Ecotourism: Tips for Going Green in Florida

    By Lauren Tjaden

    Florida prompts dreams of white sands soft on your bare toes and the sound of incoming surf – both blessed by bright sun. There are pelicans riding the sea breeze. And dolphins appearing and disappearing.

    Nature and the outdoors are fundamental parts of the Sunshine State and its appeal. Here are tips about how to make your travel to Florida mindful, green and eco-friendly, so tomorrow’s visitors can enjoy it as much as you do today.

    FLY SUSTAINABLY

    The flight you book to Florida is an important part of a green getaway.

    One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to book a nonstop flight whenever possible because nonstops use the least amount of fuel. One-quarter of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off, which includes taxiing.

    Flying coach is better for the planet than flying business or first-class. Why? Economy seats are smaller, so more people get moved by the same amount of fuel. How much difference that makes is surprising: A study from the World Bank estimates that a first-class seat could have a carbon footprint as much as nine times as big as a seat in economy.

    Buying carbon offsets is a way to compensate for the planet-warming carbon dioxide you’re creating with "carbon repair" elsewhere.  An offset might focus on replanting trees, investing in renewable energy resources, or other ways to help Mother Nature stay healthy. Airlines that offer offsets include Delta, United and JetBlue, as well as other organizations like terrapass. You’ll find a more complete listing of offsets in the resources guide.  

    Pack light. You may need more than a swimsuit and flip-flops but, hey, you’re going to Florida, not the Arctic. A lighter load cuts fuel consumption and lessens the environmental impact.

    When you land at a warm destination such as Orlando or Miami, lower your window shade while you’re on the plane headed to the terminal. It helps to keep the aircraft cool while saving energy—and when all the passengers do it, it can really add up, lowering the temperature by as much as 10 degrees.

    Choose a newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft over an older one; for example, an Airbus A320 instead of a Boeing 757 for the same flight. Or you can simply check the fuel efficiency of the airlines you fly. Check out the most efficient domestic carriers on page four of this 44-page report.

    Finally, consider driving. While long-distance flying is more efficient than driving solo, those short trips, particularly with multiple passengers, may mean it’s better to drive.

    GETTING AROUND GREEN

    If you’re driving your own car, you should make sure it’s running efficiently before you hit the highway. You can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent by keeping your tires correctly inflated – and they’ll last longer, too.

    Another easy mileage-boosting strategy is using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil, and choosing a brand that says “Energy Conserving” on the API performance symbol.

    Check your air filter. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing an old, congested filter can improve your car’s gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.

    A tune-up can improve your vehicle’s gas mileage by about 4 percent, particularly if it’s knocking, stalling, or hesitating. Replacing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve gas mileage up to 40 percent – something that will make you, and your wallet, feel better.

    If you’re renting a car, consider a hybrid. Budget.com offers the sporty Toyota Prius Hybrid, with a city/highway rating of 55 mpg, as well as the Nissan Altima hybrid. Altima's engine is a full hybrid capable of driving at low speeds solely on its electric motor, reserving the gas engine for higher speeds. A single tank of gas yields 42 mpg and more than 700 miles of city driving. Check out the resources guide for green rental options.  

    Mindful packing tips apply whether you’re in a rental or behind the wheel of your own car. A hundred pounds of weight cuts a typical car’s fuel economy 1 to 2 percent. And using your trunk to store luggage instead of loading up your roof rack will increase your mileage by as much as 5 percent.

    Gas mileage drops dramatically when you’re going faster than 60 mph; every five miles an hour over that speed is equivalent to paying an extra 10 cents a gallon. Sensible driving is another biggie: Aggressive acceleration and constant changes of speed can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent in town. Using cruise control on the highway maintains a constant speed and, in most cases, saves gas.

    Taking public transport is one of the most efficient ways to make your travel mindful.

    Many Sunshine State cities provide affordable, easy ways to get around such as the Suncoast Beach Trolley, Tri-Rail, and Water Taxi. Check out the resources guide for a more complete list.  

    three bikers ride into the waterfront park in Clermont

    Biking provides a wonderful way to explore Florida.

    - Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

     

    Biking is a wonderful way to explore Florida. In Southwest Florida, for example, a volunteer organization called TEAM Punta Gorda offers a free bike loaner program. The city’s 18-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail system, called Punta Gorda Pathways, connects the city’s parks, neighborhoods and commercial areas, and four bicycle routes traverse the city, with the longest route being 31 miles.

    Cities across Florida – Orlando, Miami, Lakeland, Tallahassee among many – offer  bike-share programs.

    Many Florida towns are pedestrian-friendly. Ditch the car keys. Seaside and Rosemary Beach in northwest Florida, Cedar Key on the central west coast, and Key West at the state’s southernmost tip are a few of the destinations that you can enjoy on foot.

    Check out more walkable towns from VISIT FLORIDA.

    STAY THE NIGHT

    With almost 400 properties in its Florida Green Lodging Program, The Florida Department of Environmental Protection makes it easy to find lodging committed to conserving and protecting Florida's natural resources.

    The site’s Florida Green Lodging Designated Property Directory lists properties by location, both general and by city, and includes a link to each property’s website. Further, it rates them from one to four “palms” for how green they are.

    What makes these hotels eco-friendly? Each one is required to meet a minimum set of environmental practices in five areas, and they’re rated on a point system. Point-worthy practices include recycling, energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets, linen and/or towel reuse programs and/or the use of green cleaners, and ENERGY STAR®-rated electronics and appliances. Each hotel will have a different program, so be sure to ask them about their green practices.

    Wherever you stay, you can minimize your carbon footprint. Just as you would at home, don’t splurge on clean towels and don’t have your sheets changed every night. Similarly, keep the long showers to a minimum. And of course, switch off the television and lights when you leave the room.

    Finally, consider sleeping under the stars – or in a comfy tent, cabin or camper – especially at a Florida state park. You can even camp in your boat at some parks. Here are Florida State Parks that offer camping, but you’ll find many more sites in the resources guide.  

    Beautiful beach in St. Geroge Island State Park, mostly empty, with a fisherman and two poles

    St. George Island State Park, nestled on the eastern end of St. George Island, features miles of stunning—and empty—beaches like this one.

    - Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

     

    FUN IN THE SUN

    The equation is simple: activities powered by your own energy or by Mother Nature are almost sure to equal green.

    Tubing, surfing, birding, canoeing and kayaking, kiteboarding, windsurfing, stargazing, standup paddleboarding, sailing, walking tours, snorkeling, diving, catch-and-release fishing and mountain biking are but a few of the eco-friendly adventures you can experience in Florida. The resources guide can help you find out where and how to enjoy low-impact experiences. anchor

    Florida State Parks provide a myriad of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors—and it doesn’t hurt that they are affordable. Here are various activities and the parks at which they’re offered.

    Kicking back on a beach, building sandcastles, and reconnecting with family and friends can be the most cherished part of a vacation. Explore some sandy escapes using the resource guide.  

    Florida attractions offer less impactful ways to experience the state.

    The Florida Keys are especially green, with the Eco Discovery Center in Key West, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

    Then there’s Honest Eco. Heralded as the first-ever electric tour boat, the SQUID is fueled by Sunflare solar panels on the top of the boat. Guests can climb aboard this innovative vessel for a four-hour dolphin watch and snorkel trip out of Key West. The 35-foot boat can hold 20 people and has a close-to-zero environmental impact.

    Love manatees? Both Crystal River Watersports and Manatees in Paradise have received certification as Guardian Guide designated Manatee Tour Companies in a new collaboration between Save the Manatee Club and the Manatee Ecotourism Association in Crystal River. 

    Other eco-friendly options include conservation and preservation museums, botanic gardens, refuges, animal and bird hospitals, and research centers. Check out some green Florida attractions in the resource guide.  

    You can take mindful travel to another level with voluntourism. Helping to restore coral reefs, remove trash from beach, or care for injured seabirds are just a few of the ways you can give back on your getaway. The resources guide highlights volunteer opportunities across the Sunshine State. Anchor

    You can hook into a mouthful of underwater fun in Florida while respecting the environment with catch-and-release fishing.

    NOAA Fisheries shares their responsible fishing practices, so you can learn how to be a responsible steward of our ocean resources. Here’s info covering:

    ·        Catch and release

    ·        Seabird release

    ·        Mako shark catch-and-release

    ·        Fishing tips to protect sea turtles and marine mammals

    ·        Fishing around sea turtles

    Their site also includes how to easily release fish at depth using fish descenders, to help reef fish like snapper and grouper survive.

    See the resource guide for more information regarding catch-and-release fishing.

    beautiful up-close plate of food

    Florida offers farm to table restaurants all across the state.

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

     

    EAT UP

    How and where you eat in Florida is a tasty way you can lower your environmental impact.

    Eating less meat – particularly beef—and eating more veggies and fruits isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the planet, too. Meat production is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gasses.

    To enjoy local produce, make a trip to the farmer’s market or a farm-to-table restaurant. Or, visit an organic farm – maybe to pick your own fresh blueberries. Check out the resources guide for locations.

    Of course, you’ll want to indulge in some fabulous Florida seafood while you’re in the Sunshine State. Seafood Watch lets you check out if the fish you’re ordering is sustainable, or if you should consider another option.

    DON’T BE A PLASTIC PERSON

    The United States alone uses 500-million plastic straws every day. Most straws can’t be recycled and they take 200 years to decompose. Each year 1-million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from ingesting plastic. If you really like to use straws, consider reusable straws made of hard plastic, paper, bamboo or metal.

    Remember to employ re-usable beverage containers instead of plastic bottles, and recycle the ones you must use.

    A blond woman shows off her shells on Sanibel Island while standing in the water

    Florida's beaches are plentiful and glorious, like this one on Sanibel Island, famed for shelling.

    - Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

     

    THE BEACH RULES

    You can help keep Florida’s beaches beautiful and support wildlife with these simple tips.

    Stay off the dunes. Florida beaches have white sands, latte-hued sands, and even shimmering orange sands – all framed against glorious ocean and blue sky. Some beaches have waves that beg you to drag out your surfboard; with others, water so clear and calm that you can see the ripple from a drop of rain. But these beaches have one thing in common: Their welfare depends on the dunes on their shores. And those dunes are as fragile as they are important.

    It’s illegal to walk in the dunes or pick vegetation. A few minutes of picture taking or kids playing can undo decades of the slow natural processes that build the dunes.

    The sea turtle nesting season in Florida runs from March through October on the Atlantic coast, and from May through October on the Gulf coast. Here’s how you can help protect these magnificent creatures:

    ·        It’s against the law to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests. Sea turtles are protected by both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act.

    ·        If you see an injured or dead sea turtle, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell phone.

    ·        Avoid going to the beach at night and if you do, limit your walking and don’t use flashlights or flash photography.

    ·        Turn off your outside lights and shield your indoor lights by closing the drapes at night. Lights disturb nesting sea turtles and hatchlings.

    A small decision can have a big impact on nesting seabirds.

    As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports, “One dog passing near a colony of nesting seabirds can cause all the birds to panic and subsequently leave their nests dangerously exposed to the hot boiling sun.”

    Here are some of the FWC guidelines:

    ·        Never enter areas posted with shorebird/seabird signs.

    ·        Avoid driving on or beyond the upper beach.

    ·        Drive slow enough to avoid running over chicks.

    ·        Keep dogs on a leash and away from areas where birds may be nesting.

    ·        Properly dispose of trash to keep predators away.

    ·        Do not fly kites near areas where birds may be nesting.

    ·        When birds are aggravated, you are too close.

    For lists and links covering everything from green travel to attractions and lodging, check out this Resources Guide.

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