At SeaWorld (and its sister parks), hydrogen fuels power shuttles, dinnerware and utensils are made from sugarcane and vegetable starch, and seafood (even for its animal inhabitants) is purchased from sustainable fisheries. SeaWorld has partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure that foods purchased are farmed and harvested in ways that protects area wildlife, habitats, and people. Roughly 50% of park waste (animal, food, and construction) is recycled. Visitors (and residents) are encouraged to recycle while exploring the theme parks thanks to the addition of special bins for the disposal of cans and bottles, with others for actual trash.
For more about SeaWorld's current conservation efforts, check out the company's mission statements on the subject at seaworld.com/orlando/commitment/.
Some conservationists say SeaWorld’s animals endure misery in captivity. Other conservationists laud SeaWorld for being an advocate for marine life. Each side presents statistics that seem convincing but are then shot down by rivals. And therein lies the ongoing tug-of-war over this profit-generating amusement park. SeaWorld is hostile to accusations of mistreatment and exploitation—in 2013, the low-budget documentary Blackfish asserted that the 2010 death of senior trainer Dawn Brancheau, which was witnessed by an audience at Shamu Stadium, was the result of inadequate care. (For its part, the Brancheau family distanced itself from the documentary, saying in a statement: “Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for.”)
An anti-SeaWorld social media campaign has raged ever since. Although SeaWorld’s San Diego park was fined about $26,000 by OSHA in California for improperly protecting its human employees, it sharply rebuts some of the film’s points, objecting to one-sided reporting and complaining that the editing deceives viewers into believing the park collects its performing animals from the wild, something it hasn’t done for decades. Excepting a few aged animals that were born in the seas and rehabilitated from accidents in the wild, SeaWorld insists, most of its animals were born in captivity and raised by hand and so they would not know how to survive in the wild. The orcas that live there, SeaWorld promises, will be the last generation to do so and will not be bred. The park says it has rescued more than 30,000 animals to date, and reminds the media that when marine animals are threatened in the oceans, it regularly steps in to help. But Blackfish also alleges that the tanks at SeaWorld could never be large enough to contain animals biologically programmed to roam wide territory—a charge that’s harder to deny, and one the company promised to address but hasn’t. Defenders say that opens up a new can of worms—why single out SeaWorld, they say, for things that zoos and animal parks across the country do every day?
General Ecotourism Resources
Sustainable tourism is defined as conscientious travel -- in other words, being careful with the environments you explore and respecting the communities you visit. Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are ecotourism and ethical tourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. TIES suggests that ecotourists follow these principles:
- Minimize environmental impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
- Support international human rights and labor agreements.
You can find some eco-friendly travel tips and statistics, as well as touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Your Travel Choice" -- at the TIES website, www.ecotourism.org. Also check out Ecotravel.com, which lets you search for sustainable touring companies in several categories (water based, land based, spiritually oriented, and so on).
Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices and manages a directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
While much of the focus of ecotourism is about reducing impacts on the natural environment, ethical tourism concentrates on ways to preserve and enhance local economies and communities, regardless of location. You can embrace ethical tourism by staying at a locally owned hotel or shopping at a store that employs local workers and sells locally produced goods.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.