Atlanta, GA

UGA certification program provides best practices for ecotour guides

Sophie-Ann McCulloch

ATLANTA, GA — University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, in partnership with Manomet Inc., developed a new certification program to ensure ecotour guides are able to educate visitors about nature as well as how to protect it.

CARE or the Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism, the name of the program, is led by UGA marine educators and it focuses on providing tools for ecotour companies to implement best practices for water based-tourism activities.

“The program has long been a goal for shorebird biologists and others, including veteran ecotour guides, involved in wildlife conservation,” said Katie Higgins, educator as well as volunteer coordinator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Higgins also said, before turning into a certification program, CARE was initiated from an idea that if only ecotour companies had more understanding about coastal ecology and wildlife, they would be able to transfer the knowledge to the visitors.

As of Spring 2021, this program has certified 15 water-based Georgia coastal tour guides after giving them 16 hours course regarding recreational use and potential disturbance of coastal habitats, which is particularly harmful to shorebirds or wildlife in general.

Throughout the year, Georgia's beaches provide vital habitats for shorebird species. However, most of the remote habitats used by shorebirds are also used by recreational boaters as well as serve as destination sites for guided tours.

This condition sometimes resulted in an unintentional disturbance to shorebirds’ nesting, resting, and feeding behavior. Therefore, improving the visitors' awareness regarding the importance of giving shorebirds space plays a key role in conserving these animals.

Cindy Dennard, one of the certification participants, said if people who are taking the visitors out have a similar standard of how they are supposed to acts and what is the important things to explain to the visitors, that will eventually be helpful in protecting nature that people are trying to enjoy.

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