Balancing the Pros and Cons of Coastal Tourism through Sustainability

Photo by Brett Monroe Garner/Greenpeace

Photo by Brett Monroe Garner/Greenpeace

When so many people around the world participate in oceanfront or coastal activities as a part of their vacation or every day lifestyle, the morality of understanding how it impacts our ecosystems should be at the forefront of our minds. The first question we should ask ourselves is this: what are the benefits of coastal tourism? And what can we do to ensure that there are more pros than cons?

There is one obvious benefit: exposure and awareness. The income generated from coastal tourism contributes to local GDP and further economic stability. Humans come to these areas to find havens of peace and leisure. Enunciating how much we care about these spaces for our mental health and relaxation has the potential to be a huge catalyst in allowing people to understand why they should also care for them on a global level. Balancing pleasure with education and advocacy will help boost the overall awareness about how important coastal areas are to our communities and the tourists that choose these kinds of destinations for an escape.

Communities surrounding these coastal areas are also greatly influenced by the tourism industry. There are nearly 200,000,000 jobs created every year which allows for coastal tourism to catapult locals into better financial situations, sometimes even out of poverty. Local economies are able to be boosted, therefore, the welfare of those in the community increases simultaneously.

This not only depicts the impact of human influence on coastal ecosystems and the desire to go to these places, which have been visited exponentially each year thanks to an added boost from social media and the “instagram generation”. This has led to over-tourism and habitat destruction as tourists have flocked to these areas to avoid the fear of missing out on a dreamy beach vacation. Unfortunately, this moves us into the negative impacts of tourism, which includes the rise of pollution, destruction of land, and use of natural resources in oftentimes frivolous ways.

The negatives: what are they?

As consumption and development becomes more demanding to meet the requests of luxury and the tourism industry, the results are negative impacts on natural wildlife, plants and land (sand composition, reefs, and so on). Pollution as a result of tourism can occur in many different forms: in the water, on land, in noise and the air we breathe. Pollution in the form of sewage, spills and other debris disrupt the food chains of wildlife and habitat composition and structure.


Here are a few specific instances of how tourism is destructive to these natural habitats:

  1. Animal interaction such as swimming with dolphins disrupts and often harms the animals, by taking them away from their birthplaces and interrupting the organic growth of their families.

  2. In order to construct more open beaches for tourism, habitats like mangrove forests and seagrass meadows have been obliterated. This includes the construction of piers and other similar structures, which are built into marine biodiversity such as coral reefs.

  3. Attractions that involve repetitive boating in fragile areas causes harm from dropping anchors, which needlessly injures habitats and marine species.

  4. Beaches, which often serve as mating areas and nests for many species like marine turtles, can become inaccessible due to tourism.

  5. A range of tourism activities directly or indirectly cause coral bleaching, either by forcing the colored algae in the reefs to leave or by excessive sediment deposits, disrupting native plants’ abilities to engage in photosynthesis.


On top of construction of these facilities, there is also the effect of tourist attractions and activities. Attractions such as unrestricted fishing (which leads to overfishing), diving and snorkeling, and boating have destroyed many habitats because of the interactions with them. Something seemingly insignificant like the propellers of a boat stirring sediment can be a huge disruption to a marine habitat. The transportation of materials in order to construct tourism infrastructure is also a big factor.


It may seem that there are many more negatives than positives presented in this article, but this doesn’t take into account that human behavior can mitigate some of the risk that tourism poses to a destination if tourists choose to act sustainably and if resources and practices are managed correctly. This is where sustainable tourism can provide a solution.

Our tourism behavior can help slow the effects of climate change and lead to destinations making choices that also work towards cutting their CO2 footprints, using less single-use plastics and building resilient infrastructure in an effort to do the same. Many coastal tourism activities are entirely dependent on weather and climate conditions, which are constantly shifting due to human instigated environmental impact. Climate change can impact factors such as cloud cover, precipitation, and animal sightings to name a few. Therefore, locally run hotels and businesses have a special interest in operating sustainably to keep the destination lucrative to tourists to ensure stability both economically and environmentally.


Although there are both pros and cons to coastal tourism, it is important to remember to remain conscious of our presence as tourists and not be ambivalent to the safety and beauty of our coastal ecosystems. We all need to make aggressive changes to help balance out the cons of coastal tourism with the pros to protect the sanctity of our coastlines.

While tourism can cause harm, it doesn’t have to. If you are a concerned hotel or business in a coastal area and would like to learn more about actions that could help mitigate the negative impacts of tourism, please contact us here.