With approximately 97 percent of Southwest Florida’s ocean-based economy coming from tourism and recreation, ecotour professionals serve as ambassadors of local natural areas. These ecotour professionals often rely on their knowledge of natural history to provide clients a memorable experience. In order to meet the growing educational needs of ecotour professionals, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, in partnership with Florida Sea Grant, is offering a series of field and classroom-based programs this summer.
Back by popular demand, the Ecotour Provider Series promotes sustainable tourism practices by providing guides, naturalists and tour operators with information, tips and tools to minimize environmental impacts. It also imparts skills to provide more positive and scientifically accurate tour experiences.
The primary course, “Providing Tours in Southwest Florida’s Protected Coastal Areas,” provides a one-hour overview of local protected areas from the perspective of those whose job it is to manage it. Learn why these areas are protected and how they are managed. Hear local history, stories and understand the biology and ecology of these treasured resources. Get to know the individuals who look after these special places. This course is offered at 6–7 PM, and participants may attend on July 8, August 12 or September 9. The cost is $5.
Estuaries are often called the nurseries of the sea and for good reason. Marine educators will provide a morning of classroom and hands-on field-based instruction during the “Coastal Fish Identification and Biology” course. Get knee-deep in various coastal habitats while learning the biology of coastal fish and other species. The course will begin with one hour of classroom instruction followed by two hours of in-the-water experimental learning from 9 AM-12 PM on July 15, and the cost is $15.
“Our Local Watershed: History, Changes, and Restoration Efforts,” provides an in-depth look at the watersheds in Southwest Florida, which are defined by subtle differences in elevation, hydrology, soils and even wind direction. Hear stories from a team of local experts on how water moves across this flat landscape, how it has changed over time, and what is currently being done to restore watersheds to historic conditions. Learn the connections between inland areas and the coastal waters on which ecotour providers’ livelihoods depend. This course is offered at 2–5 PM on August 21. The cost is $15.
The final course in the series is “Stewardship Best Management Practices: Wildlife Rules and Ethics.” We interact with wildlife every day. Are we treating the animals we encounter fairly, ethically and legally? Join a group of local experts for case studies, lessons learned, and the information you need to conduct business in harmony with coastal wildlife and in compliance with laws and ethics. This course if offered on September 30, 2–5 PM. The cost is $15.
Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road in Naples. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA. For more information or to register for these courses, visit www.rookerybay.org.