As an Egyptian, ecotourism in these so-called barren lands was not unfamiliar. But truth be told, I was never really fascinated by them as much as I was by ecotourism. That was until I was assigned work in the Sahara - the world's largest hot desert, almost the size of China or the United States! I quickly realized how ecotourism could greatly benefit these fragile ecosystems.
Hosting populations with one of the lowest GDP of all ecoregions, deserts cover approximately 33% of the earth's surface and are characterized by having a mean annual precipitation of less than 250 mm and very high evaporation rates - quite the dry ecotourism experience. They play an important role in regulating our climate and air quality, and provide us with wild food sources, building materials and fuel.
- 13% of the earth's population live in desert regions. That's more than one billion people
- Sand dunes can reach heights of up to 300m
- The Sahara has blown dust as far as Germany and the UK
- Desert plants may not have freshwater for years, prompting them to grow long roots to access to deep groundwater
- Antarctica is the world's largest cold desert
Like other ecosystems, they're sensitive to the impacts of human activity on biodiversity, especially in the light of their use for ecotourism developments. As ecotourism becomes more popular it necessitates the need to develop and adopt ecotourism practices that are sustainable in such sensitive environments.
They're definitely attractive venues for ecotourism because of their unique geological features, the wildflower displays they offer, the special plants and animals they host, and my most favorite - their breathtaking panoramic views. In addition, a major ecotourism attraction is the presence of indigenous communities such as the Tuareg of the Sahara and Bushmen of the Kalahari. Not to mention the oases found in some - a feature that would significantly enhance your ecotourism experience.
You would think there wasn't much to do during your ecotourism trip. Well, desert ecotourism can offer you a variety of fun and relaxing ecotourism activities such as horse back and camel riding, jeep safaris, bathing in natural springs - hot and cold, falconry and stargazing. And if you really want you're ecotourism experience to count, pay a visit to the indigenous people!
Deserts can be harsh and inhospitable so please take note of the following tips during your desert ecotourism adventure:
- Always give yourself time to acclimatize to the climate
- Don't stop drinking water even if you're not thirsty
- Avoid standing in direct sun and always shift from shade to shade
- Cover your head, neck and skin (light colored and loose fitting clothes) and always wear sunscreen (as high as SPF15 (94%))
- Bring warm clothes because nighttime can be cold
- Stay in your car/camp/lodge if there's a sandstorm
- Bring a multi-tool with you - Never agree to go on a safari with a single jeep - minimum two!
- Make sure there's a First Aid kit and satellite phone around
Where to go for your ecotourism adventure:
o Africa: Sahara, Kalahari and Namib
o Middle East: Arabian Desert
o Asia: Gobi, Turkistan and Indian Thar
o North America: Great Basin, Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahua and Grand Canyon
o Europe: Tabernas
o South America: Patagonian, Atacama and coastal Peruvian deserts
o Australia: Great Australian Desert
Like I always say, don't forget to read up about ecotourism in the region before embarking on an ecotourism adventure into the seas of sand.