Workshop offers wealth of information on path to certification
Bob Shaw has a business brewing.
He recently retired to Dauphin Island, and he plans to start sharing the island’s diverse flora and fauna through his nature tourism business. In order to learn more about local ecosystems, the owner of B&B Island Adventures recently signed up for the new Coastal Nature Guide Certification Program.
As part of the process to become a certified nature guide, Shaw attended a daylong workshop at the Weeks Bay Reserve Educational Interpretive Center in Fairhope, Ala., and participated in a day of field activities and lectures from scientists, resource managers, educators and marine law enforcement officers.
“They gave us the pluses and minuses that we need to learn to tell our customers about the fragility of the ecosystems of the area and what happens if they become unbalanced,” Shaw said.
The group of 10 nature tour operators who attended the session explored terrestrial and marine environments with scientists. They learned how wild dolphins can be hurt if humans feed them or attempt to swim with them and how people can affect nesting birds, sea turtles and other species if they do not follow a code of ethics while viewing wildlife.
"If we can relay this information to our customers on our trips, maybe the word will get around and help the conservation of the area,” Shaw said.
And that’s exactly what Joanne McDonough is hoping for. McDonough is a Nature Tourism Specialist with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“This program is a great opportunity for nature tour operators to understand more about ecosystems and set good examples of stewardship in the eyes of the public while building their knowledge base to enhance their services for thousands of customers,” McDonough said.
The workshop also served as a networking opportunity for Shaw, who met someone with a bike and kayak business. He hopes they can work together in the future.
He also received fact sheets, books, brochures, papers and other publications.
“I learned a lot of things I never knew,” Shaw said. “The resource materials themselves were probably worth 10 times more than the class cost us.”
Longtime dolphin and nature tour operator Bill Mitchell was equally impressed with the information he received at the workshop. Mitchell and his wife, Sheryl, own Cetacean Cruises in Orange Beach, Ala.
“We thought it was wonderful,” Bill Mitchell said. “It was a whirlwind of information. It was very informative and very pertinent to our area. I didn’t feel at all like it wasted our time.”
The program participants will implement the practices they learned at the workshop while conducting their nature tours. Then, they will request evaluations of their businesses. Once McDonough finds their business to be in compliance with the program’s standards and practices, they will become certified and allowed to use the Certified Coastal Nature Guide logo.
For more information about the program, contact McDonough at 251-974-4634 or jmcdonough@GulfShores.com.