Book by URI researcher examines ‘tourism on a changing planet’

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Amelia Moore
Amelia Moore

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 13, 2019 – Amelia Moore has traveled to The Bahamas countless times since 2002, often on extended trips lasting several months or more. And during that time, she observed an evolution in the tourism industry in this tourism-dependent nation that reflect the dramatic changes happening around the world, especially the changing climate.

“Tourism is looking for ways to expand its marketing niches into new realms, and they’re looking at ecotourism and sustainable tourism as new opportunities,” said Moore, a cultural anthropologist and assistant professor of sustainable coastal tourism and recreation at the University of Rhode Island. “And it’s the sciences that provide the substance of those opportunities.”

In her new book, Destination Anthropocene: Science and Tourism in the Bahamas, Moore examines the tourism industry in this era of global change by focusing on the Bahamas as a microcosm of tourism around the world.

“I want people to think carefully before they plan their trips to small island destinations,” she said. “People are already trying to be less impactful in their travels, but I’m asking them to take a second look and think through what it means to take a sustainable vacation, and ask themselves if that’s an oxymoron.”

One example she points to is the so-called “blue holes” on many islands in The Bahamas, terrestrial ponds that lead into underwater cave systems. According to Moore, the holes have long been a fact of life for Bahamians, many of whom once washed their clothes, disposed of trash, and hunted for food in them.

“Then here comes well-funded scientific research divers that map and explore the blue holes and are searching for evidence of planetary change or paleontological or archaeological remains,” she said. “The science turns them into ecologically valuable sites. And then the tourism industry starts cranking to make something out of what was before something that was locally mundane.”

She notes that many environmental features that are threatened by rising sea levels and other climate-related factors may also be marketed to potential visitors as something “to come see while you still can.”

Are these changing tourism strategies good for the environment or for Bahamians?

“My book tries not to celebrate all of this without thinking about the consequences for Bahamians who have lived in these places for generations,” Moore said. “To what degree are these tourism opportunities economically and socially beneficial, or are there other forms of development that might be more empowering? And to what extent is the tourism industry exploiting this recognition of planetary change and ecological crisis in ways that continue to subjugate people and increase emissions without actually solving the problems?

“The irony is that more tourism means more travel, which means more resources, which means more waste and more fuel,” she added. “If they’re doing it in the name of sustainability, it does not compute.”

During the 15 years that she visited The Bahamas for her research, Moore conducted dozens of interviews, participated in numerous ecotourism and ecological research projects, and she worked with many scientists. These experiences provided her with an inside view of how tourism in the island nation developed over time.

Published by University of California Press, Moore’s book targets general readers who are interested in “place-based explanations or descriptions of global phenomena,” especially those interested in travel alternatives to small islands.

“Beautifully written and masterfully conceptualized, this book gives us new insights into the processes by which science and tourism set the conditions of possibility for human lives and place-based futures in The Bahamas specifically, but also in the Anthropocene more generally,” said Paige West, a professor of anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University.

Moore joined the faculty of the URI Department of Marine Affairs in 2015 as an expert in island life and island living. She teaches a course on Island Studies, and in addition to her research in The Bahamas, she has ongoing studies in Indonesia and Block Island, Rhode Island.