7. RFI Topic: Creation of Nature-Based and Ecotourism Opportunities

Recommendation 7-A: Provide clear definitions of ecotourism and nature-based tourism and identify events and activities that should either continue to be emphasized or inaugurated in order to promote nature-based tourism and ecotourism opportunities within Jekyll Island State Park

Introduction

The 1996 Master Plan concluded that Jekyll’s environmental assets, especially walking, hiking, and biking activities, had not been appropriately emphasized.  In addressing this shortcoming, the Master Plan recommended that the Jekyll Island Authority seek “a balance...in preserving the natural setting, while serving as a classroom of the barrier, coastal island environment easily accessible by the general public.”

The 2004 Update to the Master Plan also emphasized the importance of Jekyll’s natural assets, stating that, “Jekyll Island’s first and foremost amenity is its natural environment and island ecology.  To complement the Development Plan recommended in this master plan update, we recommend the JIA initiate a Conservation Plan for the island soon after the development plan process has begun.  This conservation plan should provide an in-depth examination of Jekyll’s flora and fauna and identify the critical issues….. Finally, this Conservation Plan should provide for means by which island visitors, residents and other interests can further engage the island ecology, reaping its educational and relaxation benefits while limiting impacts. Doing so can further Jekyll’s natural image and enhance visitation and revenue potential.”

In 2010, Jekyll’s main attraction continues to be its special environment. The revised Master Plan should take this obvious fact into account and develop comprehensive plan for showcasing the island’s natural features by providing non-intrusive ways for visitors to experience, interact with and learn from nature. 

As part of a new Master Plan, a clear understanding of ecotourism and nature–based tourism should be established. In Ecotourism and Sustainable Development [Martha Honey. Washington: Island Press, 2008, p. 7], Kurt Kutay, a tour operator who promotes green tourism, says: “Real ecotourism...is more than travel to enjoy or appreciate nature.  It also includes minimization of environmental and cultural consequences, contribution to conservation and community projects . . . environmental education and political consciousness-raising, such as the establishment of codes of conduct for travelers as well as a wide variety of certification program as of the travel industry.”

Generally, ecotourism:
  • promotes conservation in ecologically fragile regions
  • benefits the economies of local communities
  • promotes partnership between local people and tourist industry to save and protect natural surroundings
  • provides the public with a nature-based educational experience
  • Introduces visitors to local cultures
  • minimizes environmental impacts
  • promotes conservation of the natural ecosystem
  • protects cultural heritage

Jekyll Island State Park possesses the leading characteristics to make it Georgia’s premier, affordable destination for nature-based and ecotourist activities.  What follows are some suggestions for development, events and activities that should either continue to be emphasized/expanded or be inaugurated as part of the nature-based/ecotourist objectives of any new Master Plan:

Providing eco-friendly accommodations and businesses
There are many models for this type of ecotourism experience, but two particularly successful ones are Len Foote Inn in Dawsonville, GA, and Maho Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Both of these ecotourist centers could serve as models for accommodations in the campground area or south beach area of Jekyll Island. Among their features are:
  • tent cottages on platforms connected by elevated walkways, leaving surrounding soil and plant-life undisturbed 
  • pull-chain showers
  • low-flow or composting toilets
  • ice coolers
  • collected water from rooftops and cisterns to water plants and gardens
  • gray water recycling
  • composted garbage generated at the lodge for fertilizing plants and gardens
  • solar panels to supplement power

Newly constructed hotels on Jekyll Island, though far from complying with the accepted definition of ecotourism, could still do a great deal to minimize tourist impact on the environment and contribute to the island’s image as an eco-friendly state park:
  • Encourage or demand Green Hotels Practices in newly constructed hotels
  • Require all hotels to join Green Hotels Association (about $100.00 annually), which provides hotels with ideas that save water, energy and reduce solid waste while saving money
  • Encourage hotels and restaurants to use Green Seal approved products
  • Provide incentives for newly constructed hotels and restaurants and shops to have LEEDs certification

Reducing Auto Emissions
With increased tourism, there will also be greater congestion and greater automobile emissions.  Many “resort” communities (Holmes Beach, Florida) and parks (Zion National Park) have natural gas buses and trams that shuttle residents and guests from location to location, which eliminates parking problems as well.

Providing eco-friendly activities for residents and visitors:
Healthy Lifestyles and Music Festival, promoting year-round health and helping visitors make a connection between good health and adopting a greener lifestyle, including exhibitions of health and beauty products, agricultural products, green clothing, green construction practices, artwork,  green household products, gardening techniques, demonstrations of green energy production and practices, healthy-cooking classes and demos,  vendors, speakers from the health and medical community, active living events, yoga and tai chi demonstrations and classes
  • Renewable Energy and Music Fair (Southern Energy and Environmental Expo in Fletcher, NC,  has had over 50,000 participants over the past 10 years; Vermont has been holding a successful Solar Fest for 15 years) with speakers, exhibitions, solar cars, educational forums, hands-on demos, workshops, vendors, live music, natural building construction info, sustainable land-use planning, sustainable living topics
  • History/heritage tours originating on Jekyll Island (There are 20 National Park Service historical sites along Georgia’s coast.)  These could be self-guided tours where guests buy/rent a CD that guides them from site to site and provides information about each site, or they could be fully guided small bus tours originating from Jekyll.
  • Camps for underprivileged children who live in the nearby Brunswick area:  ecology camps, tennis camps, kayaking, sailing, sports, bird identification, protecting wildlife and habitats, gardening, art
  • Eco-tours of southeast Georgia originating on Jekyll Island  (tourists make visits to Okefenokee Swamp, Raccoon Key, Cumberland Island, Harris Neck, Sapelo. Little St. Simons, etc.)
  • Star-gazing nights with local residents/astronomers/hobbyists
  • Fitness trails in the campground area
  • Photography shoots in different seasons or of specific themes led by a local professional photographer (Invite photo clubs.  Clubs in Atlanta willingly travel to distant locations to shoot.)
  • Volunteer weekends to help maintain beaches and trails
  • Canopy tour of maritime forest
  • Tree climbing (Panola Mountain State Park offers this.)
  • Earth Day Festival
  • Maritime forest research center
  • botanical garden/greenhouse of native plants
  • Avian research center
  • Interactive eco-museum, featuring renewable energy sources, composting, water collection, etc.
  • Organic vegetable and herb gardens that produce local organic ingredients for island restaurants
  • More birding outings during various times of the year
  • Yoga on the beach with professional yoga instructor
  • Bike club events (clubs frequently have week-long events that incorporate other activities, such as kayaking, walking, touring with cycling)
  • Local artisan workshops that use local materials and traditions
  • Guided and unguided educational bike tours of the island
  • Guided walks through the maritime forest and night walks along the beach
  • Guided beach walks for seashell collection

Promoting recycling by creating treasure from trash generated on the island through demonstrations, craft sales, hands-on classes in:
Papermaking:  creating paper from shredded paper from local businesses and clothes dryer lint
  • Batiking from recycled fabrics
  • Glass blowing from recycled bottles 

Promoting water sports
Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Windsurfing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Sailing lessons (maybe a fleet of small prams for kids)

Center for Biodiversity and Human Interaction
The crown jewel of a comprehensive effort to attract tourists who wish to learn more about and experience nature could be the creation of a world-class “Center for Biodiversity and Human Interaction” for Jekyll Island. For details on this exciting and innovative concept, see IPJI Recommendation 7-B.

A Closing Thought
In considering all of the above-mentioned recommendations, we must always bear in mind that, “Despite our wealth of marine and terrestrial areas still available for potential development of ecotourism operations, appropriate planning, regulation, promotion of education and best practices, and monitoring will be needed to ensure that demand for nature tourism and other forms of outdoor recreation does not degrade the resources and ecosystems on which they depend.”  -- (Martha Honey, Ecotourism and Sustainable Development. Washington, D.C.:  Island Press, 2008, 439).
   
- By Al Tate, Ecologist/Instructor at Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta [altate1122@gmail.com]; Brenda Constan [brencon@bellsouth.net] and Diane Shearer [djshearer@bellsouth.net] Board Members, The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island