The Problem:Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world and coastal areas generally experience the highest levels of tourism and tourist-based development. Of concern is that new beach-related tourism often brings more people and development to coastal areas with ever increasing real and potential impacts to fragile coastal ecosystems and the wildlife that rely on those ecosystems. Most of these impacts can be reduced through public education, sensible regulations, and through the implementation of sustainable “best management practices” that can benefit tourism and the environment. Beachfront tourism can have negative impacts on sea turtles in particular if not properly managed. These impacts include nesting habitat degradation from development on adjacent dunes, an increase in trash such as plastics boat strikes from marine-based recreational activities, , increased illumination of the beach that can discourage nesting and disorient hatchings causing them to head inland, increased beach driving, inadequately covered trash receptacles that lure nest predators such as raccoons to the beach, unintentional harassment of sea turtles by curious beachgoers and sea turtle-based ecotourism. “Green building” and ”sustainable tourism” are becoming increasingly popular and important tools in the preservation and protection of the environment. Green building should include “sea turtle safe lighting, adequate set-backs from the active beach, and no-litter policies. As sea turtles have become an increasing popular tourist attraction both tourists and tourism operations need to understand how to reduce their impacts on sea turtles and nesting habitat (i.e.. don’t harass the animals, use only red lights, don’t allow flash photography) and to follow all appropriate laws and regulations. Through adequate planning and education beachfront developers, tourists, and tour operators can all work together to protect, rather than adversely impact, sea turtles and their habitat. Sea turtles nest on tropical and subtropical beaches where recreational use and development of tourist infrastructure can come into conflict with sea turtle conservation. Sustainable tourism means that nesting beaches, foraging grounds, and the nearby coastal waters will be protected for the benefit of people and sea turtles.
Species Affected: All species of sea turtles are affected.
The Solution: There are several strategies for sustainable tourism as it impacts sea turtles. The best practices for hotels, resorts, and destinations begin by developing a policy statement that addresses the following:
* Protection of sea turtle nesting beaches on or near tourism property and knowing when nesting occurs;
* Obtaining assistance from local experts for staff training and evaluation if the tourism hotel, resort, or destination does not possess the expertise itself;
* Preserve native maritime forest, restore native vegetative cover near nesting areas to help stabilize the sand, reduce illumination of the beach, as well as reduce sediment run off to reefs and sea grass;
* Stop the mining of sand, gravel, and stones from beaches and adjacent areas when doing construction and use alternate materials;
* Install turtle friendly lighting and invite guests to close their drapes and/or turn off their lights at night to provide dark nesting beach areas. Also, ask guests not to use flashlights on the beach at night;
* At night during the nesting season remove obstacles such as beach chairs, umbrellas, water craft and other recreational equipment. . Also fill large holes on the beach, and restrict or prohibit vehicle use on the beach, pets on the beach, and bonfires on the beach;
* Provide for ongoing beach cleanup and take preventive measures such as not using plastic straws or lids in food and beverage establishments on or near the beach. Also provide polices for reduction of waste, reuse, and recycling;
* Think beyond the beach to have polices that protect inter-nesting habitat. Provide for no-wake zones and mooring requirements;
* Control the number of visitors to sensitive areas and implement polices to enforce restrictions;
* Develop policies to insure new construction or remodeling does not adversely impact sea turtles or nesting habitat. Include requirements for pre-assessment of environmental impacts on turtles, adequate setbacks from the beach, and alternatives to building sea walls;
* Develop ongoing education programs to involve guests, clients, staff, contractors and the larger coastal community, in implementing the sea turtle conservation polices of the hotel, resort or destination.
Case Study: Disney's Vero Beach Resort is a good case study for how to successfully implement best management practices and sustainable tourism. Some of these best practices include:
* Installing sea turtle-friendly lighting throughout the resort;
* Raising funds for conservation and protection of sea turtles and other beach-dependent wildlife;
* Educating their guests in ways to protect sea turtles and engaging young guests in fun sea turtle protection activities.
* Constructing the resort and infrastructure sufficiently far inland and away from the active beach.;
* Offering sea turtle monitoring and sea turtle rehabilitation programs that their staff and others take part in;
* Educating guests and the public on sea turtle issues through their annual sponsorship of the Tour de Turtle program.
* * * * * Tour de Turtles: A Race for Sustainable Tourism