Summer of 2021 has been intense, despite the current pandemic. While it’s still limiting our movements, it has actually led me to travel close to home in Spain, which is rather a good thing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
We have had to face bad events, like the gigantic forest fires around the Mediterranean and the rest of the world. This has led people to auto-confine, as a way to survive the terrible smoke left by the fires. The heat waves in many cities in Spain have led people to stay home to try to escape from the heat.
Sometimes I wonder: with climate change, if we can’t go sightseeing because it’s too hot, then what will be the point of traveling?
Good events also happened for many of us this summer. July and August is usually the time of the year that we have days off to be able to relax and discover new places (or re-discover places we know), here in the Northern Hemisphere. It doesn’t have to be far away. I’ve been able to enjoy amazing landscapes, witness wildlife, spend time with friends and family, among many other great things that holidays bring, while staying close to my home.
If you enjoy nature, and ecotourism, you will be happy to find out that biodiversity is actually a great ally to help us combat climate change. It’s something we don’t talk enough about. And it became obvious to me when I travelled to a couple of islands of the Mediterranean this summer.
I have been very lucky this summer. I went to a beautiful Balearic island just one hour away from my home, Menorca.
This is the kind of destination you will love as a responsible traveler.
Menorca inhabitants have made an informed decision to attract sustainable tourism. They have understood there is a way to be economically viable and spare the planet at the same time. And the results are amazing.
One day, I walked by a beach in a protected area in the north east called es Grau. The beach wasn’t anything special, but the area was natural, with plenty of birds to observe.
But there was much more than that. To my great surprise, this place was friendly enough for a turtle to wander around! Although it was rather busy with some tourists and kids playing around.
What a wonder of nature! To me nature is the most beautiful gift for us to observe while visiting a new place.
Unfortunately with urbanisation and tourism developments, we haven’t cared enough about the environment. According to scientist Núria Pou, technician with the Center of Forest Science and Technology of Catalonia, who I interviewed and who has co-authored a major report about the loss of biodiversity for my region, we have lost 25% of biodiversity in Catalonia, Spain in the last decade (English version here).
That’s why it’s even more rewarding to come across such a wonderful creature as a turtle.
Barcelona, where I live and only one hour away by plane from Menorca, is also protecting turtles on a beach in my neighborhood.
People come for a few hours to help ensure they are protected while they deposit their eggs on the beach. It happens during the summer months and I witnessed it for the first time in August 2020. Anyone could volunteer and register to help protect the eggs.
I’ve also been to the west coast of Crete this summer, and it’s still pretty natural due to its inaccessibility.
Biodiversity plays an important role on this island, too.
It’s at the source of everything for Crete inhabitants: their food, their drinks, their scenery.
Greece has suffered huge fires this summer, and we need to act to stop this.
It starts with smokers. Many wildfires in the Mediterranean regions start with just a cigarette butt. I have been shocked that – despite so many bad events in Greece – I could find a ton of cigarette butts in the dry fields that could light a fire in minutes! How irresponsible is that?
Biodiversity to the rescue
Now I have some good news. Biodiversity is probably the best solution to many of the threats in the Mediterranean region, and beyond.
When you have a forest that is diverse, even if one type of tree gets ravaged by a fire or an illness, not all the trees will die. Monocultures are the main problem.
Even when an airline or a company claims to offset your carbon footprint, make sure the project they invest in is not simply planting the same types of trees regardless of the region, and in massive amounts.
Projects need to mimic nature, and nature is diverse. The more diverse it is, the better chance to resist fires.
That’s the beauty of nature: diversity.
Biodiversity also provides food for locals (and travellers!)
Crete has a lot of goats and sheep, and you will see that their gastronomy is heavily based on animal based products, especially cheese, cooked in so many different ways. It’s delicious!
They also have olives, which is the base of Mediterranean cuisine.
Be ready for a great experience if you go to both Menorca and Crete; their food is simply delicious and healthy at the same time.
Biodiversity also helps fight heat waves in many different ways: it protects water resources, contributes to stabilizing the climate, and protects different plant species species.
It became obvious to me when I visited the botanical park of Chania in Crete. This is a great place to witness the great biodiversity of the region, and while it was 37ºC on the beach and even more in the city of Chania, I’m pretty sure we had at least 2 or 3ºC less in the park.
The park is surrounded by plants, trees, and wildlife, and even water sources like lakes and rivers. Biodiversity means plenty of colourful and scented flowers to observe. It also means plenty of food. We actually ended our 2 hour hike with a delicious meal at the park’s restaurant, which uses fruits, plants and flowers from the garden. It was delicious and different from what I usually eat.
We also saw many peacocks, which is quite unusual to see in other areas of the Mediterranean.
Trees provide shade and make the hike more tolerable.
They are also extremely important during the rainy season and they help absorb water. That’s why many cities are flooded. It’s time for city mayors around the world to understand that trees are not a luxury but a necessity for the cities around the world with the biggest challenges we’ll have to face this century due to climate change.
Biodiversity in the sea
Both Crete and Menorca have amazing fish species in the sea.
Just by going snorkeling, you can admire fish of all different colours. In Menorca there are many “calas” (bays or creeks) where you can admire them.
I especially recommend Cala Macarelleta in the south. It’s not for nothing that the island was awarded in 1993 “Biosphere Reserve”. Nature is preserved and that’s why you will be able to observe so many beautiful fish when you go swimming there.
I didn’t even need to swim sometimes; the water was so crystal clear that I could see them swimming around me!
During my interview with Nuria, she was also warning that losing 25% of biodiversity in the past decade is actually an average, but the impact on the sea is much more important. Why? Because of human activities. It’s important to avoid building anything closer than 1 kilometer from the beach. Even motorized water sports are dangerous for the Posidonia (Neptune grass).
That’s the great thing that is being respected mostly in Menorca.
And that’s probably why biodiversity is still strong there.
Unfortunately, when I went to Crete, there was a beautiful beach called Elafonissi that is famous worldwide because of its pink sand. I went there in 2007, and it was already crowded at the time. But this year in 2021, it was worse. Not only do they not limit the number of tourists with crowded parkings of cars and coaches, but they have also built many bars and restaurants by the beach. As a result, there’s almost nothing left of the pink sand…
We need to protect this fragile ecosystem. But the good news is, I’ve talked to many locals in Crete and in other regions of the Mediterranean, and all of them have now realized how bad the consequences are. They are angry with their local government and I believe they are ready to make things change.
It’s also up to us to avoid those places, especially during the high season. And even if we go there, not engage in any activity that could make things worse.
If you want to know more about biodiversity, you can watch the summary of my interview with Núria Pou, technician with the Center of Forest Science and Technology of Catalonia and technical coordinator of the report of the State of Nature in Catalonia 2020, about this very topic.
Protecting biodiversity means less fires, more fishes in the sea, more productive soils. Biodiversity is at stake, and it’s time we change our habits collectively and take this issue seriously.
And as a responsible traveller, know that respecting the planet and wildlife is a great way to protect biodiversity as well. So keep travelling the eco-friendly way! And do not hesitate to encourage people around you to do the same.
And you, what’s your favourite “biodiversity-friendly” destination? Let us know in the comments.
About the Author
Edith Vandenberghe is a French travel counsellor and content writer, living in Spain and with roots in Madagascar. Her bilingual blog focuses on an eco-friendly lifestyle, including travel, wellness and inclusion.
All images by the author.