Technology, Wilderness & Balance

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An illegally flown drone gives scale to next to a lava tube in Hawaii Volcanoes national park. Photograph: Andrew Studer

Some in the hospitality business will likely embrace technologies that I cannot picture using in our hospitality operations, ever, but that is fine. Good for them, I say. Recent events at Chan Chich Lodge have reinforced my wonder at, and love for, technology as a tool to support conservation. There is no doubt that guest photos of big (or small) cats and monkeys, shared via social media, help our conservation mission. There is no doubt that tech tools such as eBird and Merlin (Belize edition recently released, just in time for Global Big Day for those of us who need it) also move our conservation mission forward.

That said, I still have a preference for digital detox among our guests, as much as possible. Artificial noises, visuals, aromas and structures are best minimized in order to maximize the many benefits of nature. Distractions, which may be normal things and habits quite common at home, are the spoilers of visits to great places. The problem first came to my attention nearly two decades ago while visiting Mont Saint Michel, where helicopter tours were just becoming a thing, which clearly annoyed every individual who was making the wondrous visit on foot.

I hope, but doubt, that such tours have been limited in the time since then. The evidence seems to point to more distractions in monumental places, whether natural or cultural, that had previously been visually and sonically protected (thanks to Sam Levin at the Guardian for this):

‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks

As drones, smartphones other gadgets invade America’s most tranquil trails, many lament the loss of peace and quiet

Andrew Studer was admiring a massive lava fire hose at Hawaii Volcanoes national park when he spotted something unusual: a small quadcopter drone flying very close to the natural wonder pouring hot molten rock.

“There were other visitors sitting out relaxing in somewhat of a meditative state, just trying to enjoy this phenomenon,” said Studer, who recently captured a viral image of a drone hovering near the lava. “I do feel like drones are extremely obnoxious, and I’m sure it was frustrating for some of the people there.”

In recent years, there have been growing concerns about technology invading national parks, with drones and other noisy gadgets disrupting wilderness areas, wildlife habitats and other recreational areas.

While the boom in drones has increasingly spoiled the natural sound that the National Park Service (NPS) is charged with protecting, there has also been a rising number of reports of social media use leading hikers to snap inappropriate and dangerous selfies, threatening wildlife and the environment in the process.

“Being in nature, you should be focused on nature,” said Judy Rocchio, an NPS program coordinator, who works on preserving natural sounds. “Nature is very healing – leave the tech at home or put it away and turn it off.”

As drones became increasingly popular in 2014, the NPS moved to ban the launching and landing of “unmanned aircrafts”, but the problem has persisted. Since the new rule went into effect, parks have issued 325 citations related to drones, according to spokesman Jeffrey Olson.

“It was pretty quickly apparent that visitors who weren’t flying them didn’t like them,” he said. “People were really upset … It’s like a buzzing bee you can’t get out of your head. People observed drones being used to herd wildlife.”

The buzzing and clamor of drones, smartphones, music speakers and other tech gadgets that hikers can now carry in their hands are contributing to damaging noise pollution, which is pervasive in US protected areas, according to a new study published last week…

Read the whole article here.

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