Tourism Effects on Water in the Caribbean

Water and Tourism: The Impact of Tourism on Water

Most tourist recreational activities are done around water bodies, especially on beaches of oceans, seas, or rivers. Generally, the tourism industry overuses water resources for personal use, golf courses, and hotels. This overuse leads to more significant water wastage, shortage, and degradation (Peterson, 2020). In many islands, as is the case for the Caribbean, the issue of water quality is particularly significant. Tourism into islands is at the peak during the hot seasons, and tourists consume more water, which leads to its scarcity. Moreover, the construction of hotels near freshwater sources also deteriorates the situation since these establishments require a large amount of water. Activities such as swimming and the use of cruise ships also pollute water bodies, causing water dilapidation and shortage. For example, in the Caribbean, cruise ships produce an estimated 71,000 tons of wastewater every year (Burleigh, 2020). Therefore, the most notable impact of tourism on the water is causing scarcity, degradation, and waste.

How Tourism’s Overuse of Water Affects the Caribbean Region

Over-tourism in the Caribbean region has led to the overuse of water for various recreational activities and waste. Tourists often travel to this destination because of the extravagant lifestyle options the government offers them. One of the discouraging statistics is that, on average, a resident uses a third of the total amount of water compared to a tourist (Walker, Lee and Li, 2021). This overuse and misuse are likely to pose a significant developmental growth effect on the Caribbean region since water is a critical resource. The freshwater has been over-exploited, which has already resulted in a number of effects on the region both directly and indirectly. One of them is the deteriorated quality of groundwater. For example, recreational activities such as swimming contaminate the water, reducing its quality, and making the surrounding residents develop health complications from using contaminated water. Cannonier and Burke (2019) argue that tourism increases the demand for water and those who have settled around the coastline experience huge water deficits during the peak tourism seasons. Thus, the overuse of water in the Caribbean region leads to a degraded water quality, which adversely affects the nearby populations.

The second impact is marine pollution due to the litter that the tourists dump into the water bodies. For example, tourism in the Caribbean adversely affects the region’s coral reefs significantly (McLeod and Croes, 2018). In addition, tourists anchor in cruise boats and ships, which release waste directly into the seas, contributing to the depletion of coral reefs. On a single trip, a large cruise ship releases an estimated 125 litres and 210,000 gallons of toxic chemicals and sewage, respectively, into the sea (McLeod and Croes, 2018). However, there has been an attempt to prevent this pollution; for example, governments in the Caribbean region have formulated conservation policies to prevent overuse. Additionally, scuba diving is one of the leading tourist activities in the Caribbean region, and it increases the possibility of decreasing coral reefs, which adversely affects the protection of the coastline. Therefore, the waste dumped into water bodies by tourist activities causes marine pollution.

Moreover, the overexploitation of water by tourism causes the groundwater level to be lower than recommended. Overusing water by tourists leads to decreased pressure in the aquifers since there is over-extraction of water from underground. According to Spencer (2019), this extravagant water use makes it almost impossible for the groundwater reserves to be replenished. This depletion causes infiltration of seawater in areas of contact, and the quality of the water is adversely affected. The increase in the dissolved salts’ concentration in this contaminated water negatively influences rural and urban agricultural practices since it is no longer suitable for farming. Therefore, livelihoods are adversely affected since their agricultural produce is lowered. Spencer (2019) adds that the available agricultural products are overpriced, exposing many people in the region to hunger. Thus, the overuse of water for tourism in the Caribbean region lowers the groundwater level, causing infiltration, and adversely affecting agricultural practices in urban and interior areas.

Climate Change in the Caribbean

The Caribbean is highly prone to the effects of climate change. First, severe tropical storms and hurricanes, due to global warming, hit this region. For example, every three years, Jamaica is affected by a hurricane or a tropical storm which is a rise in the frequency of the tragedy from 9 years, while the length of the dry season has been increasing (Scobie, 2019). This extension also causes a decrease in the amount and frequency of rains, reducing water supply to communities, businesses, and homes. Sheller (2020) adds that coastal flooding due to a rise in sea levels is also becoming a norm, which leads to underground water resources’ pollution. Additionally, there is an increased possibility of storm surges and flashfloods, increasing water sediments into freshwaters, adversely affecting coastal communities and structures (McLeod and Croes, 2018). Therefore, in the Caribbean region, climate change has had adverse effects on the area.

Over-Tourism in the Caribbean

Recently, the Caribbean region has become one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. The booming of tourism in the island has made the region highly dependant on the sector, contributing to around 13% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) until the COVID-19 pandemic (Cannonier and Burke, 2019). Moreover, in this region, one of the most resource-intense industries is tourism, which accounts for up to 12% of capital investments (Peterson, 2020). These are some of the factors which make this region to be overdrive toward specializing in tourism.

Each hot season or during holidays, several tourists from many parts of the world travel to this island to spend their time there and enjoy the many soothing benefits this area offers. This over-tourism has caused many adverse effects to the water, which is overexploited. It also causes pollution and other negative influences on the communities living near the coastline, directly and indirectly. Over-tourism in the region has surged in the past two decades because governments have not regulated the industry well (Peterson, 2020). Therefore, although traditionally, tourism has been linked to economic growth, overly relying on it may have unprecedented adverse externalities; such is the case in the Caribbean region.

High Demand of Fresh Water by Tourists in the Caribbean

There is a high demand for fresh water in the Caribbean because much of the groundwater has either been polluted or mixed with infiltrating saltwater. Overuse has also caused a sharp deficit in the quality and quantity of freshwater. Moreover, due to the extended dry seasons in the region, there has been a 15% decrease in the mean daily precipitation even during the wet seasons (Spencer, 2019). This decline in the mean annual rainfall poses a significant risk to water resources, especially when coupled with the high temperatures resulting from global warming in the region. Thus, groundwater replenishment and freshwater flows have reduced dramatically; stream flow has already declined significantly in major parts of the island slates.

There are considerable gaps between the demand and supply of freshwater in the Caribbean region, and tourism also adds to this prevalent demand for freshwater, a scenario that may end in a crisis. For example, since 2000, most parts of the Caribbean region have experienced acute water deficits, except Belize and Guyana, with adequate water throughout the year, although, unfortunately, they experience flooding more often (Spencer, 2019). Paradoxically, tourists demand fresh water, yet they release considerable amounts of solid and liquid waste into the sea. This high demand has made the government incur extra costs to invest in water distribution systems.

How Tourism Can Help Address and Improve the Quality of Water in the Caribbean Region

Ecotourism has been identified as the primary way of addressing the issue of water quality in the Caribbean, leading to sustainable development. There is much pressure on the region’s governments to close the gap of the high demand for freshwater for tourists and help prevent the residents from acute shortages. The tourism sector can formulate policies to reduce pollution and other forms of water contamination resulting from tourist activities (Walker, Lee and Li, 2021). These policies can be incorporated into a sustainable development vision for the region through ecotourism.

Vital data is required to quantify the effect of tourism on water quality in the Caribbean region. The government can use sustainability indicators to devise ways of improving the quality of water (Srinivasan et al., 2017). These policies should not sound discouraging to scare tourists away. According to Walker, Lee and Li (2021), this sustainable development vision’s practicability should be measured by its effects on socioeconomic and biophysical environments. Therefore, in partnership with the government and investors in the industry, the tourism sector can develop a unified policy aimed at reducing the stress that tourism puts on the water quality and quantity, which in turn affects its demand and supply.

Moreover, there is a need for investors in the tourism sector to develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) as far as sustainability is concerned. In the Caribbean region, tourism management has not been an issue of particular concern because the various territories have not received this suggestion with positive acclaim (Edgell, 2016). Many non-governmental organizations have established eco-hotels in this region. One way to ensure CSR among these investors is to partner with the government and agree to pertain to the improvement of the quality of water through the prevention of any form of water pollution. Additionally, before being given the certification to invest in the tourism sector, all investors can be informed about the qualitative measures to follow and the consequences of failure to do so.

The repercussions of violating the environmental protection policies should range from the business permit’s withdrawal to dire ones, such as fines and prison sentences. These measures’ success hugely depends on the level of collaboration between the government and non-governmental organizations (Srinivasan et al., 2017). Therefore, holding the investors of the tourism sector accountable, through their corporate social responsibility, can help reduce water pollution resulting from tourist activities; but the partnership between the government and investors is vital.

Reference List

Burleigh, N. (2020) The Caribbean dilemma. Web.

Cannonier, C. and Burke, M.G. (2019) ‘The economic growth impact of tourism in Small Island Developing States—evidence from the Caribbean’, Tourism Economics, 25(1), pp. 85–108.

Edgell, D.L. (2016). Managing sustainable tourism: A legacy for the future. Brixham, UK: Routledge.

McLeod, M. and Croes, R.R. (2018) Tourism management in warm-water island destinations. Oxfordshire, UK: CABI.

Peterson, R. (2020) ‘Over the Caribbean top: community well-being and over-tourism in small island tourism economies’, International Journal of Community Well-Being. Web.

Scobie, M. (2019). Global environmental governance and small states: architectures and agency in the Caribbean. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Sheller, M. (2020). Reconstructing tourism in the Caribbean: connecting pandemic recovery, climate resilience and sustainable tourism through mobility justice. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, pp. 1-14.

Spencer, A. (2019) Travel and tourism in the Caribbean: challenges and opportunities for small island developing states. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Srinivasan, M. et al. (2017) Unleashing growth and strengthening resilience in the Caribbean. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund.

Walker, T. B., Lee, T. J. and Li, X. (2021) ‘Sustainable development for small island tourism: developing slow tourism in the Caribbean’, Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 38(1), pp. 1-15.

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