Ecotourism and Freshwater Landscapes

I’ve always been passionate about landscapes sculpted by freshwater, particularly waterfalls, and why they attract people. In developing a concentration, I summarized the topics of freshwater, geomorphology, and recreation. Freshwater is an endlessly broad and essential topic that affects all of our lives. In researching freshwater I asked key questions about the impact of creating reservoirs, methods of river restoration and how different ecosystems affect the location of water. Since freshwater plays a major role in forming the landscape that surrounds us, my second topic was geomorphology. Upon researching geomorphology, I asked about the role of sediment flux in landscape development, river morphodynamics in relation to flooding and how slope processes affect land form appearance. The third topic I researched was recreation, I asked about the evolution of modern tourism, the effects of ecotourism on local communities and ecocentric tourism.

See below for links to the topic summaries mentioned above:




Upon completing these topic summaries, the next step was to form intersectional questions that weave these different topics together. To connect the topics of freshwater and recreation, I asked how ecotourism affects the physical integrity (health) of rivers. Although ecotourism is meant to benefit the areas of which people are visiting, increased visitation to watery places (like rivers or waterfalls) does come with potentially negative consequences. I connected the topics of recreation and geomorphology by asking about the role of landscape appearance in religious pilgrimage. This particularly relates to land forms like Mt. Fuji in Japan whose inspiring symmetrical peak brought about centuries of pilgrimage. To connect the topics of freshwater and geomorphology, I asked about how sediment flux impacts reservoir capacity. I am aware that sediment build up is a major issue that comes with the creation of reservoirs and would be interested in learning more about that process and problem.

All of these topics and intersectional questions boils down to the theme of human visitation or intervention in freshwater landscapes. Watery landscapes are unique as they are essentially the life blood of terrestrial ecosystems but can also be desirable tourist destinations. I recall  driving through Yosemite Valley last year to see people literally stop in the middle of the road, get out of their cars and wander aimlessly towards Yosemite Falls, gazing in awe at its towering plunge. Water draws people in. Freshwater landscapes, like waterfalls, are irresistible. Apart from the unique charm of freshwater landscapes, the affects of ecotourism on places like Yosemite is pressingly relevant. The National Park Service is considering making Yosemite Valley only accessible by shuttle because of the degrading effects of high visitation and falling air quality from increasing car traffic.

Apart from the draw of freshwater landscapes as a tourist destination, many have spiritual significance. Spiritual attraction can be an underlying motivator of ecotourism. In Japan, Shugendo practitioners would perform austerities under waterfalls, pray to rivers or waterfalls and would often sanction waterfalls off as holy objects. Upon looking through the ENVS Concentration Database, I found Robin Zeller’s Mountain concentration to be similar. He focused on mountain adventure tourism how travelers have socially constructed mountains, affected local communities and mixed cultures. Although he focused on mountains instead of freshwater landscapes, his research about the effects of ecotourism could be helpful and interesting to look into.

See below for my cmap:




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