According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.
Principles of Ecotourism:
According to literature provided by TIES, ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following principles:
- Minimize physical, social, behavioral and psychological impacts.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
- Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
- Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental and social climates.
- Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
- Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work with them to create empowerment.
There are several ecotourism locations across North Central Florida, most of which are close enough for day trips from Gainesville. The University of Florida IFAS Extension Service has compiled a list of destinations for nature-based tourists to enjoy. These are privately owned companies. According to its report, the service sought out sites across Florida, especially those that include “the spectrum of natural resource-based tourism offerings in the state.”
Here is a list of the sites included in the report:
- DP Nature Tours, White Springs
- Farmer Brown’s Bed & Breakfast, Brooksville
- Florida Eco-Safaris, St. Cloud
- Ginnie Springs Outdoor, LLC, High Springs
- Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins, Fort White
- Kayak Amelia, Jacksonville
- Long & Scott Farms and Corn Maze Adventure, Mount Dora
- Ocala Carriage & Tours, Ocala
- O’Toole’s Herb Farm, Madison
- Shoal Sanctuary, Mossy Head
Closest to Gainesville, Ginnie Springs covers more than 200 wooded acres along the banks of the Santa Fe River in High Springs and has fresh water springs available for snorkeling and scuba diving. The company was started in 1976 and caters to University of Florida students. Ginnie Springs reports that the site averages over 150,000 visitors annually.
Florida has its own organization dedicated to ecotourism, as well. The Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism suggests on its website that “by doing a little homework and making informed choices, you can have the vacation of your dreams, while benefiting the environment and the local community. Responsible travel is travel with a purpose.”