome initiatives to educate and enlighten their customers about the places they visit. It enhances their experience and gives them a sense of ownership and investment in the place visited, which translates into happy customers, and more often than not, return visits.