21 May What problems does Lake Baikal face?
When a foreigner asks a question: “What are the best reasons to visit Russia?”. Lake Baikal will be one of the most popular answers for sure!
Lake Baikal is the largest, the deepest and the oldest freshwater lake in the world. It is UNESCO world heritage site.
It is called the Pearl of Siberia and it is clear why. Lake Baikal holds about 20% of the world’s fresh surface water and it is more than the North American Great Lakes combined contain.
All these facts attract tourists all over the world to this unique place no matter whether it is a part of the legendary Trans-Siberian railroad route or the direct visit to eastern Siberia places.
Lake Baikal is a very powerful place and we can’t stop admiring it, promoting this amazing place telling about the beauty and the feeling of infinite freedom, unity with the wildlife that can be found while traveling across Lake Baikal. We feel the responsibility not only in promoting this wonderful destination but also in educating about issues and threats which the Lake is facing.
Today we want to share the issues that Lake Baikal faces nowadays.
The number of tourists on Lake Baikal is growing each year. Most of them are travelers from China. Instead of enjoying the inrush of guests from China, local tour operators call for the closure of Baikal for foreigners for months of the “high season”. What is the reason for such an illogical claim? Why do tour operators decide to sacrifice their own business interests?
The thing is not the only ecological problem, though it remains in focus. But the flow of visitors from China who organize their tours with Chinese tour companies passes by Russian regional tour operators. So local business incurs considerable losses. They usually come even with their own buses, stay in the Chinese-owned hotels and even taking their own food with them. All mentioned above makes it almost zero contribution to the local economy when tourists simply don’t spend money in the destination. You see how the concept of sustainable tourism screws up in a bitter reality.
Local ecologists sound the alarm
It has been repeatedly noted that the masses of tourists are subjecting the unique Baikal ecosystem to a large-scale anthropogenic impact. That is pollution and trampling. Thousand of tourists simply trample land in the most beautiful places on the island. Currently, it is one of the most uncontrolled environmental problems of Lake Baikal.
One of the most important environmental problems of the lake ecosystem is the system of waste collection that must export litter to the recycling places. In fact, it does not exist. Thanks to activists that try to resolve this problem by their own forces collecting thousands of bags of litter and tons of waste metal! By now, thousands of cubic meters of solid waste are sent annually to other districts of the Irkutsk Region. The solutions to the problem need more serious governmental control involving not only environmental organizations and travel companies.
The problem with the places in hotels is due to the fact that the infrastructure is not as developed as it should be for such amount of tourists. There is a number of tourist centers and hotels built right in front of the water which violates water and land legislation. Not to tell about wild tourism which causes pollution forests fires and again we face ecological impact.
All in all the problem is not only non-sustainable tourism from China or tourists boost from any other country including Russia. The issue is the lack of proper business regulation on the territory of Lake Baikal.
We stand for the development of the Baikal region tourism. A comprehensive set of measures must be taken. The mass tourism must be used in the interests of the local tourism businesses. Requirements to our Russian local tourist businesses including the customer services level, transparency of income statements must be strengthened. All these measures may help to turn the Chinese non-sustainable tourism into a source of income and thus the prosperity of the Baikal region.
We want to thank our tourists and friends who care about the ecology of places where they travel. Being conscious of the problems that the places face our tourists try to make their contribution to the development of Sustainable tourism concept! One of the initiatives within this framework is the Great Baikal Trail (GBT) organization. The main idea behind the Great Baikal Trail (GBT) is to build the first system of environmentally sensitive trails around Lake Baikal and in all Russia. The series of volunteer projects for building and maintaining trails including local socio-ecological programs are already on the go. If you want to donate or learn more about the programs, visit the GBT site here.