Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve
“It’s not often I get to speak to a group of folks who are enjoying a beer or wine,” joked Nancy MacPhee at the start of her “EcoTourism” presentation for The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve Summer Speaker & Story Series before roughly 20 people on Tuesday evening, August 13, at Tuckaway Café. Nancy addressed the group in her role as Vice President of the “Florida Society for Ethical EcoTourism (FL SEE),” on how to be a responsible EcoTourism provider, though she shared information as well about the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, where she is the Manager of Product Development.
Nancy cofounded FL SEE 20 years ago in Fort Myers with the late John Kiseda. He was the longtime Sustainability Director and Education Program Coordinator for Lee County who unexpectedly passed away last December at age 66. FL SEE encourages the proper stewardship of Florida’s natural and cultural heritage by maintaining a professional code of ecotourism ethics for ecotour providers.
“The original FL SEE was to be just a Southwest Florida organization,” explained Nancy, “to benefit Lee, Charlotte and Collier Counties with a set of Best Practices for EcoTourism operators, but eventually we expanded it to cover most of the State, though we have yet to reach the Panhandle. John was passionate about the environment, and wanted to ensure that when people visited here, tour groups provided them the best possible experience while respecting the environment, with the goal that when we knocked your sox off, you would return into the future, to book more hotel rooms to enjoy our beautiful area in an intimate and responsible way.”
FL SEE sets a professional code of EcoTourism Ethics, Nancy related, “ to encourage an awareness and stewardship of Florida’s natural and cultural heritage by endorsing compliance with federal, state and local laws to protect natural resources and customer safety; to provide environmental education and awareness that encourages behaviors that contribute to the sustainability of Florida’s natural ecosystems and resources; and to promote professionalism and integrity within the ecotourism industry. Authentic EcoTourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
The goal of FL SEE, continued Nancy, “is for tour operators to work with us to provide a quality natural experience, because if they do not, visitors who want that will not return. Tour operators who use methods to lure an animal over to the dock for photographs are not creating that authentic encounter and can ruin the experience. As such, FL SEE principles stress the maximum visitor impact by fostering environmental and cultural awareness and providing authentic environmental experiences for visitors as well as hosts. FL SEE cannot punish bad behavior, but we can meet with those tour operators, to educate them about Best Practices, and offer appropriate suggestions by asking, ‘Did you try this?’”
Once an ecotourism operator receives FL SEE authorization, they get the group’s logo for their publicity and website, “to certify they do things right,” said Nancy. “This is a tough process, though, including passing a 120-point checklist and two mystery tour experiences, where you do not know our representatives are attending your program to verify you are actually doing what you promise to do. When you pass those, the application comes before our Board of Directors for the final certification.”
Nancy acknowledges, “It is a bit of work to attain the FL SEE certification, but it raises the bar for the EcoTourism business that benefits our region and economy. Many tour operators already do good things, but we can help them do better, and that is why we are here! All boats rise with the high tide, but a FL SEE certification differentiates your business from the crowd.” For more information on FL SEE, contact Nancy at 239-338-3500 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
VCB & the Beach
“The VCB has a $17.5 million annual budget to promote the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel,” Nancy offered, “as a travel destination for domestic and international visitors, vacationers and business travelers. The VCB is a Lee County agency that reports to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. It is Lee County’s chief marketing agency, to promote our region as a great place to live, work and play, to convince people to visit and perhaps even relocate. The 5% Tourist Development Tax, or ‘The Bed Tax,’ as most locals call it, exclusively funds the VCB, to market ‘The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel.’ There are five VCB departments, with 80% of our funds going to Marketing and Promotions through digital, social, print, and broadcast media and product development. Most of what we do, you do not see locally, as our sole purpose is to bring people here from out-of-town to fill our hotel rooms. We identify new opportunities to talk about Lee County, while ensuring loyal visitors return again.”
She stated that, “In 2018, just under 5 million people visited Lee County, spending $3.1 billion. The VCB through the Bed Tax collected $42.1 million. This equates to approximately 59,000 local jobs, or about one out of every four in Lee County.”
While the common perception is that most visitors come in the winter and spring, Nancy revealed, “There is no real significant change from quarter to quarter. Spring 2018 had over 1.3 million visitors, with Summer 2018 just under 1 million. Domestic visitors are 86% of those who travel to Lee County, with International guests the remaining 14%. Our top American cities are New York, Chicago, Boston, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, with our main International markets Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.”
The VCB splits its funds into three categories: 53.6% for Advertising & Promotions, 26.4% for Beach & Shoreline Restoration, and 20% for the Spring Training stadium bond payments and maintenance. “Much of these moneys benefit Fort Myers Beach,” Nancy said. “From 2005 to 2019, $2.2 million went to beach renourishment projects, $18 million to beach maintenance and another $8 million to Capital Improvement Projects like the Mound House and the extremely popular Beach Trams. In fact, we plan to add another tram next year, and expand its hours of operation, especially into the evening, and perhaps even lengthen its route.” For more information on the VCB, call 239-338-3500 or view LeeVCB.com.
“A Time Gone By”
“So many island organizations host their programs during season, to appeal to snowbirds and our largest amount of visitors,” explained Vicki Little, Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve Publicity & Membership Chair, “but for fulltime Fort Myers Beach residents, there are very few organized activities we can enjoy over the summer, so we are rectifying that through the free ‘Summer Speaker & Stories Series’ that continues the second Tuesday of each month through October at Tuckaway Café.”
Its next program is Tuesday, September 10, with Terry Cain presenting “A Time Gone By.” Cain, who is a 43-year Fort Myers Beach resident, former Town Council member and longtime Friends officer, recently retired as the Lee County Land Stewardship Coordinator for Fort Myers Beach. Terry will discuss how various Lee County Parks received their names. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with social fellowship with food and beverages available for purchase, with Terry speaking from 6 until roughly 6:45 p.m. The final event of the “Summer Speaker & Story Series” will feature former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, who will discuss Southwest Florida environmental issues and water quality on Tuesday, October 8.
Matanzas Pass Preserve is one of the few large undeveloped and protected areas left on Fort Myers Beach. It is home to a diverse collection of ecosystems, native plants and animals, including a maritime oak hammock, transitional wetland and mangrove forest full of raccoons, rabbits, hawks, owls, turtles, snakes, heron, fish and songbirds. It has a 1.25-mile ADA-accessible boardwalk, bayside pavilion on the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, and is on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail and Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail.
The Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve works to preserve, protect, and enhance the 60-acre Preserve through stewardship and educational events, Florida Master Naturalist classes, “Project Monarch,” “Adopt a Tree” program, and “Voices of The Past” historical recreations. The Preserve is at 199 Bay Road and is open daily from dawn to dusk with free but limited parking. For information on the Speaker Series or the Preserve, contact Vicki at 239-470-9715 or email@example.com.
“Matanzas Pass Preserve is crucial to the Beach community,” concluded Vicki. “It is a refuge for wildlife, important to our water flow and the last 60-acre remnant of what all Fort Myers Beach was like umpteen years ago. In the hustle-&-bustle of our lives it is truly a natural oasis!”
By Gary Mooney