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  • Corina Ray Bogart

Ecotourism: Self Initiation of the Western Mind

Traditionally, rites of passage would result in the dissolution of the mirage separating subjective and objective perspectives. By encountering pivotal topics that transcend the species barrier, the ecotourist is attempting to touch upon their own shadow, their fear of death, their estrangement from unity of the Self, rendering modern ecotourism a modality for human beings to attempt self-initiation of an underdeveloped psyche into maturation.





Stacked on top of one another between repeating walls of concrete, fallen trees, and the roar of automobiles whizzing over hot asphalt, humanity is desperate to slake their thirst for psychological unity, the illimitable, and the profound. RVs are provisioned, gas tanks filled, tickets booked, and in the tremendous erotic irony of the modernist and post-modernist eras, human beings retreat into nature to momentarily relieve themselves from the reality they have relished in creating. The globalization of a dominant positivist Western worldview has beguiled the morality of billions, causing deep seeded intuitive knowledge to lure the self from shrouded layers of contradictory belief systems, calling for a metamorphosis of the human race. Identifying themselves with the rationalist-scientific perspective, humanity is estranged from the rhythmic flux of nature, unable to develop a fully matured psyche. Ecotourism, a contemporary breed of recreation, began increasing at an annual rate between 10% and 30% in 1993 (Reingold) and has since expanded into a global enterprise, attracting patrons yearning to venture from the comfort of their known worlds and cross the threshold into the mysteries of nature. Amidst the process of anthropocentric and ecosystem convergence, a dichotomy polarizes humanity’s deep love for the natural world as human exposure to pristine areas of wilderness is negatively impactful to the environment. Earth’s natural systems and biota are being capitalized and industrialized in humankind’s quest for the missing knowledge in Western culture’s absent adolescent rites of passage. Traditionally, rites of passage would result in the dissolution of the mirage separating subjective and objective perspectives. By encountering pivotal topics that transcend the species barrier, the ecotourist is attempting to touch upon their own shadow, their fear of death, their estrangement from unity of the Self, rendering modern ecotourism a modality for human beings to attempt self-initiation of an underdeveloped psyche into maturation.

The 1960’s environmental revolution created a seismic wave of increased awareness, rippling realization of modern humanity’s deleterious relationship with the natural world through unforeseen negative consequences of uninterrupted global industrialization. Ecotourism soon began its flourishing popularity as a conscious and environmentally friendly recreational alternative to traditional tourism. Ecotourism is defined as traveling to unspoiled natural areas with the objective of studying, appreciating, and enjoying the landscape, its wild inhabitants, and local cultural history (Fennell, 2003). Goodwin (1996) explains ecotourism to be:


… Low impact nature tourism which contributes to the maintenance of species and habitats either directly through a contribution to conservation and/or indirectly by providing revenue to the local community sufficient for local people to value, and therefore protect, their wildlife heritage area as a source of income (p. 288).

Ecotourism has the intended mission of providing patrons with personal, educational, and conservation benefits, therefore having the potential to supply impetus for increased empathy and lifestyle changes required for expanded protection of species and ecosystems (Zeppel, 2008).

A multicultural group of biologists and ecologists created an extensive multidimensional list in the collaborative work Best Practices Toward Sustainable Ecotourism outlining the three pillars of a successful ecotourism project: environment, economy, and society. The recipe for effective transformational ecotourism integrates all stakeholders and local communities with a multidisciplinary body of scientists to develop modalities of generating revenue that reduces the local communities’ complete financial dependence on ecotourism while aiding in the health of the ecological system. Partnerships established between the project and eco-friendly socially responsible companies are highly encouraged in conjunction with continuous ecological monitoring, controlled studies, environmental education, and the implementation of clear guidelines and regulations. The synergy established between local environment, community, and economy results in the generation of ecological insight, empathy, and preservation (Samia et al., 2017). Ecotourism carries the potentiality to be a valid form of conservation and human community development if it is well managed, regulated, and includes a broad spectrum of community members and scientists. Although having made a comprehensive model for successful ecotourism, Samia et al. fail to address the dimension of spirituality inherent upon entering wilderness areas, and the interaction’s profound benefits. The fissure between ethical ecotourism theory and practice compounded with the general disregard of the sacred engenders further capitalist exploitation of the environment. By incorporating universally centered concepts into the educational aspects of ecotourism, patrons receive the opportunity for multifaceted growth.

One thousand surveys distributed aboard whale and dolphin watching tours in Auckland and dolphin swim encounters in Kaikoura, New Zealand, demonstrated a considerable desire amongst ecotourists to be exposed to more information regarding the environment and conservation. Survey respondents reported that in addition to the information provided on the tour, they wanted to learn about potential threats, cetacean social behavior, breeding, illness, and lifecycles (Lück, 2015), attesting to humanity’s inner striving for the deep conceptual meaning of birth, life, death, suffering, and community. The commonality between the ecotourist’s ache for profound knowledge and the insight derived from traditional adolescent rites of passage ceremony illustrates an underdeveloped psyche attempting to ignite an integration of identity through the modality of ecotourism.

The intelligence, charisma, elegance, and gregarious nature of cetaceans create a synergy of characteristics enticing the contemporary psychological desire for maturation. The cross-cultural phenomena of rites of passage are a deeply rooted archetypal might ushering the individual to unearth profound meaning, purpose, and the mysterious forces of the cosmos; ergo, deepening the individual’s understanding of the self (Tarnas, 2001). The comprehension of life is “ritually transformed through independent process while the initiate is influenced, impressed, consecrated on mere ground of presence or participation” (Jung, 1959, p. 51). Rites of passage ceremoniously escort the initiate to the threshold of liminality, the old identity is dissolved, and a new self takes form. All rites of passage are a core developmental process uncovering the perpetual succession of life through death, transformation, and rebirth. The ceremony is composed of a series of stages encompassing universal, cultural, and psychological challenges, instigating a shift in self-perception to herald the maturation of the individual and society at large.

The pivotal adolescent rite of passage guiding an individual into adulthood is inherently missing from Western cultural practices. Several cultural events superficially mark the crucial transition: prom, receiving a driver’s license, loss of virginity, alcohol consumption, voting, leaving home, secondary education, and entering the workforce. Although these events gesture to a shift in developmental stages, they lack the vital confrontation with mortality and the profound restructuring of the psyche that defines a rite of passage. The cultural paucity results in the idealism of immature attributes and the delusion of human immortality. Meaningless sex, greed, ruthlessness, rebellion, and narcissism subdues the more beautiful expressions of humanity, including the obligatory sense of responsibility to human and ecological communities. According to Markstrom et al. (1998), “The failure to accomplish or resolve a developmental task leads to personal dissatisfaction, societal disapproval, and greater difficulty in accomplishing later developmental tasks” (p. 342). Removed from the acute awareness of nature’s regenerative cycles, an individual or society is unable to fathom the severity of global domination and the ruination inflicted upon nature as having parlous repercussions to humankind.

Crucial to self-identity formation, adolescence is a transitional phase in itself, a segue from childhood dependence to the psychologically and psychosocially mature and independent adult (Markstrom et al., 1998; Jung, 1959). The journey is of universal magnitude, varying in social specific contexts, and psychological variances of the individual whose outcome benefits the collective while simultaneously strengthening the initiate’s individual identity. During the first phase of rites, the individual is initiated into the ritual by a period of separation from the community where the initiate encounters a profoundly frightening experience saturated with the darkest aspects of existence: death, aloneness, suffering, crisis of meaning, despair, and abandonment of the maternal (Butler, 1990; Tarnas, 2001). A colossal identity crisis ensues as the illusion of a secure self crumbles, unveiling the challenge of reconciling the death of the juvenile ego construct.

Under the eclipsed light of the self, the initiate submits to the unknown, embracing the visceral phenomena of passing through a symbolic death (Jung, 1959). The phase is a period of crisis, of uncertainty, and vertigo as the initiate is enveloped by the realm of the marginal. Solidity is but a nostalgic illusion as the old identity liquefies in the cocoon of the passage. Without the comfort of a new sense of self, the ambiguous state can give rise to distress, insecurity, and uncertainty. However, given the opportunity to plunge into the darkness of the unknown, the transition can instill awe, openness, and wisdom (Markstrom, 2013). The surrender into a dissolution of the old identity and the formation of the new gives way to re-aggregation, psychological transmutation, and a blossoming of higher cognitive qualities correlated to social and ethnological perspectives (Butler, 1990; Jung, 1959; Markstrom, 2013). The wisdom of life, death, and regeneration propel the youth to maturation and a rebirth into society, affirming their role in a broader social scheme, and enlivening the community with new knowledge and understanding (Markstrom, 2013; Tarnas, 2001). The reincorporation of the new aspects of self into a broadened identity indicates the successful resolution of a psychological crisis, bringing about an instinctual and internally fueled strength that is only fully actualized in psychosocially healthy individuals. Self-perception dilates, creating a vacuity in the heart and mind that is promptly filled with empathy, compassion, and respect for universal existence in and of itself. Without a rite of passage ceremony, the transitional period of adolescence is lengthened and steeped in an onslaught of arduous tasks to overcome the psychological deficiency, perpetuating the rise of self-expanding nature-based programs. Whale watching (including cetacean encounters and wild dolphin swims) has steadily increased in popularity over the past 60 years as a “nonlethal and non-consumptive” alternative to the modernist era of whaling. Whale watching is considered the “new frontier of late-capitalist transformation,” producing greater revenue than aquaculture and fisheries combined (Bearzi, 2018). The accelerating momentum of cetacean ecotourism attests to the increasingly dire urgency of human self-actualization.

A constellation of glistening grey fins breaks the iridescent placidity of the water’s surface. Moving synchronously, a pod of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) redefines grace, effortlessly gliding through calm cerulean, broken only by the dazzling undulations of golden morning light. The smallest cetaceans of the Hawai’ian Archipelago have recently finished a long night of hunting mesopelagic fish, squid, and shrimp that vertically migrated offshore from a depth of 1,200 meters to 400 meters (Danil, Maldini, & Marten, 2005). As dawn breaks and hunger subsides, the large schools of spinner dolphins separate into smaller pods and seek calm sandy-bottomed bays to socialize and steadily enter a state of peaceful relaxation before shutting off their sonar and descending into rest. The geography of the coves is imperative for the spinners’ health; having turned off their high energy consuming sonar during daytime dormancy, the mammals rely solely on eyesight to detect predators against the homogeneous sandy-bottomed background (Lammars, 2004; Norris et al., 1994). The spinners’ extremely predictable presence within calm near-shore bays facilitates ideal conditions for snorkelers, boaters, and other watercraft to reach the resting pods and attempt to initiate interaction. While operating on only one-half of a brain and concurrently rejuvenating the other, the dolphins are incredibly vulnerable during their approximate peak relaxation periods (Lammars, 2004). Long-term behavioral and fitness studies of Hawai’ian spinner dolphins remain to be conducted; nevertheless, the onslaught of ecotourism reveals severe ramifications for Hawai'i's dolphin populations and wildlife across the globe.

Studies conducted in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, and Shark Bay, Australia, disclose bottlenose dolphin pods’ inclination to abandon the vicinity of high tourism exposure. Adult survival rates appeared to be relatively consistent throughout the study, while calves seem to be significantly susceptible to human subjection. With calf survival in decline, and predation negated as an adequate source of fatalities, scientists are lead to believe that without sufficient rest, mothers’ feeding efficiency diminishes, thereby reducing the available energy for lactation. The population of Doubtful Sound bottlenose dolphins has declined by 34-39% over 12 years with a resulting 2007 population of 56 individuals (Currey et al., 2009). Subjected to an increasing human presence, global ecologies can suffer substantial adverse short and long-term implications such as alterations in wildlife behavior or physiology, chronic levels of stress, an increased mortality rate, and reduced breeding success of individuals or entire populations. Although sometimes difficult to perceive, short-term consequences are cumulative, generating a negative feedback loop of ecological destruction, loss of economic revenue, and cultural viability (Green & Giese, 2004; Carter & Carter, 2007).

The ecotourism industry’s strong invested interest in a virile ecosystem paradoxically opposes its unsustainable praxis; currently, ecotourism’s proclaimed ecological and community nourishing practices remain amiss due to capitalism’s seductive games of power and monetary gain. Government conservational regulations are generally inadequately resourced to meet state preservation goals when conservation is perceived as costly to government budgets. Wilderness produces a minimal return on investment and is therefore often bypassed by areas of perceived higher importance, such as public policy concerning health, education, and security (Caltlin et al., 2013). “When it comes to welfare or voice, or allocation of funding, nonhumans are placed second unless they are of human value,” stated Greeson (2017, p. 174), attesting to the warped anthropocentric phenomena that species protected under the rein of government programs are the organisms of capitalist investment, usually encompassing charismatic animals or biota used for human consumption. The farcical conception of equating ecological worth to that of the dollar frames the skewed portrait of modernity’s callow egoic society.

A fleet of vessels crests over the horizon. Armed with underwater cameras, swimmers storm the shore and dive into the crystal sea, erratically thrashing their plastic finned feet in foamy bursts of salty spray. It is 9:00 on a Sunday morning, an enchanting hour to be swaddled in the liquid turquoise languidly caressing the soft sands of Maku’a Beach. Tour boats are stuffed to maximum capacity; double-deckers of rubbernecking tourists intersect the chaotic throng of snorkelers jeering with glee, coating the water’s surface in anticipation and viscous sunscreen. The agglomeration of humans thickens as tour boats ranging from modest to monstrous motor in from sea. Humanity encroaches from all sides, corralling the pod of resting dolphins, and in a cacophony of loudspeaker trills, the eco-charters spew their patrons into the water, one giant splash after the other, until the water is littered with a yellow confetti of tourists bobbing up and down on fluorescent coastguard regulated flotation devices. A nautical traffic jam develops as swimmers are thrust into each other, skewing the ratio of dolphins to humans quickly in favor of the human. As the cetaceans attempt to rejuvenate in their resting habitat, tourists and locals scramble for a chance to witness, connect, and experience the wild majesty of the Hawai’ian spinner dolphin.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), research shows Hawai’ian “spinners in some resting bays encounter potentially disruptive human activity about 82% of the time, with only about 10 minutes of reprieve between interactions” (NOAA, 2018). During a 2005 study conducted by Danil, Maldin, and Marten (2005) on the spinner dolphins at leeward Maku’a Beach, it was discovered that although most swimmers’ behavior was subdued (refraining from pursuit, devoid of loud splashing, etc.), their mere presence may be keeping dolphins in a constant state of alert. The study strongly suggests pods depart their resting coves prematurely to seek a more favorable location. The Marine Mammal Protection Act implemented in 1972 to safeguard the Earth’s great animals of the sea, states the unlawfulness for any person “to harass, capture, or kill” any marine mammal; NOAA defines harassment as "any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance" that has the potential to harm or disturb the wildlife. In August 2016, NOAA proposed to limit all interactions with Hawai’ian spinner dolphins to 45.7 meters from the marine mammals, including swimmers, vessels, and objects to prevent “disturbance and harassment.” NOAA’s preferred alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement considers shutting down five selected essential daytime habitats during peak dolphin resting periods (NOAA Fisheries, 2016). NOAA’s proposed regulations would undeniably be beneficial to the health of the spinner dolphin populations while simultaneously hindering the ecotourism economy and the potential for human spiritual and psychological evolution. The proposed regulations conjure inquiry regarding the manner in which new laws will be enforced if present restrictions are already minimally implemented, with unlawful acts rarely resulting in a citation or fine. A system dependent on monetary prosperity does not adequately support the preservation of the invaluable and continues to erode the natural beauty of the planet and the human psyche.

The subjective and objective Cartesian dichotomy lacerates the validity of a united perspective. Ethics only pertain to the individual as the self is severed from the “other.” Nature is rendered inert, a lifeless resource to be utilized in the name of “progress.” Post-modern resource management generates the conditions for humans to control nature in order to save nature from humans, whereas the fundamental truth is: “Nature rejoices in nature, nature subdues nature, nature rules over nature” (Democritus as quoted in Jung, 1959, p. 64). Western philosophy directly contradicts what we know to be actuality from insights derivative of traditional rites of passage; thus, the Cartesian and empirical model intrinsically violates humankind’s innate psychology and spiritual being. Preservation will only flourish within a society with a matured morality; it is within the expansion of the ego that one relates to the Earth and all of its beings as of insurmountable worth. Delineation through the projection of self is an inevitable aspect of human consciousness to bridge the gap between the illusory subjective and objective divide. The human is drawn to the haunting howl of the wolf, the fierce majesty of the jaguar, the splendid and mysterious intelligence of the dolphin. Seeing themselves in the brazened glint of the cetacean’s eye, the tourist hopes to reconcile aspects of their fragmented psyche through an ancient biological condition of homo sapiens that provides the basis for experiences of enlightenment, connection, oneness, and personal integration. People yearn for the visceral soul-shaking experience of being known, by being recognized by the “other,” the intangible truth of their selves in the form of another. The unconscious propels the individual to pursue higher fulfillment and connection to nature. It is the thirst for one’s own wildness, a greater sense of the self beyond “I” that drives one to seek wildlife encounters and be a part of the knowledge and wisdom the experience provides in the face of fear, to rise above their self-centered perception of reality. It’s a journey back to a unified cosmology of ancient affect: an outcry of the subconscious returning to a traditional way of knowing.

Obscured by absorptive hegemony and the amnesia of time, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) evinces the antithetical modality of empirical positivist ways of knowing while obtaining similar if not congruent conclusions to inquiry. TEK is the result of a culture’s participation in life entrenched in the ever-changing rhythms and cycles of nature (Berkes, 2008), burgeoning an integrated cosmology of the somatic, the spiritual, and consciousness. Observational research is limitless, encompassing the incredibly mundane and the supremely profound; regardless, the Cartesian subjective/objective dichotomy lacerates the validity of a united perspective. Through the traditional lens, resources are successfully managed by moral regard of the universe as saliently sacred; reverence swells in the heavens and showers down unto all, from the spawning salmon swimming upstream to the churning microfauna in the soil. An etic spiritual structure arises in the form of shamanism, extending beyond culturally specific religious characteristics of pastoral, agricultural, or simple hunter-gatherer societies (Harvey, 2006; Winkelman, 2004). The diffusion of traditions does not account for uniformities in the worldwide distribution of shamanism, ergo it is indicative of human psychobiology, elucidating a “biological foundation involving neurognostic structures- neural networks that provide basic forms of perception and knowledge and the universal aspects of mind” (Winkelman, 2004, p. 197). Fundamental cognitive and consciousness structures correlated to the psyche, self, and other are biologically activated by integrative altered states induced by ritualistic activities. Winkelman (2004) describes the shamanic processes as intensifying “connections between the limbic system and lower brain structures and project these synchronous integrative slow wave (theta) discharges into the frontal brain” (p. 194). The shamanic biologically dynamic integration of emotional and behavioral proclivities of the preverbal brain into personal and cultural networks of the frontal cortex is a heuristic model of psychological development.

The rituals themselves often incorporate the use of animism, acknowledging the sentience, power, and totemism of animals to provide a symbolic model for identity-structuring, empowering individuals in the transition to adulthood. The guardian spirit construct represents the shaman’s use of taxonomies to “incorporate animal properties within identity and personal powers” (Winkelman, 2004, p. 204). Animism bestows persons with the metaphorical fangs, wings, and fins to propel them into a higher restructuring of the ego. The anima mundi captivates our wonder, inducing the mystical restlessness for the extraordinary, whispering dolphin dreams in sleeping ears until the credit card has been drawn from the wallet and the prospective initiate stands on the edge of the dock; offshore winds gust the promise of a new epistemology.

Flaxen sands shift into a shimmering afternoon. The tour boats and shore swimmers continue to chase the spinner dolphins from the north end of the bay to the south, taking no heed in the cetacean’s obvious avoidant behavior. Less than a decade ago it was entirely possible to merge with pods intentionally; Wild Side Specialty Tours Captain Elizabeth Hartford reminisced about the time resident Waianae spinners would settle inshore and allow curious persons to “swim with the pod, be one with the pod” (personal communication, 6 October 2018). Although integration continues to be feasible, presently Oahu’s Hawaiian spinner population has grown avoidant due to the tireless pursuit of vessels and swimmers. Approximately one dozen dolphin related tour boats depart from Waianae’s small boat harbor every morning, and a preponderance of the companies conduct a second charter during peak winter months when cetacean sightings are most abundant. The Waianae companies boast ecofriendly practices, “quality education” incorporating “indigenous knowledge” while “promoting environmental stewardship” and “community wellbeing.” Their websites tout “marine biologist” and “certified naturalist” lead tours that coincide with NOAA’s Dolphin Safe guidelines to ensure the preservation of Hawai’i’s cetacean populations and to spread awareness of potential ecological dangers (Wild Side Tours, 2018; Dolphins & You, 2018; Dolphin Excursions, 2018; Eō, 2018; Dolphin Star, 2018; Iruka Hawaii, 2018). If a majority of the claims could be distinguished from being mere whale tales, the overcrowding and blatant pursuit of cetaceans that regularly occur along the leeward coast would not transpire, attesting to the ecotours’ guilt in allowing the dollar to determine potential ecologically harmful decisions to be made. Several companies go as far as to guarantee patrons a wild dolphin experience, negating any respect for the animals by audaciously pursuing pods up and down the coast, intersecting their restorative milling patterns, and dumping consumers in the dolphins’ path, a testament to the underdeveloped post-modern psyche’s lack of reciprocity.

The 40ft long catamaran Ariya bobs up and down as a small westerly swell marks the end of another day. “Dolphins and You: Journey of Self Discovery” emblazoned in crisp glacial hues along the boat’s hull encircles the imagery of a stylized dolphin tenderly touching his flippers to a young woman’s hand. They meet in what appears to be a transcendental moment of reconciliation: a resolved crisis of identity. The consciousness of the shaman materializes in the ecotour slogan, murmuring the animistic striving for a wildlife connection to shepherd the individual beyond the old identity and into a metamorphosis of maturation. Through the murky waters of the post-modern psyche is a regenerating current of forgotten cosmology, steadily emerging in the urgency for a turning of the tides in political systems, societal structures, and environmental ethics. A complete transformation of the psyche, and therefore human morality, relies on the dissolution of capitalist ascendancy and exploitation of the natural world. A gallant attempt at a resurgence of traditional rites of passage would merely continue humankind’s augmentation of nature’s processes, perpetuating the oscillation between anthropocentrism and ecological harmony. Alternatively, humankind must relinquish their futile illusion of power and control and yield to nature’s evolutionary forces. Upon surrender, the obsolete is scorched, birthing fertile psychological territory for meandering streams to engrave wisdom into the grey canyons of humanity’s neural networks. Reborn, the first breaths of luminous oxygen flood into the former consumer-mind and are exhaled as the prayers of a steward. In the disorienting fog of liminality, we wait. It remains unclear whether humanity’s renunciation of an anthropocentric worldview will break the cycle of multitudinous destruction before being engulfed by an inhospitable climate. Regardless of homo sapiens’ fate as a species, every one of us will individually face our developmental deficits before submitting to the cadence of the shaman’s drum.




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