Clean, safe beaches – that is the message behind the Leave Only Footprints campaign, a joint effort by the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. As the cities step up their efforts as the busy spring and summer seasons approach, initial response to the program has been positive, according to tourism officials.
“Our loyal visitors love our beaches, and it’s the main reason they come back again and again,” Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, said. “With the help of our local industry partners and residents, we’ve begun to get the word out about the new program. We know, particularly the requirement to remove all items from the beach daily, the changes will take some education on our part. We also know the reasons behind the changes are good ones and are confident our visitors will appreciate the long-range goals and long-term positive results.”
The Leave Only Footprints initiative requires beachgoers to take their belongings with them each night. Removing beach toys, tents, umbrellas and chairs keeps beach gear out of the way of endangered species such as the nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, and out of the Gulf of Mexico. It also clears the way for emergency and maintenance crews who must navigate the beach. Similar initiatives are already in place along coastal communities in the Florida Panhandle.
In 2015, both cities piloted similar programs, stepping up education efforts with representatives on the beach, educating beachgoers about best practices while enjoying the natural resources. Still, thousands of cubic yards of abandoned debris, including tent frames, umbrellas and chairs, were collected last year.
“Every guest spends weeks and months planning their trip to the beach, and they all have visions of that first glimpse of the pristine beach in the morning,” said Michelle Nelson, chief operating officer of one of the largest rental management companies on the island. “They deserve to have that whether they are the first set of footprints on the beach at the beginning of the season or the last set later in the year. I know our guests will appreciate and will benefit from this effort.”
The updated ordinances in each city require that any equipment and personal items be removed from the beach after sunset each day. Any items not removed will be collected and discarded. Keeping the beach clean for future visitors is an upshot of the Leave Only Footprints policy, which includes other safety and sustainability elements, as well. Glass containers and excessive digging are also prohibited, and holes dug should be refilled before leaving the beach. In addition, loud music is prohibited on the beach, all in the hope of preserving the safety, peace and beauty of the Alabama Gulf Coast.
The cities are working with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism and local industry partners to implement a complete communications effort to let the public know about the new rules. The program is intended to be fully in place prior to spring 2016.
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