Responsible tourism in St Lucia

Responsible tourism in Saint Lucia


TRAVEL RIGHT IN SAINT LUCIA

Much like its iconic Pitons, Saint Lucia is not afraid to stand out from the Caribbean crowd. A tropical island ringed with exceptional beaches, it has somehow managed to avoid the fly-and-flop clichés, becoming known instead for its incredible nature, birdwatching, endemic species and hiking trails. While resorts do exist on the island, the strict controls on the height of buildings plus the “Queen’s Chain” – a historical law declaring that all land within 57 metres of the high tide mark belongs to the people of Saint Lucia, who must be granted access – have ensured development is controlled, inclusive and in keeping with the island vibe.

Saint Lucia is rightly celebrated for its efforts to protect its natural resources, and none has been more apparent than the efforts to save the endemic national bird, the Saint Lucia parrot (or Jacquot) – brought back from the brink of extinction following island-wide campaigns and a breeding programme. The beautiful bird remains today a vibrant emblem of Saint Lucia, and draws walkers and nature lovers to the island’s inland forest reserves.



Bananas have been Saint Lucia’s largest source of income since the 1960s, but following new trade agreements the whole Caribbean now faces serious threats from the much cheaper plantations in Central America. Tourism, then, looks set to become Saint Lucia’s main industry, and the big question is whether it can retain its niche, high-end share of the market. Saint Lucia may be a beautiful Caribbean island, but around a fifth of its population lives below the poverty line*, and is extremely vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as well as world events outside of their control; the drop in visitors following 9/11 resulted in bankruptcy for many businesses.

On an island with more than three times as many tourists as residents, all visitors have a lasting impact on Saint Lucia’s environment, its economy and its culture – and with that comes a responsibility to ensure that the impact is a positive one. The majority rely on tourism and it has a positive effect upon them.

*Source: UNDP St Lucia Country Report, pub. 2010

People & culture


HERITAGE TOURISM

Saint Lucia Heritage Tourism


Saint Lucia’s Heritage Tourism Programme was founded in 1999, with the aim of celebrating local culture and putting tourist money into local pockets. This, in turn, supports the conservation of Saint Lucia’s unique heritage; from cocoa plantations and Creole cuisine to vibrant festivals and Amerindian archaeology. Local people are encouraged to become tourism entrepreneurs, and to feel a sense of pride for their Caribbean culture. Creating employment and opportunities in remoter parts of the island also reduces the migration of young and educated people to the north, spreading the wealth to where it is most needed.

What you can do
Perhaps a better question would be – what can’t you?! Saint Lucia’s heritage is varied – with little explored natural attractions and a fascinating and inviting culture.
  • October is Creole Heritage month. Communities across the island are selected to host events, organised by the Folk Research Centre. The highlight of the month is International Creole Day – Jounen Kweyol – celebrated in Creole-speaking nations worldwide.
  • If you’re not visiting in October, you can still discover Creole culture at Fond Latislab Creole Park near Castries – which brings Creole tradition to life. See how the Amerindian staple – cassava bread – is prepared, learn how to cook with macamboo leaves, and discover laborious construction methods used to build houses before power tools existed. Fishing, Chak Chak music and dancing are some of the other Creole traditions to explore.
  • Enjoy the cooling evening breezes in the village of Dennery, where the fresh catch of the day is prepared using traditional techniques in coal pots and barbecues. The weekly seafood fiesta is held each Saturday from 4pm, served to a musical backdrop of soca and zouk.
  • Anse la Raye is a deprived area of Saint Lucia – but steps have been taken provide training and promote this gorgeous village to tourists. Its weekly Friday Night Fish Fry is now hugely popular, heaps of fun – and provides regular income for dozens of vendors from the village. Head to this mini festival for fresh fish and calypso – it kicks off at around 6:30pm.
  • Visit plantations for guided tours by the farmers – you can learn how to husk a coconut, make chocolate and roast coffee.

Wildlife & environment


CONSERVATION IN ACTION

Back from the brink


The saving of the Saint Lucia parrot – whose numbers were once as low as 100 – is a Saint Lucia success story. The island’s only parrot – which also happens to be one of its five endemic species – has gone from being hunted to being a national hero, the national bird and a tourist draw. But many endangered species inhabit Saint Lucia’s forests and surrounding ocean, and their survival will be due to both local awareness campaigns as well as responsible tourism.

One example is the sea turtle. Green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles nest annually on Saint Lucia’s shores, their tiny hatchlings emerging weeks later. Illegal sand mining, the poaching of eggs and of the turtles themselves and being accidentally caught in or injured by fishing nets all threaten these creatures, but the fantastic work of committed conservation groups created in collaboration with the Saint Lucia National Trust is ensuring a safer future. During the 2014 nesting season, Grande Anse Sea Turtle Conservation Network (also known as Des Barras Sea Turtle Watch Project) ensured that no turtles or eggs were poached, and sand mining was drastically reduced.* They raise awareness in local schools and communities, and campaign for harsher penalties on those found to be breaking the law. They also organise nightly patrols to watch over the nesting leatherbacks in the Grande Anse Marine Reserve.

Further inland, there are a number of reserves which protect Saint Lucia’s rainforests and mountains. Edmund and Quilesse Forest Reserves protect thousands of acres of tropical rainforest and are managed by the forestry department, who can issue trekking permits and assign expert local guides. The Millet Bird Sanctuary shelters all five of Saint Lucia’s endemic bird species; all of these protected areas offer walks of varying lengths and difficulty, and the chance to learn about endemic plants and their medicinal uses.

Offshore, the Maria Islands Nature Reserve protects two tiny islands with their endemic reptiles and nesting birds – plus the surrounding reefs. Local fishermen take visitors and guides to the island for fascinating day tours.

*Source: Saint Lucia Times, 2014

What you can do
Visiting any of the reserves or sanctuaries listed above provides income to fund rangers, research and management of these protected areas. Doing so with a local guide also supports local naturalists – and demonstrates the value of nature-based tourism.

Take a step further by donating money to one of the sea turtle conservation initiatives – or take a sea turtle tour with accredited guides, and your money will go back into the initiatives that are helping to protect these creatures. Alternatively, volunteer on the night patrols – counting eggs, marking nests, measuring the turtles and deterring poachers.
James Crockett, from our supplier Jus’ Sail, highly recommends supporting local initiatives: “The Grande Anse Sea Turtle Conservation project is well worth supporting, they are now receiving donor assistance and need visitors. The Mankote Mangrove project near Vieux Fort should be up and running by winter 2015 – and will also be worth supporting.”

Responsible tourism tips


Travel better in SAINT LUCIA

James Crockett, from our supplier Jus’ Sail, highly recommends trekking with a local guide: “Certainly do a hike in the rainforest, with a certified and registered guide, who tend to be excellent, passionate and dedicated.”
  • Keep it local – whether staying in a guesthouse, eating local food, buying Saint Lucian art and crafts or trekking with a local guide. You can also take cooking classes and tour plantations – as well as visiting local festivals and events. Ask around for recommendations once on the island to keep it super local.
  • As with all small islands, there are issues with waste disposal. Never drop litter, be aware of the waste you are creating (bringing reusable bags rather than depending on plastic carrier bags, and returning glass bottles to shops and bars, for example) and take hard to dispose of items – such as batteries – home with you when possible.
  • If diving or snorkelling, never touch fish, coral or turtles, and be careful not to step on the coral. It can take decades to regrow.
  • Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean that breed voraciously and threaten all other reef species. Numbers have doubled annually since 2010, and show no sign of slowing. However, they are tasty – and a number of local restaurants have begun serving them up. This gives fishermen an incentive to catch them – and the more people that order lionfish, the more restaurants are likely to follow suit. This also reduces the crazy amount of fish that is imported from the US – as well as taking pressure off of local species such as lobster and conch.
  • If you’re feeling more intrepid, you may be able to take a diving trip aimed at spearing these creatures; you’ll get trained in how to use your spear, how to avoid the venomous spines – and have the satisfaction of taking these mean predators out of Caribbean waters. Ask at dive shops for details.
  • There are an estimated 25 species of cetaceans in Saint Lucia’s waters. If taking a dolphin or whale watching tour, choose your operator carefully and ask them questions about their commitment to protecting wildlife. They should have a good understanding of dolphin and whale behaviour, keep a good distance from the animals and never chase them or split a pod. They should also never feed them, or crowd round when there are other boats present. See our Dolphin watching and Whale watching travel guides for more tips on how to ensure you’ve booked a responsible tour.
  • Never buy souvenirs made from feathers, shells, turtle shell or other items that have potentially come from endangered species.
Responsible Travel would like to thank Saint Lucia for their sponsorship of this guide

Photo credits: [Jounen Kweyol - heritage: Saint Lucia Tourist Board]
Written by Vicki Brown
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