The Brunswick News article below discusses the potential for eco-tourism for coastal Georgia, with special reference to Jekyll Island. As you read the article, bear in mind that ecotourism is much more than a business or a way to boost visitation to state or national parks; it is a philosophy about how people should interact with nature. It refers to responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas, and strives to be low impact and relatively small scale. Its primary goals are to build environmental and cultural awareness and respect; offer positive experiences for visitors; and provide direct financial benefits for conservation and the local community. To accomplish these goals, careful and responsible planning is required so that so that the natural features and wildlife habitats of the host area can be showcased yet unaffected at the same time.

Among the topics that the Jekyll Island Authority has included in its Request for Information (RFI) regarding the upcoming revision of the Jekyll Island Master Plan is “the creation of nature-based and ecotourism opportunities.”  If you, as a friend of Jekyll Island State Park, would like to comment on this topic as an RFI response, you may do so by writing to jbroadwell@jekyllisland.com.  Comments may also be entered on IPJI’s website under the posting, “Revision of Jekyll Island Master Plan: Public Input Needed!”

Ecotourism efforts flourish
The Brunswick News
Shanessa Fakour
August 03, 2010

Theresa Hudec spent time with five other people admiring Mother Nature on a kayak tour Monday in Glynn County.

Hudec, who lives in Canada, said she likes riding boats and wanted to see the area, so she decided to take the tour.

"It was very beautiful," Hudec said. "I got to see a lot of wildlife, and it's nice and cool on the water."
People want to become immersed in the natural environment of coastal Georgia and witness its wildlife through ecotourism, said Michael Gowen, co-owner of Southeast Adventure Outfitters, headquartered at 313 Mallery St., in the St. Simons Island Pier Village.

"We think it's real popular, and we're real fortunate to be in a place as beautiful as Coastal Georgia, with such a wide range of possibilities and opportunities in the marshes," Gowen said. "It only lends itself to ecotourism pursuits. The possibilities have always been there, but now folks are realizing it's a sustainable form of tourism."

Southeast Adventure Outfitters falls under ecotourism because it helps educate travelers and supports the local economy, culture and environment through nature-oriented activities for tourists (and residents).
"To me, a kayak tour is probably the most ecologically friendly means of experiencing coastal Georgia," Gowen said. "Once you've paddled a creek, there's no evidence you were even there."

He said outfitters make trips to Sapelo Island, a culturally significant destination because of the community of Gullah-Geechee people, who descend from West African slaves brought to work on plantations in the 1800s.

"We support their community by using their facilities and hiring locals to show us how to make baskets and guide us around on the island," he said.

Gowen said he expects kayak and boat-related activities to increase as ecotourism awareness becomes more mainstream.

It could get a major boost from an ecological tourism center that has been proposed for downtown. A number of businesses and community officials, including city and county commissioners, are discussing the possibility of creating a center that would inform visitors and residents of the area's abundance of natural features.

The group met Friday for several hours to crank out ideas, said Joel Meyer, general manager of the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, the area's largest ecotourism destination.

"The key to planning is to not duplicate experiences that are already offered in the area, but to offer a glimpse of what can be seen and learned throughout the county," he said.

Meyer said there is an increase in demand for more nature-based activities, such as kayaking, bird watching and camping.

"People who come to Coastal Georgia for ecotourism comprise a really diverse group. While some are very focused in their pursuits - strictly birding, kayaking or hiking - most enjoy a variety of activities that combine these natural experiences."

He said Little St. Simons Island, which became an ecotourism destination more than a century ago after being purchased by the Berolzheimer Family, has received more guests recently because of the island's natural aspects. Visitors may observe sea turtle nests, bald eagle fledglings or dozens of roseate spoonbills during overnight stays, and explore the island with a naturalist who can answer questions about the land, water and animals.

Ecotourim may be one of the biggest growth opportunities for Jekyll Island's tourism industry, said Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the state-owned island.
"As we move forward with revitalization, we envision being able to offer more of that type of experience for guests coming to Jekyll Island," Garvey said. "We're already talking about infrastructure to accommodate more ecotourism business in the future."

He said many people travel to Jekyll Island for the undeveloped and undisturbed natural areas that protect an abundance of wildlife. Several operations on the island offer nature-based experiences, including Tidelands Nature Center, through kayak tours and education on marsh ecology.

Coastal Georgia Charters and Tours provides dolphin tours, which educate people on coastal ecology and sea creatures.

"They're becoming more and more popular as folks become ... more interested and are seeking out these experience," Garvey said.