What is ecotourism? The World Conservation Union defines ecotourism as “Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and
appreciate nature that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples” (https://www.nature.org/). Ecotourism is important because it helps to preserve, protect and enhance not only local plants and wildlife, but also the culture and economy. In total there are seven principles to eco-tourism which you can read here https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/principles-importance-benefits-ecotourism.php.
Florida’s Space Coast is a top destination for ecotourism. The Space Coast is home to some of the world’s most unique animals including manatees, alligators, bottleneck dolphins, leatherback sea turtles and bald eagles. In fact, our area is home to more rare and endangered species than any other county in Florida! With the vast arrays of ecosystems and wildlife, it’s no wonder Weissmann Travel Reports (WTR) ranked our area as eleventh in the world among Eco-tourism destinations, and one that “gives the most enriching experience”. Brevard County’s overlapping boundaries of tropical and subtropical climates support approximately 4,300 species of plants and animals (http://spacecoast-florida.com/).
A top destination on an ecotourism itinerary is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This 140,000 acre site is located adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center and is home to more than 1,500 species of plans and animals. The visitor center is headquarters for exploring the refuge. There, you can view exhibits, enjoy educational movies, and pick up maps, books, and other items at the gift shop. The refuge provides a variety of trails to explore (both walking and auto) and several observation points including the Manatee Observation Deck. Fishing is plentiful with sea trout, red drum, snook and tarpon. Birdwatching is also very popular with over 350 species of birds having been identified. There is a nominal $10 per vehicle fee to gain access to the grounds for the day.
Just north of the refuge is the Canaveral National Seashore. This seashore contains 24 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach and is a prime habitat for many threatened and endangered species and provides nesting beaches for several thousand protected marine turtles (https://www.nps.gov/). The Canaveral Seashore has many events you can participate in including guided canoe tours through Mosquito Lagoon, a Night Turtle Watch for a chance to view nesting loggerhead sea turtles, “Birder” Tours, a Junior Rangers Program, and a Night Sky Exploration where you can explore planets, stars, nebulas and more with area astronomers. One of the most popular activities are launch viewings since there is no closer place to view the launches then right here, the park gets very busy during launches so make sure you plan ahead. It is $10 per vehicle to enter the park. Be sure to check out all the cool events happening each month right here.
One of the most popular animals for residents and tourists alike along the Space Coast is the Florida manatee. Due to their size and gentle nature, humans love to watch these sea cows float and swim around. Manatees can live in fresh, brackish or salt waters that are 3-7 ft deep. Despite their large size, manatees have a thin layer of fat to insulate them. This is why during the colder months, when ocean water temperatures drop, they retreat back to lagoons and springs to keep warm; making November through March the best time to spot them along the Space Coast. Along with several designated manatee watching sites in Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island, the CVB has many partners who are on the waters every day and are eager to take you on an eco tour so that you can experience and learn about these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Go our website for a current list of providers.
Another unique activity to enjoy is a bioluminescence tour. Bioluminescence is the production of light due to a chemical reaction. Perhaps the most common and well know example of bioluminescence is fireflies. Along the Space Coast, bioluminescence is found in many marine organisms including algae, bacteria, jellyfish and fish (http://ocean.si.edu/bioluminescence), and is most prominent November through May. The best way to observe bioluminescence is a nighttime canoe or kayaking tour via one of our partners.
From the Canaveral National Seashore to the Viera Wetlands, and many areas in between, the Space Coast is full of unique eco-tourism experiences. As more scientific research regarding the preservation of our planet is discovered, more and more people are looking towards ecotourism. It is up to us to do our part to help preserve the Earth for future generations.