Interpretation is the role that the guide should provide those people that are part of the ecotour. This might include pointing out certain features as they are encountered and giving a description of points of interest. It may involve relating information of where or what to look for while on the tour, it can also mean instructing tourists on how they should behave while actually on the tour. The 'tread lightly' ethic that is encouraged when visiting a wilderness area is about having a minimal impact on that environment as possible.

People need to be made aware of the fact that they become a part of dynamic environments which will have differing levels of tolerance to human interference. While they may feel as if they are only one person or group and as such not going to do any damage, they are in fact one of an ever increasing number of people who are frequenting these wilderness areas.

Water or aquatic environments are among the most fragile and consequential elements of an ecological system. Most of the organisms of the immediate environment will depend heavily upon the availability and the purity (or to be more precise the unchanged condition) of that water.

MARINE ENVIRONMENTS

A good interpreter needs to be able to identify most if not all species that are likely to be observed while conducting an ecotour. This will include species of interest because of normal or seasonal behaviour (e.g: Curvier’s Beaked whales breaching in the Bay of Biscay, U.K. or Southern Right whales calving in waters around Gympie, Australia during August each year), dangerous behaviour (Great White Sharks off the South Australian coast), vulnerability or endangered status (Yellow Eyed penguins in New Zealand), or perhaps simply entertainment value (Lanai dolphin in Maui, Hawaii).

The Great Barrier Reefoff the coast of <st1:country-region>Australia</st1:country-region>is one of the leading tourist attractions anywhere in the world. Initial tour operator practices have caused a great deal of damage. This was in reality not only a threat to the reef as an ecological entity but to the thousands of people who had become a part of the tourism industry associated with the reef.

It was the understanding of these social aspects as much as the environmental concerns that led to a review of ecotourist policy in relation to the reef and all other aquatic environments. The Great Barrier Reefis finally being recognised for the magnificent resource that it was and being protected accordingly. Multi-management is important in protecting such a habitat as there are a multitude of users including fisheries, tourism operators, tourists, transport companies, researchers, and local communities.

Not all activity on the reef has been terminated but those practises which were deemed as being of a destructive or unsustainable nature have been curtailed. A zoning system has been introduced where certain activities are only allowed in certain zones of these activities are limited in certain zones. Research is ongoing in order to determine whether further checks and controls are warranted, the process is ongoing.

Areas of concern which ecotour operators need to be aware of include:

·      leakage of motor oil fuels and chemicals from outboard motors or tour boats

·      damage to coral, seagrass and salt marsh communities (e.g. boat propellers, anchors, trampling)

·      litter and foreign objects

·      taking of protected or undersized species

·      disturbing or altering behaviour patterns of species especially to do with feeding and breeding habits.

The above concerns are even more critical in coastal areas such as mangroves and estuaries, anywhere in fact where the marine environment meets the land environment.

FRESHWATER ENVIRONMENTS

The monitoring and protection of freshwater systems is possibly even more crucial due to the important part that freshwater plays not only in aquatic systems but also to surrounding land environments. All of the concerns that apply to marine environments above are relevant to freshwater systems. Things such as wheeled vehicle disturbance and groundwater pollution, erosion and run off need to be added to the above list.   

Water is highly susceptible to contamination, which can occur in a number of varied ways. Some of these are listed below:

- Walking through a stream or even along its banks will cause a disturbance of sediment and particles in the water resulting in suspended particles and turbidity.

- Walking along tracks can cause deep erosion which loosens soil particles which in turn are washed into aquatic environments and again increasing turbidity.

- Chemicals from detergents or soaps, especially non biodegradable varieties that need not be used in direct contact with surface water to cause contamination. It can leach through soils and into ground water and artesian aquifers.

- Introduction of exotic species, either deliberate or unwittingly, which can dramatically impact upon a system. This may seem unlikely, but exotic plant or animal organisms can inadvertently hitch a ride on people or their mode of transport.