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Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, and its reach is extending into the most remote places—for good and for bad. Increased tourism without thoughtful planning can irreparably damage sensitive natural areas, threaten ecosystems, and negatively affect unique local cultures. At the same time, travel to the world’s most breathtaking locations and interaction with its diverse animal life can also educate people and spark much-needed conservation efforts. That’s what ecotourism hopes to achieve.

Ecotourism combines breathtaking locations and rewarding experiences through work to address environmental concerns, support local conservation efforts, and study endangered wildlife—all while minimizing visitor impact on fragile environments. Ecolodging is a crucial part of this growing industry. Accommodations should be built with sustainable materials and to reduce waste. And yes, this might mean using a compost toilet!

Companies like EarthWatch Institute offer a variety of expeditions based on your interests: wildlife and ecosystems, climate change, archaeology and culture, and ocean health. You could help protect sea turtles from poachers on the beaches of Costa Rica. You could aid dolphin conservation efforts in Greece. Or perhaps study climate change on the Artic fringe, repair trails in our national parks, or preserve wild Cheetahs in Africa.

In addition to these interest-based trips, ecotourism also includes agritourism, community development, and eco trekking. Agritourism is a great way to see where food comes from, learn more about agricultural life, and improve the economic development of small farms. Community development focuses on inviting visitors to stay with local families to not only learn daily customs and traditions, but to also provide an alternative revenue stream, reducing the need to rely on unsustainable economic support, like resource extraction. Eco trekking puts travelers in the heart of nature—think white water rafting, rock climbing, caving, and bird-watching—to learn about environmental threats and practice preservation techniques.

Whether you’re only driving a few states over to visit a national park, or flying half-way round the world to see the rainforest, you have the opportunity to make a lasting difference when you participate in ecotourism.

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