Coastal Ecotourism Workshops Make a Big Splash

The Takeaway: The state’s booming tourism industry gains 130 people trained to lead gentle explorations of coastal habitats.

Coastal South Carolina reaps big benefits from the throngs of visitors who enjoy barrier islands, beaches, and historic sites. But too much traffic isn’t always a good thing. On public lands such as the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve, increased traffic can put pressure on natural resources and systems. A workshop series, piloted by the research reserve, trained 130 ecotourism operators on ways to protect sensitive sites while showing others the wonders of the coast.

Each segment of the five-part workshop focused on a local marine species and stewardship message, as visiting scientists, managers, and outreach professionals shared their knowledge. Networking sessions brought together the trainees and visiting experts to share data, regulatory information, and on-the-ground knowledge. Ultimately, the series knit together a diverse coalition of interpreters who will tell the story of protecting local lands.

The workshop series presents common sense solutions to the growing concern of visitor overload. South Carolina’s ocean tourism and recreation economy surged between 2010 and 2015 (the latest figures available), according to coastal economic data from NOAA’s Digital Coast. In 2010 this sector’s gross domestic product was less than $2.3 Billion. In five short years it had jumped more 50 percent, to $3.6 billion. In that same five years, those employed in this sector jumped from 57,329 to 67,544 people.

The number of residents also have surged in two of the counties flanking the ACE Basin (Charleston County and Beaufort County). Inhabitants of these two counties grew between six and nine percent in just four years (2010 to 2014), according to the Carolina Population Center. This growth far outpaces the U.S. Census Bureau’s projected 8.5 percent population growth for South Carolina over an entire decade (2010 to 2020)

Encouraged by the success of the ecotourism workshop, the North Inlet-Winyah Bay Research Reserve plans to offer similar workshops for local ecotour professionals. (2019)

More Information: Training

Partners: ACE Basin Research Reserve