By J W Jackie
A massive ecosystem of lakes, rivers and marshes known as the Everglades dominates the southern portion of Florida. The aqueous territory once spanned a great length down the state, but extensive damage to the environment has reduced the wetland’s size in half.
As young environmentalists around the world are coordinating efforts to restore neglected natural environments, the Everglades is a site primed for the support and efforts of ecotourists.
Vacationers abide by principles that encourage public advocacy for preserving the cultural and environmental integrity of their vacation site, providing financial benefits for the site’s conservation, along with volunteer work such as devising low-impact facilities. Ecotourism as an activity and leisure industry is showing the potential to produce a vital impact on the Everglades’ neglected condition.
Ecotourism’s normalization as a popular recreational practice for young vacationers, in particular Millennials and the rising Generation Z demographic, is proving to be a strong economic asset, beneficial towards the conservation of the Everglades and its surrounding economy.
In 2011, according to a report from the National Park Service (NPS), approximately $146.8 million was spent by visitors in communities surrounding the region. The spending resulted in the support of over 2,000 jobs in the vicinity; supported jobs include lodging, food and beverage services. The service industry works parallel with organizations concerned with ecological preservation to attract ecotourists and offers both an extensive and enjoyable exhibition of all the Everglades has to offer.
The Everglades span across central and south Florida. Consisting of marshes, mangroves, and swamps, persistent human intervention since the 1800s has led to a dramatic reduction in the size of the subtropical wetlands. Alterations in waterflow and invasive species have compromised the ecological integrity to the terrain.
Last year, tourism was stunted following a red tide algal outbreak, leaving shores crowded with the deceased remains of fish and manatee carcasses. In the wake of continuous environmental decay, ecotourism efforts are proceeding to take a step towards aiding the endangered Everglades.
Physical exploration of the region is possible, and ranger lead tours along marked trails are offered. The most effective way to traverse the region is via canoe, allowing ecotourists to witness the expansive variety of aquatic life.
Effects of Tourist Involvement
A report conducted by the National Park Service in 2014 shows that 1,110,900 patrons visited the Everglades, contributing $104,476,500 towards communities within the site’s vicinity. Local guides, such as Everglades Holiday Park, present an opportunity for environmentally conscious tourists to navigate through the wetlands, with the intent of raising awareness of the region’s condition along with promoting an appreciation for its centrality to local wildlife and residents.
The region is in close proximity of various lodging facilities; thus much of the local community caters towards attracting visitors who are interested in engaging with the wetlands’ history and dire condition.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was authorized by Congress in 2000, has been an ongoing initiative between Florida’s state government and the Federal government to rehabilitate the debilitated terrain, and is amongst the largest hydrologic restoration projects executed by the United States. The project’s ongoing presence within the region is central to the consciousness of ecotourists who participate in exploration of the region.
Ecotourism encourages vacationers to play an active role of immersion within culture and condition of their destinations. What constitutes tourism will continue to change as leisure-centric vacation habits continue to fade in favor of trips constructive to the maintenance of local environments.