The impact of tourism upon the environment and vice versa is mutual. Negative influences from tourism can arise when the level of visitor use exceeds the environment's ability to cope, within the acceptable restrictions of change. Unrestrained conventional tourism creates potential threats to many natural areas. This can put pressure on an area and result in soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. Moreover, it could incur a strain on water resources and force local populations to compete for the use of vital resources.
Depletion of Natural Resources
Tourism development could pressurise natural resources when consumption rises and resources are either low or scarce.
Hotels, golf courses, swimming pools, in general, consume large volumes of water. Therefore, the tourism industry is responsible for creating water shortages, degradation of water supplies and generating high quantities of waste water. Given Sri Lanka’s hot climate and the tendency of tourists to consume more water when on vacation, the amount of water consumed per day could average 440 litres.
Maintenance of golf courses (Sri Lanka has 3 main golf courses; Victoria Golf Course, Nuwera Eliya Golf Course and Colombo Golf Course) is another contributor to the reduction of fresh water resources. Golf tourism has increased in the last few years and the number of golf courses has grown. In order to upkeep the course, large volumes of water are required. If the water is supplied from wells, over-pumping could result in saline intrusion into groundwater.
Local resources such as energy, food and other raw materials will be consumed far more and at a greater speed, when a tourism establishment is located in the vicinity. This will result in the possibility of resources being limited or destroyed.
Fertile soil, forests, wetlands and wildlife are vital resources of Sri Lanka. However, the increased construction of tourism facilities has increased the pressure on these resources and scenic landscapes. The direct impact on natural resources in the provision of tourist facilities could be a consequence of land usage for accommodation purposes and other infrastructure provision.
Air emissions, noise, solid waste and littering, releases of sewage, oil and chemicals, and architectural/visual pollution are common effects in tourism areas.
Air pollution and noise
Transport by air, road, and rail is continuously increasing in response to the rising number of tourists and their greater mobility. Globally, tourism accounts for more than 60% of air travel. Research revealed that a single transatlantic return flight secretes approximately half the CO2 emissions produced by all other sources such as lighting, heating and car use, by an average person per year.
Air pollution from tourist transportation is a global impact, particularly the CO2 emissions produced due to transportation of energy use. Severe local air pollution is another factor and includes noise pollution from airplanes, cars and buses. In addition to causing annoyance, stress, and even hearing loss for humans, distress to wildlife is caused.
Solid waste and littering
Waste disposal is a serious problem that tourist establishments have to face. Improper disposal could be a major despoiler of the natural environment. Solid waste and littering can harm the water concentration and cause the death of marine animals.
The construction of hotels, recreation and other facilities result in increased sewage pollution. In the past, waste water has polluted seas and lakes surrounding tourist attractions
and resulted in damaged flora and fauna. Sewage runoff causes serious damage to coral reefs as it stimulates the growth of algae, which cover the filter-feeding corals, hindering their ability to survive. Sewage pollution threatens the health of humans and animals.
Frequently tourism fails to amalgamate its establishments with the natural qualities and native architectural of the area. Large resorts of contrasting design will look out of place in any natural environment and will conflict with the indigenous structural design. Lack of land-use planning and building regulations facilitates extensive developments along coastlines, valleys and scenic routes, while the sprawl includes tourism facilities and supporting infrastructure such as roads, employee housing, parking, service areas, and waste disposal.
Physical consequences of tourism development
The construction and development of tourism facilities could result in sand mining, beach and sand dune erosion and loss of
- Deforestation and intensified or unsustainable use of land.
- Marina development and changes in currents and coastlines.
Depletion of coral reefs arising due to increased sediments in the water, trampling by tourists, ship groundings, pollution from sewage, souvenir extraction.
Physical consequences from tourist activities
Trampling - Tourists using the same trail over and over again trample the vegetation and soil, eventually causing damage that leads to loss of biodiversity and other impacts.
Anchoring and other marine activities - Anchoring, scuba diving, yachting and cruising are certain activities that cause direct degradation of marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
Alteration of ecosystems by tourist activities - Habitat is degraded by tourism leisure activities. For example, wildlife viewing can bring about stress for the animals and alter their natural behaviour when tourists come too close.