How Does Tourism Impact Ocean Health? Coastal Development

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We travel to new places for a lot of reasons: to meet new people, experience new cultures, and see some of the most beautiful sights in the world.

But have you ever wondered how your travels affect the local environment?

The ocean is one of the biggest recipients of the negative impacts of tourism. Our fun marine-based vacations can have devastating effects on marine life.

In many ways, the attitude towards the ocean is “out of sight, out of mind.” But the ocean does not work this way: as a large interconnected system, the negative impacts that have been concentrated in hot tourism areas will start to be felt globally as well as locally.

Coastal Development

Every year, thousands of people flock to the warm, sunny beaches of coastal areas. It’s only natural...we want to dig our toes into the hot sand and splash in the warm waves.

In Europe, these are largely areas like Majorca, Ibiza, the south of Spain, coastal Portugal, Croatia, and the Greek Islands.

There are a number of ways that the coasts of these regions are changed to meet the high demand of tourists that come and visit. Many of these are extremely detrimental to the local ecosystems.

Forest clearings

In coastal areas, it’s not uncommon for entire mangrove forests to be cleared away for a resort. This destroys the homes of many kinds of fish and removing the natural protection that the coast has from ocean storms.

Instead of these “inconvenient” trees, golf courses are installed and artificial coastlines with restaurants and hotels are built. While they are fun for us to visit, their impact is lasting.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs, like mangrove forests, can also be severely damaged to build coastal tourist attractions.

In Curacao, for example, the construction company Bam is suspected of dragging anchors across a protected coral reef in order to clear a path for the supporting feet of the pier.

Coral reefs are extremely fragile and diverse ecosystems. The coral itself is living animal, and the reefs provide homes for thousands of different kinds of animals. This sort of destruction ultimately leads to great losses in biodiversity in an area.


A major impact of human development of coastlines is erosion. In the long run, our tourist attractions are worse off for their locations.

While erosion is a naturally-occurring process, human development speeds it up. Without the natural protections of coral reefs and mangrove forests, for example, the land has no protections against the eroding forces.

How we can change

Often we as consumers don’t see the negative side of how our travels affect marine life and ecological systems. But there are ways that we can change our lifestyle and travel choices for the better. As the need for environmental sustainability grows, the public opinion and political decisions are shifting as well.

In fact, we are already seeing this. Just last year Princess Cruises was found guilty of illegally dumping oil in the ocean and forced to pay a $40 million USD fee. $1 million of that went to the engineer who reported the illegal activity—a reward that reflects the growing public concern for environmental sustainability.

This case was also a catalyst: while Princess remains on a 5-year probation term, all other cruise ship companies that have operations in the U.S. will be forced to update their environmental compliance.

Ultimately though, a simple way for consumers to contribute towards ocean conservation is to put pressure on companies that use environmentally unfriendly practices.

This is why Sea Going Green is working with tourism companies to alleviate their negative impacts on the marine environment and empower them to #GoGreenForTheBigBlue.