The Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism, known as Florida SEE, held its annual meeting recently in Punta Gorda, Fla. The society announced that since expanding from its original base in Southwest Florida to a statewide organization, it now has eight members that have received official certification as authentic ecotour operators. Certified Florida SEE Associate Members are recognized as preferred service providers who are committed to using best practices for ecological sustainability, natural area management, and quality ecotourism experiences.
Florida SEE’s extensive criteria for certification were established by the Society’s membership to promote professionalism and integrity within the ecotourism industry. The society has four levels of certification – bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The newest certified operator, Brevard Zoo, was certified at the gold level, having met all applicable CORE criteria and 75% – 89% of BONUS criteria on the certification checklist.
Four Southwest Florida ecotour operators are certified by Florida SEE. They are GAEA Guides, gold level certified, operating in Lee and Collier Counties; Everglades Area Tours, silver level certified, in Everglades City and Chokoloskee; Everglades Day Safari, gold level certified, which has five pickup location in Southwest and Southeast Florida; and Estero Bay Express, gold level certified, in Fort Myers Beach. They are joined by Wildside Tours in Cocoa Beach; St. Johns River Cruises in Orange City; and Paddle Florida, which leads tours in five Florida regions.
“The Florida SEE Certification and Recognition Program provides ecotourism service providers, preserve managers, local communities and travelers with the assurance that a certified service or product is backed by a commitment of best practices for ecological sustainability, natural area management and the provision of quality ecotourism experiences,” said Pete Corradino, Florida SEE vice-chair and director of operations for Everglades Day Safari, a Florida SEE-certified tour operator.
Florida SEE and The International Ecotourism Society define ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Those that implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following principles:
- Minimize impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.
Membership in the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism (Florida SEE) is open to any individual, business or agency that supports the principles of authentic ecotourism. For more information visit www.FloridaSEE.org