Dynamic program to certify nature tour operators

By: Melissa Schneider / Published: Oct 28,  2009

GULF SHORES and ORANGE BEACH, Ala. – The Nature Tourism Initiative recently announced that it will launch a Coastal Nature Certification Program with a full-day workshop on Feb. 22, 2010.

“It is vital for the sake of our natural resources and coastal economies that tour operators lead by example and adopt and encourage behaviors that contribute to the sustainability of the Gulf Coast region’s natural ecosystems and resources,” said Joanne McDonough of the Nature Tourism Initiative. “Nature tourism experiences should provide quality opportunities to engage the public with natural resources in ways that lead to greater understanding and appreciation, while protecting and preserving the wildlife they are viewing.”

With this new program, customers and potential customers of certified tour operators will know their guides have received training in stewardship, ecosystems and natural resource laws.

The initial certification workshop will teach several principles:

  • local ecosystems
  • applicable local resource protection laws and regulations
  • an established code of ethics for nature guides
  • good stewardship (through recycling, beach clean-ups and other similar efforts)
  • responsible advertising and 
  • educational briefing for the beginning of tours

After implementing these practices in their businesses, the nature tour operator will request an evaluation of their business, which will include the observation of a tour and the review of Web sites, brochures, a current business license and other advertising materials. Once the program director finds the business to be in compliance with the program’s standards and rules, the nature tour operator will receive the certification and decal with the program’s logo and current calendar year to display on tours and in advertising.

The cost to participate in the certification program is $70.

Annual recertification includes submitting a coastal nature guide reporting form, completing a training course and evaluation.

Founding Nature Tourism Initiative Program partners include the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Local partners in the Coastal Nature Guide Certification Program include the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Coastal Section, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Auburn Marine Extension and Research Center, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Baldwin County Soil & Water Conservation District VI, Alabama Department of Marine Resources and the Alabama Department of Freshwater Fisheries and Wildlife.

Nature tourism business owners who would like to register for this certification program or would like more information may contact Joanne McDonough at 251-974-4634 or Additional online initiative resources may be found at


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