Ecotourism with a hand lens in the miniature forests of Cape Horn: A sustainable pathway for bryophyte conservation
"Ecotourism with a Hand Lens (EHL) in the Miniature Forests of Cape Horn(MFCH)" at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park (OEP) in Puerto Williams, Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve (CHBR), Chile, is a conservation initiative being develop by a team of scientists, philosophers, artists, architects, engineers, musicians, and tourism operators associated with the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program (SBCP), jointly coordinated by the University of North Texas (UNT) in the US, and the Universidad de Magallanes (UMAG) and Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) in Chile. EHL builds on botanical research which determined that CHBR hosts 5% of the world's bryophyte diversity in less than 0.01% of the Earth's land surface, distinguishing it as a biodiversity "hotspot.” This discovery inspired a novel new type of tourism that calls attention to the high diversity of bryophytes and lichens of this region, through a field activity organized in interpretive trails where tourists get down on the ground and use magnifying glasses. At OEP, the trail is a one-kilometer circuit with 14 stations that calls attention to the ecological, economic, aesthetic, and ethical values these tiny forest communities, including invertebrates that inhabit them.
A main sustainability attribute of EHL is that the tourists can see diverse miniature forests on the trunk of a tree or on a rock and discover the broad array of biodiversity without impacting large areas of the ecosystem. This new type of ecotourism has been implemented with great success at OEP, with guides specially trained in the ecological and ethical attributes of bryophyte conservation. Many tourists specifically request to visit the trail of the MFCH, and evaluations offered at the end of the tours indicate that tourists are highly satisfied with their experience. The sustainability of this novel form of ecotourism is being communicated to a broad and diverse audience. Publications, including a coffee-table book entitled “Ecotourism with a Hand Lens at Omora Park,” documentaries, brochures, school texts, newspaper articles and other media have socialized this experience and an art gallery exhibition of EHL will be held in New York. EHL could be implemented not only in the sub-Antarctic region but also in the sub-Arctic, and in the high altitudes of the Himylayas. Hence, this type of ecotourism could have applications for conservation and sustainable tourism in subpolar regions around the planet.