New Zealand Glaciers Ebb and Tour Guides Play Catch-Up
Climate change is having uneven economic effects on tourism operators like Fox Glacier Guiding and Franz Josef Glacier Guides whose businesses depend on ice and snow, the New York Times reports.
Guided glacier hiking began in Fox Glacier in 1928 and is a main reason for the area’s popularity as a destination for international travellers.
But local tour operator, Fox Glacier Guiding, has been unable to take tourists onto the ice on foot since April, when glacial retreat caused a river to change course, blocking access to a popular hiking trail. And at another glacier down the road, operator Franz Josef Glacier Guides lost hiking access in 2012, also because of retreating ice.
Now, air landings by helicopter are the only way to set foot on the glaciers, which lie at the confluence of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. As a result, both companies have made helicopter tours their primary product, increasing business for local helicopter operators.
A 2007 study prepared for Development West Coast, a nonprofit organisation in Greymouth, estimated that glacier-related tourism on the South Island’s scenic west coast directly contributed at least US$77 million a year to local economies.
Two of the glaciers there, Fox and Franz Josef, have advanced several times since they were first measured more than a century ago, scientific figures show. But both have retreated farther in the last five years than they advanced in the preceding 25 years, and scientists predict the retreat will continue over the long term.
Both companies have embraced helicopter tourism in hopes of making up revenue that guided hikes once provided.
Wayne Costello, an official with the Conservation Department in the town of Franz Josef said tour guides could use glacial retreat as a “touchstone” for teaching tourists about climate change.
“It’s a really important chance for us to connect with people and say, ‘Actually, if you value your environment, this is what’s happening in the world, and these are the impacts of humans living on the planet,’” Costello said.
Original article by Mike Ives, The New York Times, January 2, 2015.