Do you dream of swimming with dolphins, but find yourself concerned about how humans sometimes treat them? Do you want to see beautiful birds, but not when they are locked in a cage at the zoo? As we all become more knowledgeable about our planet and our interconnectedness with nature, we learn more about how to enjoy nature without disturbing it. In the spirit of summer, let’s take a look at some fun family vacation ideas during which you can see animals and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you plan on visiting a “concrete jungle” on your vacation, let’s look at ways to experience a more “green” getaway.
According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests, TIES states.
TIES further outlines ecotourism on its website, but you don’t necessarily have to be roughing it in nature to minimize your impact while on vacation. Small things will make a difference; ask your hotel or resort if they recycle and offer local organic foods when possible, or consider a destination where you can walk or bike while visiting instead of using a car. Hotels and resorts should offer filtered water instead of bottled, and save water by only washing linens between guests.
For families, eco-tours should educate children about the surrounding region while enjoying the outdoors with a safe, age-appropriate activity. We encourage you to research additional destinations, but we’ve compiled a short list of some family-friendly ways to encounter our favorite thing: creatures!
As we discussed last month, there are numerous sanctuaries in the states and abroad that are home to creatures that are ill, injured, or for some reason unable to live in the wild. One of ISF’s volunteers, Rachel Bevere, had the opportunity to visit one such sanctuary in Marysville, Ohio. Sunrise Sanctuary provides kindness, experienced care, and respect to creatures on a 16-acre property, allowing visitors to meet the animals on its open-barn days. Please check Sunrise Sanctuary’s website for more information, or look for a similar experience where you plan to travel.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service is turning 100 next year, and has launched the “Find Your Park” campaign to encourage tourists and locals to experience these beautiful lands. From camping to geocaching, and even becoming a citizen scientist to help collect data, the opportunities are endless. Check out the National Park Service website to attain more information and to search by state.
Marine Animal Experiences
There are loads of marine animal experiences with nonprofits and other organizations that promote conservation and the welfare of animals. For example, if you love sea turtles, you can visit one of the many turtle rescues that help injured animals. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) in Jekyll Island, Ga., is “dedicated to increasing awareness through sea turtle education, rehabilitation, and research programs,” as stated on its website. The GSTC is an advanced hospital but open to the general public, offering an interactive Exhibit Gallery and Rehabilitation Pavilion with many sea turtle patients on view for guests.
Further south, in Florida, there are more adventures that let you view sea life while learning about conservation. St. Augustine Eco Tours is an educational experience and, according to its website, “the goal of our programs is on-water interpretive experiences that focus on environmental education, conservation, and wildlife and habitat protection.” Tourists can take a 90-minute boat tour with an experienced interpretive naturalist through the rivers and creeks surrounding St. Augustine. It’s an opportunity for dolphin- and bird-watching while seeing historic sites, and is appropriate for all ages.
Another destination in Florida, Three Sisters Springs, allows visitors to don wetsuits and snorkels, and swim with the gentlest giants: the Florida manatees. Located in Crystal River, the springs are a safe haven and natural habitat for manatees, and do not allow boater access. Land-loving tourists can also choose to view manatees from the boardwalk. Please check the website for information (as animal viewing may be better during colder months) and also read the awesome story of how they were founded! Additionally, an Internet search can help you find tours that take people to swim with dolphins in their natural habitats. Just be careful to investigate, and always make sure tour guides are well-trained and experienced.
In the Northeastern U.S., you can find some awesome options, such as the 7 Seas Whale Watch Company in Gloucester, Mass., which was visited recently by our own volunteer Jessica Ulery. Jessica's family had a fantastic trip, and she says, "7 Seas Whale Watch offers the opportunity for anyone to experience the beauty and individuality of humpback and minke whales. They gather data and raise awareness in hopes of saving these beautiful creatures and preserving their feeding grounds."
The single best thing you can do to have an animal or nature-friendly vacation is RESEARCH in advance! Use common sense about what’s best for the environment, and educate yourself on the many destinations that promote conservation.
**Photos courtesy of Rachel Bevere and Jessica Ulery.
For additional ecotourism ideas in the U.S. please read USA Today’s “Ecotourism in the U.S.” at http://traveltips.usatoday.com/ecotourism-us-10980.html
For additional destinations outside the U.S. please see http://www.ecotourism.org/