True. It’s not the most eye catching of subject titles. It’s difficult to try and ‘jazz’ it up. But, that’s what this post is about – our annual community national park clean up – arranged and funded by EL.
OK. When most people think of Mongolia they don’t think of a rubbish clean-up. It’s not in the top ten highlights suggested by Lonely Planet or Wanderlust. Still, this is what we do – donning gloves, picking up sacks and getting on with it.
What’s it all about?!
Mongolia is frequently sold by tour companies as being a pristine untouched wilderness. It’s not. But, with Mongolia’s scenic beauty and wilderness experience being key points behind why people visit Mongolia, preservation of these values is a prerequisite for sustainable travel here in Mongolia. Much of Mongolia’s tourism sector in fact depends in the long term on the preservation of the country’s cultural and physical landscapes.
Unfortunately in Mongolia (as with elsewhere in the world), there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of rubbish that is discarded. A majority of our clients commented on it so I decided to do something about it…..and make it part of our philosophy and a feature of the EL calendar.
For the past five years, Turuu and I have arranged for members of the Tariat community to spend two days clearing the north-shore (and surrounding area) of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.
Why Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park?
Because of these guys. Batbold and Jargaa (pictured here with their grandson Anand – who deserves a blog post all of his own). Some of the kindest and warmest people you could ever hope to meet.
We picked Terkhiin Tsaagaan Nuur initially due to the strength of our contacts there. We wanted a community involvement and Jargaa and Batbold (our hosts at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur and owners of Surtiin Tulga Eco Camp) are at the centre of their local community.
Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is popular with Mongolian families making the most of the five-day annual Naadam holiday. And this is where rubbish, human waste, and camp fires had degraded the environment over the course of several years as visitor numbers have increased. Discarded rubbish is a major issue for the local rural communities as many of them lack the funds and resources to collect the rubbish.
That’s the basic combination that inspired Turuu and I to arrange and facilitate a trial clean-up in 2014 at the Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park and then to repeat it in 2015, 2016 and 2017. And now 2018.
A natural highlight of Mongolia, White Lake National Park encompasses an area of wild nature – volcanic craters, rugged mountains, river valleys and rolling steppe.
This large freshwater lake (formed by the damming of the Chuluut River from the lava flow from Khorg Uul – radiocarbon dated at about 4930 years ago) has 10 tributary rivers and over 6000 hectares of wetlands of international importance. The numerous bays and peninsulas on the northern shore are home to Bar Headed Geese, Ruddy Shellducks and Northern Lapwings. It is one of 70 Important Bird Area’s (IBA) in Mongolia and part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway protecting migratory water birds. There are also populations of Siberian Marmots on the open steppe and Grey Wolves (mainly in the larch dominated coniferous forest in the mountains).
Our suggestion of two-days dedicated to cleaning up waste were welcomed by the administration of the Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park back in 2014 and the joint effort was planned. It is still warmly welcomed.
As with each year, we paid a small financial incentive to each person involved – including unemployed locals and nomadic herders who make their home in the area who volunteered to come and join us. We were also joined by the protected area rangers. We obtained the local town (15-ton) rubbish truck and paid for the fuel and the driver. We provided a cooked lunch on both days as well as urns of tea. AND! Between us we filled the rubbish truck.
Over the years we have battled through all weather conditions – including snow, thunder and lightening and a massive hail storm that drenched us within seconds. The end of clean-up parties have become legendary – sorry, the vodka is typically flowing so we have no photos.
The end result. There is absolutely no way to make a 15-ton truck full of rubbish look like an exciting image. Still, here it is from 2018:
Is this a success? Yes. Areas we typically clean were free of rubbish so we were able to focus on collecting old rubbish from other areas. Yes, it is a full 15-ton truck but this still represents success! We’re proud that the local community is taking charge and working on improving the environmental impact of visitors to the area.
Small steps but all in the right direction. Use this link for more on the work we do within local communities as part of our responsible tourism Mongolia philosophy.