The object of their attention was a white hawk perched upon a bamboo stalk. The foreigners were just two of the hundreds of visitors to TT each year who come for the sole purpose of – birdwatching or birding.
Asa Wright Nature Centre guide, David Rampersad, on tour with the two British visitors on last week Monday morning in Cumuto, noted that the period from November to April sees a large number of visitors to our shores for bird watching. This form of nature watching – observing and identifying these winged creatures in their natural environment – has become a viable form of ecotourism and has added to the tourism revenue of many countries.
In an article in the Environmental Conservation Journal, Cagan Sekercioglu of Stanford University wrote of the potential birdwatching has for increasing revenue in local communities: “Birdwatchers form the largest group of ecotourists, and are, on average, well-educated, wealthy and committed.” They spend sizeable sums of money on their hobby, in the form of such things as travel, accommodation and equipment.
Standing in the hot morning sun in Cumuto, the sophistication in equipment used by the birders and their guides, not to mention that the visitors travelled all the way from the UK just to spend time watching different species of birds, is evidence of Sekercioglu’s findings.
Birdwatchers invest significantly in their hobby and this spending can help boost revenues for countries capable of attracting birdwatchers, especially those oil-dependent countries, such as ours, that need to find alternative sources of revenue given the continued plummeting of oil prices. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has also long commented on the economic benefits of this activity. A few years ago, ahead of World Migratory Bird Day, acting executive secretary of the Conservation of Migratory Species, wrote about such benefits in a media release: “Birding plays a significant and growing part in the tourism industry, and creates direct and indirect benefits for many countries and communities, also amongst developing countries, ” said UNEP’s secretary Elizabeth Mrema.
For years, places like the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Mount St Benedict have been catering to those who enjoy witnessing the colourful plumage, melodic sounds and interesting behaviour of the many bird species on the island. Managers at these eco-friendly residences have long since recognised both the economic and conservation value of bird watching. It is one form of nature watching where enthusiasts can get close-up views of animals without disturbing them or their natural habitats. Long-range scopes, binoculars and digital cameras with powerful telephoto lenses make this possible. Thus, bird watchers, are also “ideal ecotourists for community-based conservation,” wrote Sekercioglu of Stanford University.
Given the revenue generation and conservation benefits of birdwatching, perhaps TT can look to this form of ecotourism to help strengthen the country’s tourism industry. Government and even private sector can try to build on the solid foundation already laid by such places like Asa Wright Nature Centre to boost birdwatching expeditions to our country into a strong and sustainable form of revenue generation.