Heather W. Barron, DVM, DABVP
Hospital Director, CROW
Tourism is currently the world's leading industry, with nature tourism the fastest growing segment. In response to this increasing interest in what Mother Nature has to offer, a new travel ethic has arisen called ecotourism. Ecotourism is essentially environmentally responsible and sustainable travel to natural areas that strengthen local communities and provide education and interpretation to increase the understanding and appreciation of nature.
Florida’s beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, and lush landscapes provide many opportunities to appreciate nature and these attract droves of tourists, which can often have a deleterious impact on the lovely but fragile ecosystems that have drawn them here. But done correctly, tourism can play a vital role in preserving the sensitive flora and fauna of the Sunshine State.
Ecotourism is often misrepresented or misinterpreted as any form of tourism that involves nature, so enlightened travelers should look for companies that place an emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.
Luckily there are some organizations that can help; the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism (FL SEE) is one of these. To help travelers plan a visit to Florida, FL SEE provides a list of ecotour providers that are “recognized as preferred service providers who are committed to using best practices for ecological sustainability, natural area management, and quality ecotourism experiences”. CROW has recently been designated as a FL SEE Gold rated ecotourism destination. CROW is committed to sustainable and responsible interactions with wild animals that support the local community, protect the environment, and advance the health of wildlife.
What would a responsible ecotourist do when looking at local wildlife? First, do not approach wildlife too closely. Watch the animal’s behavior; if you are clearly impacting their normal behavior, then you need to back away. No selfies with large alligators or holding baby manatees. Do not feed the wildlife in an attempt to get them to come closer to you. Remember the “take only pictures and leave only footprints” adage and never remove anything living from the environment. Be knowledgeable about the wildlife typically found in a given area and contribute to “citizen science”.
The National Audubon Society started this trend a century ago with its Christmas Bird Count; but today, with improved communication capabilities, people can contribute to the body of knowledge about wildlife in all kinds of ways that are easy, convenient, and fun! And finally, if you observe ill or injured wildlife, transport or report them to a local wildlife center, such as CROW.
CROW’s Wildlife Walk offers visitors to Sanibel an opportunity to participate in a Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism (FL SEE) Gold rated program. The program includes a presentation in the Visitor Education Center about local wildlife and a guided behind-the-scenes tour of CROW’s Hospital. Click here for a calendar of upcoming Wildlife Walks at CROW!