Sustainable Tourism Includes Protecting Coastal Habitat and Cultural Heritage

Protecting coastal habitat, marine environments and cultural heritage is a key strategy for sustainable tourism.

Sea life depends on the beaches, estuaries, marshes, sea grass, and wetlands for their survival.  Tourism depends on clean and healthy beaches for its economy.

There are multiple stressors on our coastal habitats today including climate change, ocean acidification, and pollution. These ocean stresses together threaten "globally significant" marine extinction.

In recent years climate change has increasingly threatened and our coastal habitats and marine environments.

In the short video on Blue Carbon, Jim Toomey explains that our coastal habitat is critical for storing carbon, providing breeding habitat for wildlife, protecting against storm surges, and providing buffers for water filtration.

With the increase in carbon emissions the carbon cycle is now out of balance and our coastal habitat and marine environments have become more vulnerable due to ocean acidification.
Ocean pollution is an increasing problem due primarily to plastics, fertilizers, and untreated discharges in our water ways.

There are many programs and strategies that the tourism industry can do or partner with to better protect our coastal habitat. The Tampa Bay Watch, where Dave lives, is supported by several tourist resorts and provides a number of programs to participate in and/or support Some of the major ones include:

Tourism resorts on or near beaches and marinas can work with their community to assure that their beaches are clean, monitored, and certified by groups such as the Blue Flag program.

Beach closings can be reduced or eliminated with careful monitoring systems installed and mitigation plans put in place.

A Clean Marina certification is another program that tourist resorts can encourage in their community.

The NOAA Clean Marina Initiative is a voluntary, incentive-based program that encourages marina operators and recreational boaters to protect coastal water quality by engaging in environmentally sound operating and maintenance procedures. While Clean Marina Programs vary from state to state, all programs offer information, guidance, and technical assistance to marina operators, local governments, and recreational boaters on Best Management Practices (BMPs) that can be used to prevent or reduce pollution. Marinas that participate in the Clean Marina Program are recognized for their environmental stewardship.

Marinas and recreational boating are increasingly popular uses of coastal areas. The U.S. Coast Guard reported more than 17 million registered recreational boats in 2004. Because marinas are located right along the water's edge, pollutants created by marina activities are released directly into the water. Although not one of the leading sources of polluted runoff, pollution from marinas can have a significant impact on local water quality. Therefore, is it important to promote operation and maintenance practices that will prevent pollution from entering coastal waterways.

Walt Disney World® provide a model for the tourist industry through its eleven marinas. Some of the steps it has taken include but are not limited to:

  • Having a state certified water quality testing unit on Disney property for all 11 Walt Disney World marinas. Testing is monthly and quarterly.
  • Holding annual volunteer cleanup along with paid divers to do underwater cleanup.
  • Checking boat engines every 100 hours for efficiency. Disney has switched from 2 cycle to 4 cycle engines in all its boats for less pollution.
  • Painting engines and steering wheels black to avoid using toxic materials for cleanup.  Disney has also switched to non toxic cleaning supplies.
  • Installing fuel barges with clean tool kits to reduce pollution.
  • Development of successful fish management program with all fishing "catch and release". This has resulted in 10 times the catch rate of other Florida lakes.
  • Disney has an ongoing ecosystem restoration program including the use of artificial reefs in some areas to enhance habitat.
  • Disney has an ongoing program to remove invasive species including an inspection program for all private boats entering the waters.

There are several strategies to protect coastal habitat and marine environments.

The following six, adapted from the Connecticut NEMO prograam are a good way to get started:

  1. Identify Your Coastal Resources. This includes identifying the areas for seagrass beds, tidal marshes, fish runs, etc,

  • Protect Coastal Resources Through Regulation. - In most cases, this does not mean developing new regulations but rather maximizing the effectiveness of existing ones.
  • Preserve Critical Areas Through Land Protection - Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or other open space protection programs can assist in setting aside critical habitat for open space. Once protected the habitat will most likely need some management plans as well.
  • Restore Degraded Habitat - Invasive Species, Sea Grass planting, beach clean-ups and other programs previously listed in the Tampa Bay Watch model are all programs that tourist resorts can support through time, money, and volunteering.
  • Be Proactive Not Reactive.- Thinking through a coastal zone management plan for future development, or zoning for redevelopment, can go a long way in protecting coastal habitat.
  • Foster Stewardship of Coastal Habitats Through Education - Educating the decision makers, coastal property owners, and the general public on the needs for protecting coastal habitat is one of the best tools to ensure long term sustainability of the coastal resources.
  • Walt Disney Vero Beach Resort offers a model for tourist industry involvement through such programs as:

    • Eliminating towels left on the beach by requiring a refundable deposit for towels
    • Closing drapes at dusk to protect turtles from lights
    • Using special LED lighting that has been installed to both meet codes and protect turtles
    • Providing extensive guest communication for turtle friendly activities during turtle season
    • Having Disney Cast members participate in the Ocean Conservancy beach clean-ups
    • Participating in turtle tracking programs for State and Federal Fish & Wildlife
    • eliminating plastic straws and lids at the food and beverage service
    • Educating the public through events such as the annual Tour de Turtle

    Learn more about the Walt Disney Company programs. Watch the Blue Community Video Part 5

    Along with protecting coastal habitat is also the need to protect cultural heritage. Tourism businesses can help preserve cultural heritage by forming partnerships with indigenous groups, educating guests to customs and practices, sharing the local culture of food, music, and arts and crafts in the resort, and making sure that tourist development does not negatively impact the local culture are all examples of preserving cultural heritage

    Protecting cultural heritage includes any form of artistic or symbolic material signs which are handed on from generation to generation to each culture. Cultural heritage can be tangible or intangible.

    Intangible cultural heritage is defined by UNESCO as practices, expressions, knowledge, skills that communities, groups and in some cases individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage". Tangible cultural heritage is often also referred to as cultural property. Cultural property is movable or immovable property with importance to the cultural heritage of every people, for instance buildings and books.

    Protecting cultural heritage involves a number of strategies including but not limited to:

    • Developing policies that promote protection of cultural heritage.
    • Improving training and education of both tourism businesses and guests they serve.
    • Support for UNESCO World Heritage programs.
    • Legal protections.
    • Developing political support for cultural heritage protection.
    • Developing an ethic with military operations to protect cultural heritage sites
    • Environmental protection such as keeping air pollution from damaging heritage sites.

    Sensitivity to cultural heritage can begin in the early development of tourist facilities.A case in point is the Disney Alunai Resort in Hawaii.  Some of the strategies developed by Disney to preserve cultural heritage for this resort include but are not limited to: 

    • Disney Imagineers working with locals in initial design to celebrate Hawaiian culture and history.
    • Resort architecture honors fundamental concern between nature and humanity that Hawaiian culture has cherished.
    • Art work is chosen to honor the traditional images of the culture.  Disney worked with the local artists to keep the integrity of the culture in tact with the art work in the resort.

    There is much to do for all in the tourism industry near coastal habitat environments.

    There is some good news. In a potential milestone for ocean management, a team of collaborators has produced the first Ocean Health Index, a tool for appraising the state of the world's oceans. The index takes into account the major factors that influence the quality of regional marine ecosystems like fisheries, biodiversity, tourism and carbon storage and then assigns a score from zero to 100 for each place.

    With increased awareness, education, and deliberate focus from the tourism industry, our cultural habitats and marine environments can be protected.

    Dr David W. Randle - Director USF Patel College of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President & CEO WHALE Center.

    Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and author of The Insatiable Bark Beetle.
    Follow Dr. Reese Halter on Twitter