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Environmental impacts

Tourism can create great pressure on local resources such as energy, food, land and water that may already be in short supply.
According to the Third Assessment of Europeís environment (EEA, 2003), the direct local impacts of tourism on people and the environment at destinations are strongly affected by concentration in space and time (seasonality).

They result from:

  1. The intensive use of water and land by tourism and leisure facilities.
  2. The delivery and use of energy.
  3. Changes in the landscape coming from the construction of infrastructure, buildings and facilities.
  4. Air pollution and waste.
  5. The compaction and sealing of soils (damage and destruction of vegetation).
  6. The disturbance of fauna and local people (for example, by noise).

The growing number of tourists visiting sensitive natural areas may also jeopardize nature conservation. Some conflicts may also arise between tourism development and other sectors such as agriculture and forestry.

Impacts on biodiversity

Tourism can cause loss of biodiversity in many ways, e.g. by competing with wildlife for habitat and natural resources. More specifically, negative impacts on biodiversity can be caused by


In Zakynthos (Greece), which is the most important breeding site of the Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta), the coastal nesting grounds along sandy beaches are disturbed, destroyed by tourism development and tourism behaviour. Unfortunately, the peak of the tourist season coincides with the nesting season for the vulnerable Loggerhead Turtles (EC, 2002).

Link to the Bio Example of Cirali.Link to the Commander Islands example.

Strain on water resources

Water, and especially fresh water is one of the most critical natural resources. The tourism industry generally overuses water resources for hotels, swimming pools, golf courses and personal use of water by tourists. This can result in water shortages and degradation of water supplies, as well as generate a greater volume of wastewater.

For example, the average water consumption in Antalya City (Turkey) is 250 litres per person a day, while the average water consumption in the tourist areas of Antalya exceeds 600 litres. In Mallorca (Spain), water consumption in rural areas is 140 litres per person a day, in urban areas 250 litres, while the average tourist consumption is 440 litres, or even 880 litres in case of a luxury establishment (EEA, 2001).

Land degradation

Direct impact on natural resources, both renewable and non renewable, from the construction of tourist facilities, roads and airports can be caused by the use of land for accommodation, other infrastructural provisions and the use of building materials (sand mining!). Forests often suffer negative effects of tourism in the form of deforestation caused by fuel wood collection and land clearing. This is the case in many valuable coastal areas in Turkey where the forests were cleared for the construction of summer houses and hotels during the last three decades.

Mykonos: a cosmopolitan and a rapidly urbanized island (EC, 2002)

The island of Mykonos (Greece) is a well known international tourist resort, which has experienced rapid tourist development during the last 30 years. Parallel to the expansion of the tourist industry (accommodation, bars, etc.) the islandís population has also increased in size, in contrast to other Greek islands that have lost population over the last decades. This growth was followed by the expansion of the infrastructure (enlargement of the port, improvement of the road network construction of a surface dam, etc.). These investments have further boosted the islandís capacity to accommodate tourists and other visitors. Problems and some signs of saturation have already appeared: congestion, lack of parking space, higher crime rate, water and soil pollution occur especially during the peak summer season. A large proportion of the islandís extremely limited land surface has either been absorbed by intensive housing construction, tourism development and its accompanying infrastructure or left unused for future speculation thus causing widespread loss of agricultural land. The two traditional settlements in the island together with other newly developed villages on which the tourist industry was based mainly during the first phase of development have already been transformed in scale, volume of built-up areas, character and environmental quality as a result of uncontrolled and rapid development of tourism. Rapid urbanization has also altered the socio-economic structure and local culture. (Coccossis H., Parpairis A., 1996).

Development of the Summer Secondary Houses in Turkey

In the Kusadasi-Davutlar area of Turkey, a coastal strip of 30 km by 750 m has been totally covered by summer houses during the period of 1975 to 1985. These houses are owned by the middle and higher income residents of the larger cities. They provide a temporary relief from the stress of big cities, are regarded as good investment, increasing in value over time and can be used as permanent residence after retirement.

However, this trend has resulted in a severe loss of forests, free space and agricultural land. Growing pressure on the water resources has lead to a shortage of drinking water in many areas and the waste problem is growing. Electricity shortage and cuts have become common in many important tourist areas.

"EL BURRERO" beach, an example for unsustainable coastal erosion management

The project area
El Burrero is a leisure and recreational area not only for this urban centre but also for all the inland urban areas. Furthermore, in summer time, the regular population of 600 to 1000 residents increases to 5000 to 6000 inhabitants.

Before the project took place, El Burrero was a boulder beach and only one third of the beach was sandy. The coastline continues to the south with a series of boulder beaches, rocky platforms, intertidal pools of high importance for biodiversity and the fisheries sector.

The Action
The project aimed to enlarge the sandy beach and make the whole site more attractive for visitors. In order to do so, dikes and a seaside promenade were built and artificial sand nourishment started at some points along ca. 500m of coastline.

The consequences
Facts have proven that the project design was not at all appropriate for the meteorological and oceanographically and biological conditions of this site.

  • At the northern area, sand accumulated against the walls that separate the beach from the urban centre
  • At the southern area with the promenade, the sand is being dragged by the wind from the wet area to the back of the beach. Due to this process, the sand has already exceeded and accumulated over the promenade wall
  • The consequences of this project over the seabed have also been disastrous. The rocky seabed in this zone had been colonised by a high diversity of mollucs, invertebrates and fish. The changed sand movements due to this project completely buried the rocky substratum causing a drastic decrease to the species diversity and abundance and therefore also damaging the local economy. This negative impact did not affect only the action area but also the rocky seabed southwards this site
  • Also, the natural sand feeding from the sea has importantly decreased because of the construction of the north dyke. This makes it very possible that torrential rains will cause in the future serious damage to the promenade and nearby buildings
  • The works undertaken by this project did not improve the beach conditions, they rather diminished them.

Corrective measures
During the last four years the municipal authorities carried out actions to correct the problems caused by this project. These measures - sand removal, watering the sand and putting up windscreens - did not reach their objective because again they were done without the necessary knowledge of coastal dynamics.

During the last year the same State Coastal Authority has been preparing a new project to correct the mistakes of the first one. Meetings are being held with neighbourhood associations, ecologists and municipal authorities with the objective of finding a satisfactory solution for all parties.

Air pollution and noise

Transport by air, road and rail is continuously increasing, along with the rising number of tourists and their greater mobility. Tourism now accounts for more than 60% of air travel and is therefore responsible for an important share of air emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Transport emissions, emissions from energy production use are linked to acid rain, global warming and severe local air pollution.

Noise pollution from airplanes, cars, motorbikes, buses, as well as recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and jet skis, is an ever-growing problem of tourism, causing annoyance, stress and even hearing loss.

Energy utilization

Hotels are large consumers of water. A tourist staying in a hotel uses on average 1/3 more water per day than a local inhabitant. Energy consumption per m2 per year by a one star hotel is 157 kWh (380 kWh in a four star hotel) (EEA, 2003). However, most of the time the infrastructure is not designed to cope with peak periods.
Some tourism businesses are starting to implement energy-efficiency measures, for example hotels in the United Kingdom Ďsavedí up to 9000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year each, between 1997 and 1999.

Water pollution

Construction of hotels, recreation and other facilities often leads to increased pressure on sewage disposal facilities, in particular because many destinations have several times more inhabitants in the high season than in the low season. Waste water treatment facilities are often not built to cope with the dramatic rise in volume of waste water during the peak. Waste water has polluted seas and lakes surrounding tourist attractions, damaging flora and fauna. Sewage run off causes serious damage to coral reefs because it stimulates the growth of algae (bloom algae) and causing hypoxia (means low oxygen). In aquatic ecosystems, low oxygen means a concentration of less than 2-3 milligrams of oxygen per litre of water (mg/l). The direct effects of hypoxia include fish kills, which not only deplete valuable fish stocks and damage the ecosystem, but are unpleasant for local residents and can harm local tourism. Hypoxia is primarily a problem in the estuaries and coastal waters, although it can be a problem in freshwater lakes. On the other hand, bloom algae as such also represent a huge problem. The ocean gets a red or green colour (depending on the kind of algae) and it is unpleasant to see the ocean like this while tourists and local residents are not allowed to swim. Changes in salinity and siltation can have wide-ranging impacts on coastal environments. Sewage pollution can also threaten the health of humans and animals.

Aesthetic pollution

In some locations, conventional tourism has been accused of failing to integrate its structures with the natural features and indigenous architecture of the destination. Large, dominating resorts can look out of place in any natural environment and may clash with the indigenous structural design.
In areas with high concentrations of tourist activities and appealing natural attractions, waste disposal is a serious problem. Improper disposal can be a major despoiler of the natural environment. Solid waste and littering can degrade the physical appearance of the water and shoreline.

Coastal erosion

Development of marinas, breakwaters and shoreline development can cause changes in a currents sediment supply and consequently coastal erosion. Extraction of building materials on coastal land and in near-shore areas can harm inland forests and Posidonia beds respectively and lead to erosion.

See Mamaia case study

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