Adopting an eco-friendly mindset
During your holidays, do you like to travel and discover new horizons? In France and abroad, there are a number of precautions you should take to preserve natural areas and the local fauna and flora. Follow our guide…
Become an eco-tourist
According to the World Tourism Organisation, the number of travellers passed one billion in 2014 and will continue to rise. This makes it all the more important for stakeholders to promote sustainable tourism development that safeguards the cultural and natural resources of the regions involved, and for each individual to adopt responsible behaviours that generate a positive impact for local populations and leave a minimal carbon footprint. You don't have to go far to get a change of scenery! Opt for green tourism wherever possible, and try to take the train rather than pollution-heavy means of travel such as cars, planes or ferries. You can walk, pedal, or even hoist a sail – the world’s your oyster!
Jet skis, outboard motor boats, water skiing, etc. generate pollution and noise. Jogging, beach volleyball, surfing, kite-surfing, windsurfing, paddle-boarding, sailing and fishing are just as fun, but involve much less environmental impact and more physical exertion. Avoid golf in arid countries: watering a golf course is equivalent to the water consumption of thousands of local people. For fishing enthusiasts, make sure you respect local catch size limits, quantities and permitted equipment.
Avoid high-risk purchases
Along with the destruction of natural environments, the over-exploitation of wild species is a major contributor to the erosion of biodiversity – but you have a part to play! Whether you’re within the European Union or beyond its borders, start by asking the right questions about your destination in order to help preserve it. In order to ensure you’re not doing anything ill-advised, consult the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). You should of course avoid buying endangered animals or plants, but be just as wary of derived products. These might be made from protected natural materials, and you will be hard pressed to identify turtle shell, snake skin, sperm whale bone, lion's tooth or ivory once it has been transformed into a wallet, musical instrument, pendant or other creation. If in doubt, don’t buy anything, and never buy from an unlicensed market or street vendor.
What is the CITES?
Since 1 July 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as the Washington Convention (or under the acronym CITES) has set regulations for transporting some 35,000 animal and plant species across national borders. It has been signed by 169 countries, and is the subject of specific regulations with regard to its application within the European Union.
Do not take anything from the wild
Picking a flower, collecting a shell, catching an animal, taking coral, etc. all carry some measure of risk. Here again, you may be doing something illegal, as well as threatening biodiversity not only in the immediate locale but also in the country you travel back to. While stories about snakes or big cats escaping from homes tend to make the headlines, animals that generate less public interest – monkeys, parrots, chameleons, turtles, etc. – are also highly sought after, and their importation can also be dangerous: to their own lives, of course, as there is no guarantee that they will be able to survive outside their native environment, but also for your region, as they may eventually become invasive species. The best souvenirs will be your photos, so share them liberally with your friends and family!
Preserving natural areas
Would you like to do some exploring? Don’t deprive yourself of this experience by any means, but be sure to observe the regulations for natural areas and leave nature as you found it. Picking up sand or moving stones is not a good idea. Sand dunes and foreshores are fragile environments, as are mountains! Tracks formed by people repeatedly straying off marked or authorised paths contribute to their erosion and cause gullies to form after rainfall, and remove plant life by uprooting plants from the soil. If you’re gathering seafood by hand, put any rocks you lift up back in exactly the same place, and facing the same direction. Opt for dedicated camping grounds rather than wild camping, use a gas stove for cooking rather than a fire, and if you must build a fire, use dead wood found on the ground as fuel, making sure you pick it up from several different places, as it plays a role in the natural ecosystem. Above all, check that the fire is completely extinguished before you leave in order to avoid causing a wildfire.
What solar protection should I use?
While it is essential to protect yourself from UV rays, it is also important to choose the right protection. Every year, tons of sunscreen products are dumped into the sea. Most of them contain chemicals that are far from neutral for your health and the environment. Opt for products that carry a label or certification (organic whenever possible), and milks that do not dissolve in water. In coastal areas, the oil and cream form a screen on the water’s surface that slows down the photosynthesis of underwater plants.
Look, but don't touch
When it comes to animals, a number of rules apply: don't touch them, don't feed them and don't eat them, at least not if they are an endangered species or pose a risk to your health. Try to be as unintrusive as possible so as not to disturb them. Certain seemingly harmless actions are not without consequence. Just stroking an animal can change the smell that enables a female to recognise her young, causing her to reject it. Teasing a fish into a hiding place generates such stress that it may leave its offspring at the mercy of predators. A few bits of bread offered to a woodchuck can cause digestive problems that prevent it from building up its reserves for the winter. Feeding wild species changes their natural behaviour, and can favour more invasive species such as rats or gulls, and make them aggressive. To observe animals without making them feel threatened, nothing beats a pair of binoculars or a camera. Always keep at a safe distance, be inconspicuous and don’t stalk them when they are hiding!
Coral in danger
Taking or damaging a piece of coral erases something that nature took years to build: just a 10 cm branch takes a year to form, so imagine how long it takes to build a reef! Coral is highly threatened by ocean acidification caused by global warming and man-made pollution. Make sure you don’t damage it when dropping anchor. Divers are advised to control their buoyancy, to swim slowly and to use short-blade fins.
Embrace zero waste
Even the most remote places now bear the traces of human presence. So, what can you do to ensure you leave no trace behind? Take as little packaging and as few disposable products with you as possible, and once at your destination don’t leave them behind or bury them. Whether in sand or snow they’ll end up coming back to the surface, washed up by a wave or freed from the ice by the sun. Bear in mind that at high altitude or on a glacier, nothing degrades! Cigarette butts and other waste thrown into the sea can be ingested by animals. A plastic bag can be fatal to a turtle if it mistakes it for a jellyfish! No litter left on the side of a road will magically disappear. If not transported to a landfill, incinerator or recycling system, they may end up in the open air, on the outskirts of a village, or in front of its houses. It takes three months for a tissue to decompose, one to two years for a cigarette butt, five years for chewing gum, eighty to one hundred years for an aluminium can and one thousand years for plastic bottles! Also, be mindful of modern sanitary pads. With their synthetic fibres and retention gels, they are not at all suitable for composting. Human excrement is not without impact either – it can contaminate waterways, spreading parasites or diseases such as hepatitis or typhoid.
Do you practice the right habits? Find out about hotels before you book your stay, and opt for the ones that take environmentally friendly measures. In some countries, water is scarce and electricity a luxury. Turning off lights, avoiding leaving appliances on standby, and not leaving the tap on unnecessarily are all very important, both at home and elsewhere. Sometimes, waste water isn’t treated. As a result, chemical residues from products end up in rivers or the sea, risking polluting not only springs but also your own swimming areas. To identify nature-friendly products, there are specialist websites you can consult. Always choose biodegradable (phosphate-free) soaps, shampoos and detergents, and if you have to wash your clothes in a river, always do it downstream from houses and away from drinking water points. You can also invest in solar torches and chargers instead of batteries. Finally, get yourself a refillable water bottle to avoid throwing away between one and three plastic bottles a day!
First published in July 2022. Our thanks go to Arnaud Horellou, head of the CITES Scientific Authority for France at the Museum UAR PatriNat, centre of expertise and data on natural heritage), for his revision work and contributions.