On November 17th 2012 St. Augustine Eco Tours joined an array of other environmental groups at the Fourth Annual Right Whale festival held in Jacksonville Beach. The festival was filled with educational pamphlets, fun games and giveaways for both the young and the young at heart. Despite the cold wind and bitter weather there was a warm feeling surrounding the festival as families walked through rows of tables supporting the cause. Great music, delicious food, incredible art and a life size inflatable right whale were just a few of the perks that the festival offered.
This festival welcomes the migration of the North Atlantic Right Whales from the northeast to their only known calving grounds off south Georgia and north Florida coasts. The festival has a mission of educating local residents about the presence and behaviors of one of the most endangered whales on the planet. It is also a great opportunity to teach stakeholders, from tugboat captains to surfers, how to safely move away from the whales when encountered in the river or ocean.
St. Augustine Eco Tours proudly joins this event every year to promote responsible boating and ecology-based tourism. Our table showcased brochures, photos of our trips and a demonstration pool with plastic figurines of boats, kayaks, toy dolphins, whales and sea turtles. This area is where kids can play and become engaged with the figurines while we explain the appropriate distances humans should stay from marine mammals and reptiles.
Federal Regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) passed in 1972, mandates that all humans in or on the water remain 500 yards from the Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. Marine mammals such as Bottlenose Dolphins and Humpback Whales have federal protection requiring a minimum distance of fifty yards or half a football field. The MMPA specifically outlaws feeding, touching, or swimming with any wild marine mammal. Such activities are punishable by a $20,000 dollar fine and 1 year in prison. It is important to us, as environmental educators, to not only follow the laws but to go above and beyond the requirements for the protection, safety and health of the animals. Our number one goal is the protection and conservation of all creatures and habitats of the natural environment. We provide people an opportunity to responsibly experience wild animals in their natural habitat, while respecting all the wildlife we encounter.
This yearly event is one that shouldn’t be missed. So next year make sure to come out and visit us at the 2013 Right Whale Festival.