It is well known that the tourism industry plays an important role in Florida’s economy. According to Business Wire, the Florida tourism industry projects numbers for 2004 travel spending at $585 billion. Yet, the state is destroying wildlife and resources the tourists come to see, which, in the long run, will hurt one of Florida’s biggest sources of income.
A study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund on the commercial effect that the sea turtle population had on tourism in the Caribbean proved what environmental scientists have been saying for years: Sustaining an intact ecosystem can be more lucrative than essentially selling it off.
The study claims that islands or countries that did not hunt sea turtles to sell them as souvenirs or food products made almost three times as much as those that did.
Essentially, the locations that did not protect these particular species made $582,000 a year on average, while those who protected them made $1.65 million, the WWF claimed.
The concept of “ecotourism,” which focuses on showing wildlife to tourists while protecting it, has been successful in Florida. For example, the Everglades National Park draws approximately 1 million visitors a year, according to park sources. Yet, a recent MSNBC.com story said the park could fare much better if it had more funding. Due to funding problems, only 15 of the 23 positions of instructive rangers could be filled, essentially cutting the number of programs offered to visitors. The park will have to rely heavily on volunteers instead.
While Florida is a destination known for theme parks, the state has to decide if it also wants to focus on the “softer” side of its appeal. By increasing funding for wildlife protection and park systems, the state will be able to create a sustainable source of income.
The decision will have to come sooner rather than later, as urban sprawl is encroaching into regions that still have intact ecosystems. If the decision is not made now, theme parks such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be one of the few places where visiting tourists can see species like the manatee or the Florida panther.