The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project: expeditions for exploration, discovery,

The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project brings tourists and locals together in both ‘hands-on” study of local coastal bottlenose dolphins while learning how to care, preserve and protect these magnificent mammals. The Project is the only on-going study of wild dolphins in the area and, perhaps, the only daily year-round study of wild dolphins involving the paying general public as “citizen scientists” in the United States. Tourist /local participation in our work results in valuable research data that is provided to resource managers, universities and other dolphin research organizations.

While searching for bottlenose dolphins, our three hour expeditions brings us into backwater estuaries, river and bays providing a broad array of other marine life and habitat. Sightings of manatee, sea turtles, bald eagles, osprey and many different kinds of wading birds are not uncommon. How all this fits together with the habitat is explained
by our Naturalists

Your idea

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This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.

Street Address

951 Bald Eagle Drive

City

Marco Island

State/Province

Florida

Postal/Zip Code

34145

Country

United States

Year innovation began

2006

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Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourist experience and benefit to tourists

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions

Main barrier addressed

Corporate monolithic approach to tourism

Main insight addressed

Education through hands-on experience

Geographic location

Coast.

Name Your Project

The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project: expeditions for exploration, discovery,

Describe Your Idea

The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project brings tourists and locals together in both ‘hands-on” study of local coastal bottlenose dolphins while learning how to care, preserve and protect these magnificent mammals. The Project is the only on-going study of wild dolphins in the area and, perhaps, the only daily year-round study of wild dolphins involving the paying general public as “citizen scientists” in the United States. Tourist /local participation in our work results in valuable research data that is provided to resource managers, universities and other dolphin research organizations.
While searching for bottlenose dolphins, our three hour expeditions brings us into backwater estuaries, river and bays providing a broad array of other marine life and habitat. Sightings of manatee, sea turtles, bald eagles, osprey and many different kinds of wading birds are not uncommon. How all this fits together with the habitat is explained
by our Naturalists

Innovation

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What is the goal of your innovation?

To engage tourists in daily, hands-on structured encounters with wild dolphins resulting in meaningful research for resource managers and institutions.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

The Southwest Florida Coast is aptly called Paradise by both visitors and locals. Rich in marine wildlife, protected islands and estuaries, it has been a place where, in the past, nature has remained relatively stable. Two factors that are /will effect this Paradise, specifically 1.) dramatic increases in population and construction and its effects and 2.) climate change.

Additionally, today’s generations are far more aware of, but not knowledgeable about, conservation, environmental issues and climate change. While on vacation/trips, they now want to take excursions that provide an experience that increases this awareness and where they can participate.

We designed our Project with the above in mend. While dolphins are the major focus, the expeditions are well rounded bringing passengers on the Gulf and into remote, backwater protected areas of Southwest Florida. Based upon time of year, we see osprey, manatee, loggerhead turtles and bald eagles. Our Naturalists provide much information during such sightings.

Additionally, because of the range of the dolphin study, we range six or seven miles north or south from our departure point to barrier islands where passengers walk the beaches for 45 minutes, many of them shelling.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

Launched February 1st, 2006, the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project is the only on-going study of wild dolphin in the area and, perhaps, the only daily year-round study of wild dolphins involving the paying general public as “citizen scientists” in the United States.

The Project is for five years, in three Phases and extends north from Latitude N26.18’0” to south to Latitude N25.45’0”, or roughly from Bonita Beach to Everglade City, a distance of 50 coastal miles. The Project includes near coastal, bay, river and estuary waters and focuses on Bottlenose dolphin abundance, distribution, movement, association patterns and behavior.

The approach is modeled after the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Study, two highly acclaimed programs. Photo-identification techniques used and collateral data collected are consistent with these programs.

The Project utilizes a combination of its own resources with particular emphasis in using passengers for sightings, counting number of dolphins and in identifying who the dolphins are from our catalogs.

Our expeditions are three hours in length, twice daily, every day of the week except Sundays. Weather permitting, we operate all year round. Our trips normally have 15-20 passengers, so there is great personal interaction between crew and passengers.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

We currently have working relationships with MOTE Marine Lab, NOAA and the University of Florida. We believe in continuing these relationships and expanding relationship with other dolphin research organizations around the world and attending meeting where there is an exchange of information and knowledge.

Enlarging the number of corporate and/or private sponsorships to the Project to provide the ability for analysis and compilation of the data basis as the Project expands into Phase 2 and 3 will be most helpful.

Partnering with volunteer organizations that can provide assistance in data collection, compilation and analysis.

Impact

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In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

To provide a substantial improvement in understanding of the needs, care and preservation of wild dolphin and their habitat.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

Substantial success has been accomplished over these first 27 months of the Project.

First, approximately 10,000 tourists and locals have taken our expeditions having participated in our work, learned about dolphins, their habitat and care.

Second, over 170 dolphins have be photo-identified named and cataloged.

Third, we have established good working relationships with MOTE Marine Labs, NOAA and the University of Florida in both sharing work and in specific worthy projects effecting marine life, locals and tourists.

Fourth, Angler’s Outreach is a program the Project is instrumental in bringing together on the area and works to minimize the negative effects of the human imprint in the area.

Additionally, we are developing relationships with the science departments of the Collier County School System. Twenty 7th Grade students recently joined one of our expeditions doing all the survey team work.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The expeditions are designed for passenger involvement. Passengers participate in dolphin sighting, “Dolphins at 3 o’clock!”; counting the number sighted ; and identifying dolphins from our photo catalogs. If a new dolphin is sighted, the passengers get to name it. Our dolphin identification catalogs are passed out at the beginning of the trip.

Additionally, families with children age 6 to 12 participate in The Dolphin Challenge, an on-board activity lead by our Naturalist through out the trip resulting in the children receiving our official Survey Team patch and becoming members of the Dolphin Explorer Club.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

Throughout our expeditions, we constantly address the issues of conservation and preservation, the fragility of the area and explain how the marine life and backwaters all fit together. We make a five minute stop at the entrance to Rookery Bay where the Naturalist discusses how the marine life needs/uses the mangrove areas and how the health of the mangroves are essential to preserving the marine life.

We also place a sticker on the back of the complimentary photos passengers receive that lists NOAA’s tips for caring for wild life.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Our participation in Angler’s Outreach is a model for bringing together government resources with local participation and input.

In January 2007, charter captains reported dolphins striping catch off lines. MOTE reported problem in Sarasota leading to dolphin mortalities.

Locally lead by the Project, Angler’s Outreach combines the resources of local charter captains, NOAA, University of Florida and MOTE Marine Labs in an education program targeted at recreational fishermen. The message is 1.) do not feed wild dolphins, 2.) do not release fish near dolphins, 3.) use different shaped hooks and 4.) use corrodible, not stainless steel hooks.

This Entry is about (Issues)

Sustainability

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Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Yes, it is sustainable at its present size. As the Project’s presence grows into Phases 2 and 3, it will require additional staffing both in crew and staff. We believe Phase 2 will enhance our continued sustainability. The demand by visits and locals is growing rapidly and we believe participation in our expeditions will double over the next three years.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The Project is privately underwritten by Sea Excursions Inc. for a five year period. Sea Excursions has been in business for over 20 years in SW Florida and is the leading provider of water activities to visitors, locals and hotels in the area.

Revenues generated by visitors and locals joining the Project’s expeditions provide the majority of funding required. We also have one corporate sponsor, Hilton Grand Vacations. The expeditions have become very appealing to corporations to have their employees participate in while attending corporate meetings at hotels in the area.

We carefully plan our prices and trip size to the demographics of our visitors. Against current pricing, our breakeven passenger/per trip are six passengers. Our average trips are 15 passengers, two trips a day, six days a week. We operate with a very small staff who have very high standards. Three full-time, one part-time and one volunteer.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

The Project covers approximately 50 coastal miles in three Phases. We are currently in Phase 1 which covers approximately 17 coastal miles plus bays, rivers and estuaries.

We have secured dock space for the start of Phase 2. Phase 2 is approximately 18 miles from Bonita Beach south to Marker 44 on Keewaydin Island. The Dolphin Explorer will be used two days a week until the demand for the innovation requires a second vessel. We will then fill that demand initially with a small six passenger vessel until the demand for a larger vessel is required.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

We have set very high standards for the Project. All our Naturalists are college educated, accredited in the University of Florida’s Naturalist Program, trained in dolphin survey work, have very high social skills and years of outdoor experience with the wildlife in SW Florida. Finding crew staff who have the required levels of excellence in experience, knowledge and social skills is our biggest issue.

Using volunteer staff has been difficult. The nature of the Project requires a day-to-day intimate knowledge and interpretation of sightings, location , photos and data.

The second had been getting the word out to visitors about taking our trips. That appears to be resolved. Return customers, word of mouth, referrals, brochures, limited advertising and the internet are beginning to build.

The Story

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Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Chris Desmond is Founder and Director of the 10,000 Islands Project. A USCG Master Captain, he has spent the past 10 years on the waters of Southwest Florida.

Rocky Beaudry is owner/operator of Sea Excursions, Inc. and has unwritten the Project.

Kent Morse is Naturalist, Outdoor Photographer and manages all photo identification for the Project. Kent is vital to the Project.

Cindy Hackney is a Naturalist and serves as Survey Team Leader on our expeditions.

Both Kent and Cindy are college graduates and are Certified Interpretive Guides through University of Florida’s Master Naturalist Program.

What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

The origin for the Project began in early 2005. Mr. Desmond has had a great admiration and love for the dolphin his entire life, particularly since his water work in SW Florida. His experience with both tourists and locals confirmed that they shared this view, but knew little about them. He also determine that no research was being done on dolphins in SW Florida to determine the health of stock in light of the effects of the rapid growth of people in the area.

Over the next 12 months, he made contact with a number of dolphin research organizations determining 1.) survey work is/can be accomplished using “citizen scientists” and 2.) it best to secure private underwritings for the Project that would be supported by tourists paying for the experience.

Designing the Project around the approach developed by MOTE’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program to ensure high standards would be in place, he then approached Rocky Beaudy, owner/operator of Sea Excursions Inc. to underwrite the Project for five years. These conversations concluded with Mr. Rocky Beaudry enhancing the Expeditions by including other elements to the trips which he knew tourists would also be interested in, i.e. a Naturalist, shelling and observing/explaining the area we travel in.

We then determine to use digital photography from the start and have digital printers on the boat so that dolphins could be immediately identified from our catalogs. This was a major advancement over other dolphin research projects. The use of digital photography also allowed for easy input into our master computer photo catalog.

Sea Excursions owes a 33’ powered catamaran that had been used for more generic tours. It was renamed the Dolphin Explorer and now serves as the platform for our survey work. It has proven to be an excellent vessel for the work and acts as the “beta” vessel in testing approach and equipment.

We then spent four months, October 2005 through January 2006, perfecting our photographic techniques, data recording and photo analysis and refined the process to accommodate passengers.

The Project was launched on February 1, 2006.

Please write an overview of your project. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the Google map located on the competition homepage.

The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project brings tourists and locals together in both ‘hands-on” study of local coastal bottlenose dolphins while learning how to care, preserve and protect these magnificent mammals. The Project is the only on-going study of wild dolphins in the area and, perhaps, the only daily year-round study of wild dolphins involving the paying general public as “citizen scientists” in the United States. Tourist /local participation in our work results in valuable research data that is provided to resource managers, universities and other dolphin research organizations.

While searching for bottlenose dolphins, our three hour expeditions brings us into backwater estuaries, river and bays providing a broad array of other marine life and habitat. Sightings of manatee, sea turtles, bald eagles, osprey and many different kinds of wading birds are not uncommon. How all this fits together with the habitat is explained
by our Naturalists

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338 weeks ago Justin Morse said: I first went on the Dolphin Explorer boat about two years ago on a windy day in December. Through the roar of the breeze I listened to ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Hal Rogoff said: The idea of combining the accumulation of a long term population study with volunteer/tourist participation is excellent. I have ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Eleanor LeCain said: The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project is excellent and deserves to win. I used to live in southwest Florida and still visit the area ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Nicole Reynolds said: I have been on the Dolphin Project ecotour a few times over the past year. Each time I come away with a renewed appreciation for the ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Felipe Marrou said: Had a chance to work with captain Chris and his wonderful crew during a segment for a tv show that will start airing soon. The entire ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Terry Horrigan said: My husband and I have participated in several Earthwatch and eco-education trips. This wonderful organization sounds so exciting and ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Susan Moeller said: My daughter wants to become a marine biologist so we have taken her to see dolphins in all kinds of settings--from the circus-like to ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Judy Turner-Meyer said: As an independent meeting planner based in Southwest Florida, I continuously seek attractions and activities which appeal to my diverse ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago m enberg said: Whenever tourists and locals can be involved in a project such as this one, the results are mutually beneficial to the dolphins, the ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
338 weeks ago Rocky Beaudry said: How better to improve the environmental footprint of Southwest Florida than with the "flipper print" of one of the most loved at the ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >