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Birdwatching has tourism potential

Training and infrastructure seen lacking in a potentially lucrative form of ecotourism

What’s bigger than golf or fishing as a generator of tourist income in the United States? Birdwatching. But in México it’s an activity that’s long been overlooked and given so little importance that there are no official figures to measure its economic value.

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That value to the United States has been estimated by the Fish & Wildlife Service at US $32 billion a year where birding, as it is commonly known, enjoys the participation of some 55 million people. In Canada, 11 million travel to different places to view birds in their natural habitat.

In Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found that as much as $12 million is spent annually by tourists who travel just to see white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull.

“In México we have recorded 1,100 birds, and half of those are in the Yucatán,” says Juan Flores, president of the birders’ club, Green Jay.

“In Quintana Roo we have tried to promote the activity but without adequate infrastructure and training the advances have been slow.”

In contrast, Costa Rica benefits from an estimated economic boost of $1 billion from birdwatching ecotourism, drawing many birdwatchers from the U.S.

In spite of the potential that those numbers would indicate, tourism in Quintana Roo is regarded primarily as sunshine and beaches.

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According to Quintana Roo birding expert Barbara MacKinnon, the Yucatán peninsula sees more than 1 billion migrating birds either staying or passing through during migration, and they come from both the north and the south.

She says birdwatching is a little more developed in Yucatán as a result of cooperatives in the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve and the presence of flamingos, but cites a shortage of specially trained guides who don’t put birds at risk.

The pioneer of birdwatching in the region says there are initiatives under way to create cooperatives in the Noh-Bec ejido in Felipe Carillo Puerto that promote the preservation of forested areas and training in birdwatching tourism.

The area is rich enough in resources to justify more effort. When birdwatching in the U.S. you might see at most 30 species, but on the Yucatán peninsula it’s possible to see as many as 160 species in a day, says MacKinnon.

Source: El Financiero (sp)

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