Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Tempest in Tayrona

Ecologically sensitive? An airplane turned into a luxury hotel in Costa Rica's Costa Verde park. (Costa
The polemic over a proposed luxury hotel in Tayrona National Park, near Santa Marta, is a telling episode about environmental priorities and voluntary blindness.

The proposed 7-star hotel struck a lot of nerves: there was the specter of wealthy, insensitive foreigners partying in an ecological paradise; that of wealthy foreigners living the good life in a region where the indigenous people live in poverty; rich, powerful, pampered foreigns ignoring the indigenous peoples' ancient traditions.

'Ecohabs' in Tayrona Park (Photo: Panoramio)
After a media storm, which revealed the fact that several of the presidents' relatives were involved in the deal, the enviroment minister announced that the hotel was 'dead.'

But while the concerns are legitimate, it's also true that the hotel would generate income for local indigenous people and that the park already contains camping areas, private property and cabins, hotels and something called 'eco-habs' for tourists - not all of them ecologically ideal. What's more, illegal farmers have invaded parts of the park and the area is used by narcotraffickers for their exports. And rich tourists might include philanthropists and environmental activists who could protect the area's culture and biodiversity. It's sad but it's true that a Bill Gates or Ted Turner has a much easier time getting the attention of media and high officials than do indigenous leaders.

Tayrona's coastline (Photo: Flickr)
More fundamentally, the debate over this famed park, which extends from the coast into the mountains, distracts from Colombia's broader and much more serious environmental problems. Global warming is melting away the country's glaciers and has brought an epidemic which is wiping out the country's amphibians. Researchers recently reported that the fish stocks off of Colombia's Pacific Coast are near collapse (and that was before illegal fishing boats slaughtered thousands of sharks for their fins in the area). And every year Colombia loses an area of forest ten times the area of Tayrona Park to agricultural expansion, illegal drug crops and expanding urbanization.

El Tiempo reports that 70% of Tayrona Park is claimed by private 'owners.' At least the polemic over the luxury hotel drew attention to the park's troubles, anyway.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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