The Linking Communities, Wetlands and Migratory Birds (Linking) Ecotourism Initiative had its beginning in 1999. During the Second International Linking Meeting held in Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico a group of international stakeholders from Mexico, Canada, and the United States developed a strategy for working within and between communities for the conservation of shorebirds and their allies. During the three day planning meeting sponsored by SEMERNAT (a natural resources government agency in Mexico) a strategy was agreed upon. The representatives of three countries fleshed out three international conservation targets focusing on education, conservation based tourism, and conservation collaboration.

These broad categories address common themes important to conservation efforts within each nation and more specific local target communities and their associated conservation areas of value to birds. Linking international conservation efforts seems to occur best by establishing broad goals that are in turn developed into specific strategies. This has been the case with the Ecotourism Initiative.

Ecotourism was chosen as one of the three conservation targets for several reasons. Even though Linking has an international focus, the communities that are working together are specific and aligned with important hemisphere bird habitats. These are sites that receive visits from tourists. Ecotourism promises to be a factor in sustaining local economies. When an economic value is appreciated the source of the economy is valued. Tourism also stimulates community appreciation of the resource visitors want to enjoy. Some of the communities within the interest of Linking partners have less diverse economies so when a new renewable economy promises to be successful and provide additional income it helps improve the quality of personal and community life.

Ecotourism is a great way to celebrate with festivals and special events that both the visitor and local publics can participate in. Ecotourism honors heritage, celebrates culture, and encourages art and craft from traditions current and past.

Recent Ecotourism Actions

Strategy & Business Plans

The communities associated with the Marismas Nacionales, an enormous costal wetland and mangrove habitat that spills from the state of Sinaloa deep into the state of Nayarit, Mexico have many of the qualities for developing an ecotourism strategy. For sometime Linking partners have been considering ways to proceed with structured tourism.

In 2010, a significant move forward toward an ecotourism business plan for the communities in and around Marismas Nacionales was initiated. With considerable funding support from the BirdLife International - Rio Tinto Partnership and the Rio Tinto business Utah Kennecott Copper, a year was spent producing a business planning report. Duncan Pritchard, a successful sustainable communities planner was retained to produce the plan in cooperation with Linking community stake holders. Pritchard has worked with communities in South Africa and other sites producing successful business plans with a sustainable tourism focal point. In 2011, a structure for a business plan with guidelines for moving forward was presented to Nayarit community stake holders (see below to download the plans).

In January 2012, an ecotourism meeting was held in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico where stake holders reported on the actions taken from the Linking Communities Marketing and Ecotourism Recommendations Report. Stake holders formed a tourism committee to assist in moving the report's recommendations forward. The meeting was well attended by many community members including hoteliers, nature guides, university tourism education staff, government officials, and representatives from non-governmental organizations. Pronatura, a Linking partner in Mexico, has been assisting the committee as well as the Utah Linking group.

Group Trainings

One of the tasks agreed upon from this meeting was to hold a series of guide training workshops for interested Marismas Nacionales community members. This training was conducted by Mark Stackhouse a Linking partner who operates a birding tourism business out of San Blas. The training took place during 2012 and was supported by a small travel stipend form the Utah Linking group.

Bird Festivals

Bird Festival development and support within and among Linking sites has been a major activity of Linking's Ecotourism Committee for many years. Two of the three festivals that tie us together had their start by community members of Linking. Each festival has its own unique activities and setting but they all support each other in celebrating many of the same birds during different seasons. The northern festival in Saskatchewan, Canada is supported by the small communities surrounding Chaplin Lake and nearby wetlands. They offer a two day experience that celebrates birds during the breeding season. The mid-continent festival in Davis County, Utah celebrates birds over five days with a much larger population of participants to draw from. The Great Salt Lake Bird Festival celebrates birds during spring migration and during the breeding season. The southern bird festival celebrates birds on their winter habitat. Here in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico you can watch winter plumage American avocets wadding under the feet of wood storks. This is a great festival to see birds, enjoy traditional Mexican culture and take a break from the snow.

Some years the three festivals cooperate by sharing a common bird to celebrate. This strengthens the relationship between linked communities and demonstrates to festival participants the importance of international conservation for migratory species.

Upcoming bird festivals for these areas include:

Chaplin Lake Bird Festival
Dates: First weekend in June
Contact: Clem Millar, Chaplin Tourism, Saskatchewan, Canada
Phone: 306-395-2223

San Blas Festival Internacional de las Aves Migratorias
Dates: The last week of January 2016

17th Great Salt Lake Bird Festival
Dates: May 18-22, 2017

© 2014 Utah Linking Communities.

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