Martin County Offers Ecology Tours Enriched by Leave No Trace
Photo: Martin County’s Ecosystem Restoration Coordinator Emily Dark leading an ecology tour.
Martin County, Florida, is home to more than 22 miles of beaches, over 100,000 acres of parks and conservation lands, and one of the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. A Leave No Trace sustainable tourism partner, Martin County is committed providing local education opportunities that help people connect with the outdoors in a responsible way. We asked Emily Dark, Martin County’s Ecosystem Restoration Coordinator, to describe how she’s integrating Leave No Trace into Explore Natural Martin, a series of educational tours offered to both visitors and residents.
Q: The Martin County ecology tours like Florida’s Mighty Mangroves and the Sea Turtle Beach Ecology Walk look fantastic. Who came up with the idea for these tours and who leads them?
A: When we were developing program topics for we looked at our abundant natural resources in Martin County, as well as the things that needed to be protected or better understood by our guests. We eventually built more than 30 engaging program topics and outlined the most impactful timing for these experiences throughout the year. Our tourism team typically leads these events, or we partner with other local organizations who are subject matter experts.
Q: How do you incorporate Leave No Trace into the Explore Natural Martin Program?
A: We really wanted to put our best foot forward since we were inviting the public to explore our natural areas — and by becoming official partners with Leave No Trace we were able to ensure that The 7 Principles framework is prominent in our program. Our team educates and inspires environmental stewardship by providing actionable steps that participants can apply while enjoying the outdoors. Participants leave with a greater understanding of how to implement these principles on a local level.
Q: It looks like there are a lot of opportunities to learn about sea turtles in Martin County — why is there an emphasis on that particular animal?
A: Our beaches are a critical nesting habitat for three of Florida’s five threatened and endangered sea turtles: loggerheads, leatherbacks, and greens. Nesting season runs from March 1 through October 31, and our sea turtle programming takes place in July when nesting activity is the most active. Last year, Martin County’s 22 miles of coastline was home to 10,930 sea turtle nests, so it’s a top priority for us to educate and engage the public on the conservation of these iconic turtles and their nests.
Q: Are local businesses or community groups aware of the Explore Natural Martin program?
A: Community outreach and collaboration have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of this program. Before the launch of this program, our team organized meetings with various entities — including governmental agencies, local non-profit organizations and businesses, and tourism partners — to discuss ways to work together. Through these discussions, we have secured subject matter experts from other organizations to lead some of our tours. We’re continually taking steps to increase awareness of this new program, such as launching a dedicated program website, securing coverage in local publications, and ongoing promotion on social media.
Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together
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