Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

Ken Nedimyer, president of the Key Largo-based Coral Restoration Foundation, poses in the organization's coral nursery off Key Largo, Fla., with juvenile coral cuttings in the coral nursery situated in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off the Florida Keys.  Credit: Kevin Gaines/Coral Restoration Foundation
Ken Nedimyer, president of the Key Largo-based Coral Restoration Foundation, poses in the organization’s coral nursery off Key Largo, Fla., with juvenile coral cuttings in the coral nursery situated in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off the Florida Keys. Credit: Kevin Gaines/Coral Restoration Foundation

The Florida Keys, a unique string of islands between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, is home to the only living coral reef in the U.S. Living, but barely. Snorkeling above the Keys’ Sombrero Reef reveals branchless, bleached coral and scant fish life. Coral is an animal with living tissue, and when that tissue dies all that’s left are these bare bones. With the reef’s ecosystem damaged, creatures like long-spined sea urchins that keep invasive coral-damaging algae down decline, accelerating its demise.

Ecotourism is about interacting with nature without dominating or harming it. Instead of killing or capturing animals, visitors observe and experience them on their turf, and on their terms. It’s an enormously different, far more intimate experience than seeing caged animals in zoos or captive sea mammals in aquariums. Dolphin petting and swims are a big tourist attraction in the Keys and worldwide, but the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) advises against direct interaction with animals, which can be traumatizing for them.

As the Keys’ tourism depends on fertile waters, ecotourism is more than just a buzzword here: It’s a strategy for survival. Catch-and-release fishing and limiting catches is encouraged; instead of jet skis, more businesses offer paddleboarding and kayaking; and veteran resorts like Islamorada’s Cheeca Lodge & Spa ban thrill craft like jet skis to protect shallow waters’ turtle grass and fish breeding grounds. Cheeca Lodge also offers in-room recycling via designated bags. It seems a small measure, but given the volume of tiny shampoo bottles discarded each day alone, the long-term impact is huge.

Environmental and animal protection in the Florida Keys began more than a century ago with the creation of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which protects about 2,000 acres of unpopulated islands and 200,000 acres of marine waters. In 1938, the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge opened to provide safe breeding areas for these South Florida natives, which are North America’s largest wading bird. The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957 to protect more wildlife, notably the threatened indigenous small Key deer.

Decline in the Keys’ coral reef became noticeable in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Coral Restoration Foundation formed in Key Largo to counteract the ravages of disease, climate change and pollution. Their work has spread to other coral-depleted areas in Colombia and the Caribbean. This year, they aim to transplant 20,000 pieces of coral in the Keys’ nurseries. Given the dire situation, however, is it too little, too late?

“We’re very optimistic that the coral reef will come back,” the Coral Restoration Foundation’s Jessica Levy tells Metro. “There are so many angles and obstacles, and getting the transplant volume out there and making sure past mistakes aren’t repeated is crucial.

“Still, the first transplants took nine years to spawn. Now, the coral are spawning only two years after transplantation,” she beams. “That’s huge.”

 

Find an eco-trip for you

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Sustainable Travel International are working together to establish a set of universal guidelines for implementing and managing destination sustainability. However, whether habitats survive depends on individual behavior. Plastic bags and other trash kill turtles and other marine life. Even something as simple as switching sunscreens (Coral Restoration recommends the reef-friendly 3rd Rock Sunblock) helps: According to an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, betwen 4,0000 and 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers into the ocean annually, bleaching the coral and ultimately killing it.

Dr. Kelly Bricker – chair of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, interim chair of the International Ecotourism Society and associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah — gave us the ground rules of ecotourism.

  • “The actions and activities of the ecotourist support conservation and all living beings within the ecosystem they have the opportunity to visit.”
  • “The actions and activities of the ecotourist respect local communities and provide direct financial support through their tourism expenditures.”
  • “The ecotourist does their homework to support travel businesses that are built on sustainability, have low-impact activities that directly support conservation efforts, provide a meaningful, quality experience, and enhance the learning and awareness of the traveler about the natural and cultural heritage of the area.”

 

Visit the Florida Keys

Fly: American Airlines has daily direct flights to Miami International Airport.

Stay: Cheeca Spa & Lodge, Islamorada. Room rates from $269. 800-327-2888. Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort, Marathon. Room rates from $239. 305-289-0888.

Eat: Most restaurants serve local, responsibly harvested fish, including Cheeca’s Atlantic’s Edge and Chef Michael’s, which is among the Keys’ best restaurants. 305-664-0640.

Info: For Keys ecotourism, visit www.fla-keys.com/greentravel; general info at www.fla-keys.com

 

More ideas for travel

Ecotourism’s “do no harm” ethic isn’t a young business model. Since 1980, Peru’s Rainforest Expeditions has operated in the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, protecting 1.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest stretching from the Andean highlands to the Amazon lowlands. Unfortunately, it’s some of the last untouched lowland and pre-montane tropical humid forests in the Amazon.

Established in 1994, Ecuador-based eco-tourism company Tropic works with the Huaorani, one of the world’s most isolated ethnic groups. Their home, the Yasuni National Park, is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and considered the most biodiverse region in the world. The union has brought economic clout to this indigenous tribe, enabling them to protect their ecologically threatened land from industrial clear-cutting. Tree canopy regrowth is encouraging species regeneration, enriching the tourist experience with sightings of giant river otters, jaguars, giant armadillos and occasionally the very rare short-eared dog.

Hotels are, generally, bastions of waste, with lights ablaze 24/7, heat and air conditioning flowing through unused rooms and rarely any recycling bins for guests. Hotel Vermont in Burlington, Vt., however, is at least making an effort to lessen the enormous carbon footprint of travel. This newly built hotel, which opened in 2013, is LEED-certified (and in the country’s second-greenest city!). It features flooring made of reclaimed antique red oak, and a green roof with plants and herbs where guests enjoy biodynamic wines, which are created organically and in conjunction with the Earth’s natural biorhythms. Hotel Vermont includes charging stations for electric cars, repurposed bicycles for guests to use instead of taxis, and high-efficiency washing machines.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…