HUMANS…..WE HAVE A PROBLEM!! Why the Whale on the beach is a threat to our precious culture and heritage.

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Unrestricted tourism growth is set to have a lasting and devastating impact on many of the world’s more fragile communities if checks and balances are not put in place to cap numbers before it’s too late. If this sounds dramatic... it’s because it is.

All too often the realisation that something needs to be done about problems caused by humanity’s propensity to overstep the mark comes either too late or when the damage caused becomes impossible to disguise. It’s not that we don’t see it coming. It’s that we choose to ignore it or are too preoccupied to consider doing anything about it. 

In today’s KPI economy, profits and self-interest tend to take precedence over doing what’s right. Incentives and bonuses can become the drivers of change - but only if there’s something in it for me. This tried, tested and proven attitude is a recipe for disaster, but one we don’t seem to have any interest in learning from.

Reports of a dead sperm whale washed ashore at an Indonesian national park this week is a case in point. It’s true that whales and other sea creatures are found dead on beaches all over the planet. The difference here was this whale had 165 separate pieces of plastic, weighing almost six kilos, in its stomach. That’s equivalent to the weight of the one permitted item of cabin baggage allowed on a commercial airlines…and we all know how much that weighs.

Thankfully, the world is starting to wake up to the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. News reports and social media exposure are finally shaming us into doing something about this problem. But we’ve known about it for almost 50 years! In fact, concerns were first raised back in the 1960s when annual plastic production was around 50 million metric tons. That amount had grown to more than 300 million metric tons by 2014, according to ‘Annual Review of Marine Science’. This figure is set to treble in the next decade. So, you can expect marine creatures to be washing up on a beach near you anytime soon. 

As we all know, the issue of creature extinction is major problem for the world and it has profound implications for us all. If our eco-systems collapse, this is an existential threat to our species as well.  What is less discussed is the extinction of humanity’s morals and the implications this will have on our futures. 

Indeed, it is a well-established human trait that we tend to prioritise the short term over the long term. Despite the evidence that long term plans, actually make short term outcomes more likely to be sustainable over time.  

This ‘opportunity myopia’ attitudes destined to threaten our Culture, Heritage, Ancestry and Beliefs to such a degree that we reach, and then pass, the point of no return.

Over-tourism, and that same old leaning towards putting immediate gratification above all else, could very well see some societies disappear for ever or at least dismantled to the point that they become unrecognisable.  

Our culture should be viewed as our DNA, our heritage and our genes. These key aspects of human history and ancestry are what make us unique as people. They are the invisible skin we wear that tells other who we are and what make you…YOU. It cannot be planted or grown. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. And ironically, it kills the reasons that people wanted to visit in the first place.  We need to wise up NOW to what’s happening and take effective steps to fix this problem before it’s too late. 

Last year the world produced 1.3 billion international tourists, with up to 69% of those surveyed online by review tracker seeking new adventures such as unique and authentic cultural experiences. 

Authentic! Now that’s a word thrown around these days with little regard for its true meaning. If you think about it, that figure of 1.3 billion equates to the entire population of India or twice thepopulation of Europe. Just think about that for a moment. Then appreciate that this figure is set to grow to more than 1.8 billion by 2030, according to the UNWTO. 

At this point we need to grasp that the world’s unique cultures, and the history and heritage that makes us who we are as global citizens, will simply not cope with 50 years of being ignored. Realistically, we have less than five years to take actionbefore major cracks appear in the fabric of our culture and heritage.

It’s time to come to our senses and start doing something ‘together’ to fix it.

Here’s a list of what was found in the sperm whale’s belly yesterday. 

  • Hard plastic (19 pieces, 140g)

  • Plastic bottles (4 pieces, 150g)

  • Plastic bags (25 pieces, 260g)

  • Flip-flops (Thongs in Australia) (2 pieces, 270g)

  • Pieces of plastic string or rope (3.26kg) 

  • Plastic cups (115 pieces, 750g)

I wonder what will be on the list when we start to witness the world’ most fragile communities, and the cultures they represent, figuratively washed up on shore - having been choked to death by our short-termist attitudes and total disregard for the future safety and security of our planet?

At WTACH we have a unique vision: that tourism, visitors, host populations and cultural/heritage institutions can come together to make a world that is fully sustainable: economically, environmentally and emotionally. We want to be the solution, but we need to start by seeing the probably and making it a priority.