TikaWeeks #42/2023: Sri Lanka update

Posted by John on 20th October 2023

Sir David Attenborough with gorillas in Rwanda (courtesy of the BBC)

Nature, carbon and humanity are inextricably entwined with 50% of man-made CO2 sequestered by nature – but the story doesn’t end there: 75% of food crops are dependent on insect pollination, 80% of registered medicines come from plants and 85% of the world's largest companies have a high dependency on nature across direct operations. Nature is at the heart of everything and considering the planet’s lifeblood while travelling is vital.

Our impact on Earth, particularly during the Anthropocene period, has been dramatic, destructive and devastating. Soils have been degraded by 33% during this period – the UN estimates we have 60 harvests left before we can't feed the planet – and species extinction rates are 1000 times normal – the same or higher rate as in the 5 great extinctions in the last 500 million years. Put these factors together with biodiversity loss being the 4th biggest global risk to GDP (source: World Economic Forum) and you realise that the wellbeing of nature should be our top priority.

To understand and reduce our impacts on nature and biodiversity, we need to develop nature-based solutions for climate change and others to averting the biodiversity crisis. Both are essential. With tourism contributing £213 billion to the UK’s GDP in 2016, which is expected to increase to £265 billion by 2028 (source: Statista, 2019), there should be more than enough resources to achieve both goals as long as the will is there.

How can we make a difference when we travel?

Even thinking about the impact our holiday will have on nature is a start. Mindful and respectful travel, not just to the communities we interact with on holiday but also the environments we visit, is the best way to go. Individually our contribution may be small but if all travellers consider their actions when on holiday the impact will be massive.

A travel survey in 2021 showed that 83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying that the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably.


Water is a finite and diminishing resource that should be conserved at all costs. Sri Lanka and Maldives are particularly vulnerable, with the latter reliant on desalination plants for clean, potable water in many instances. Showering less frequently and for less time will help enormously – rain showers consume up to 25 litres of water per minute. Using the short flush option on toilets, when available, never leaving the tap running for ablutions and reporting any leaks immediately will also help to conserve water immeasurably.

Single-use plastics and their decomposition derivatives are the product pandemic of our time, even recorded in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean – the deepest place in our oceans – and on top of Mount Everest (known as Sagarmatha in Nepali and Chomolungma in Tibetan). We champion the abolition of single-use plastics to our accommodation providers and encourage our travellers not to purchase such items on holiday – and reduce/discontinue the usage at home. Taking a reusable water bottle with you on holiday is definitely recommended.

Aiming to be a zero-waste traveller means putting nothing into landfills, from disposable items/packaging to discarded food – we encourage our accommodation providers to do the same. Other ways to limit your detrimental impact on nature include using a nature-friendly sunscreen, and limiting your personal light and noise pollution – artificial light at night is another important, but often overlooked, cause of biodiversity loss, and reducing noise increases the ability of animals to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death.


Deforestation is the number one cause of biodiversity loss around the globe. Sir David Attenborough has witnessed dramatic deforestation in Borneo over 60 years and his moving account of its effect on the resident orangutan population is TV folklore – as is his encounter with a troop of gorillas in Rwanda for the making of the seminal natural history series “Life On Earth” in 1978. To me, it is nonsensical and amoral to over-harvest natural resources with the concomitant detrimental impact on indigenous wildlife in the name of tourism. We prefer to support and promote small and local accommodation that strives to be resilient, although we do offer larger alternatives when the developments have been constructed with the emphasis on sustainability and not exploitative of local communities.

The same goes for food production. Cutting down trees or grazing savanna for beef production is a double whammy: loss of essential carbon-storing plants and the raising of planet-polluting livestock. There is unequivocal evidence to show that following a vegan diet dramatically reduces the negative effects of a meat-based diet – a recent detailed analysis found that plant diets lead to 75% less climate-heating emissions, water pollution and land use than meat-rich onesand vastly increases the number of carbon-sequestering plants (obviously!). Not eating fish or other foods that are locally scarce or threatened is another way of looking after nature.

Avoiding using hardwoods such as mahogany and ebony will reduce deforestation, or not buying ornaments made with hardwoods. Similarly, ornaments made from endangered species (many of which will be illegal) should not be bought as souvenirs. Items from endangered species that are commonly on sale include ivory, tortoiseshell, reptile skins, furs, and some corals and seashells.

Most of our customers want to include at least one jeep safari in a national park as part of their Sri Lanka holiday and many are avid wildlife enthusiasts. Wildlife watching has become a burgeoning sector of the global tourism industry but there are issues. Over-tourism in some national parks around the world has eroded habitats, changed migration and mating patterns, and even inadvertently killed wild animals with the viewing vehicle. Our jeep safari providers in Sri Lanka follow best-practice guidelines, as do our boat providers for whale and dolphin watching.

With our private, bespoke holidays for up to 8 people – most of our holidays are for a couple or family quartet – our group sizes are small and this helps to prevent over-tourism in vulnerable areas. However, when trekking, please always follow official footpaths as habitats are at risk of being trampled and coastlines are being eroded.

Climate change

Your flight to Sri Lanka and/or Maldives is about 80% of the total carbon footprint of your entire holiday and possibly the best alternative to mitigate your flights’ emissions at the present time is to invest in a local community generation project at home. We use petrol- or diesel-engine vehicles in Sri Lanka as a matter of necessity. Currently, there is a poor uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) on the island and the charging infrastructure for EVs is non-existent. We don’t use internal flights for obvious climate action reasons but we do encourage train journeys around the island, particularly through the spectacular Hill Country, along the palm-fringed west coast to Galle and up to seldom-visited Jaffna in the far north.

Food systems (production, transport and waste) are responsible for creating about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Of this, nearly 60% comes from animal products, with beef, lamb, and dairy being the biggest contributors. Sourcing ingredients that are being farmed organically will reduce your carbon footprint. If eating beef, make sure that it is grass-fed – traditionally many cattle have a diet supplemented with soy, which has direct links to deforestation. Dare I say it again: follow a vegan diet for the health of the planet and yourself.* In Sri Lanka, plant-based menus are becoming more widespread and, culturally, a vegetarian or vegan diet has been followed by many Sri Lankans for time immemorial, particularly in the Tamil community.

Unbelievably, up to 50% of all food globally goes to waste and, unfortunately, Sri Lanka is no exception. Leaving something on your plate when you have had sufficient to eat is part of the local etiquette but at times this seems be taken to extremes especially when food is served as a buffet, which leads to much unnecessary waste. (Rice and curry, the national dish of Sri Lanka, is always served as a buffet in local eateries at lunchtime and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see more than enough food to feed another person left on the plate at the end of a meal before being unceremoniously scraped into the waste bin.) Why not just take the right amount of food for you, with a tiny bit leftover for propriety’s sake?

*Addendum (24 October 2023) – And may be people are taking note… The UK consumed less meat last year than at any point since records began in the 1970s, in a trend driven by the cost of living crisis, the continued impact of Covid and broader lifestyle changes. Data released by the government showed that Britons ate less meat at home in the year to March 2022 than at any point since 1974.

Categories: Accommodation, Culture, Flights, Health, Maldives, News, Sri Lanka, Sustainability, Travel tips, Wildlife

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