P.E.I. campaign asks visitors to 'walk lightly' on Island beaches

The Island Nature Trust is encouraging visitors to P.E.I. to help protect Island beaches through a new campaign called Walking Lightly. The group has prepared a two-sided, laminated information sheet that tourism operators are being encouraged to share, especially at accommodations.

Educational materials available from Island Nature Trust about the sensitive beach ecosystem

Harris would like to see more tourism associations sharing the message. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

The Island Nature Trust is encouraging visitors to P.E.I. to help protect Island beaches through a new campaign called Walking Lightly. 

The group has prepared a two-sided, laminated information sheet that tourism operators are being encouraged to share, especially at accommodations.

"The idea is to try to provide some education to visitors to P.E.I. who come from an entirely different world and may not really understand the sensitivities of our beach ecosystems," said Megan Harris, executive director of Island Nature Trust.

"That's a big driver for many visitors and they come from areas of Canada or elsewhere in the world where they don't see this type of environment every day."

Harris said Walking Lightly is an extension of the Leave No Trace campaign, which is another global campaign involving walkers, hikers and bikers.

"It's about just walking lightly on the land so that they have the opportunity to come back and see that land in a natural state rather than degraded by excessive or unsustainable human use," Harris said.

This beach at North Lake, P.E.I., is one of the places that Tanya Calver recommends to her guests. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Harris said visitors are often surprised to find out how much is happening on Island beaches.

"I think that visitors see it's a beautiful beach but there's not a lot of visible wildlife there," Harris said.

"They just don't recognize that they're sharing that beach and that some of their behaviours, no matter how innocuous they may seem to them, do impact the wildlife that's there."

Harris is happy that the Island East Tourism group is sharing the materials. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Islanders get it, do tourists?

Harris said not walking on the dunes and keeping dogs off the beach are two of the messages that Islanders may understand, but not necessarily visitors.

"It's not common knowledge to visitors and you see pictures from across the globe of people surfing down sand dunes in other parts of the world," Harris said.

"When you consider that these people don't live here permanently, that might come as a surprise, just how fragile our dunes are."

Piping plovers are among the birds that are being protected by the new Walking Lightly campaign. (Submitted by Vicki Johnson)

The Island East Tourism Group has given out 600 of the information sheets this season, to tourism operators and visitor information centres.

"We wanted to work with Island Nature Trust to help educate our visitors about preserving our dunes and our beachscapes," said Tanya Calver, group chair.

Don't damage the dunes

Calver is one of the owner-operators of the All Points East Campground in North Lake, P.E.I.

She keeps laminated information sheets, in English and French, at the check-in desk of the campground.

Island Nature Trust says the information sheets are not expensive and they'd be happy to work with tourism groups interested in making them available. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"When guests come in and are asking about the beach, where to go, it's right there for us to talk about," Calver said.

Calver said visitors are surprised at some of the information about walking lightly on the beach.

"The biggest one would be not walking on the dunes, they think it's just like walking through the woodlands, we can go explore anywhere," Calver said.

"We really need to remind you just stay on the paths, don't go climbing on the dunes and it gives us a great opening line for talking about the dunes themselves and how important they are."

Island Nature Trust received funding for the Walking Lightly campaign from Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

She said some dog owners are also upset that the information sheets suggest they shouldn't let their dogs run around, they should be on a leash. 

"But I think most dog owners are sort of used to that at the beach anyway," Calver said.

Promoting provincial beaches

Calver said the Walking Lightly campaign is an important fit for the Island East Tourism Group. 

We felt it was our responsibility to sort of help educate people to help preserve the area.— Tanya Calver

"We're really all about advertising and promoting our 50 phenomenal beaches that we have out here in eastern P.E.I.," Calver said. 

"So by doing that, we're bringing more visitors, we felt it was our responsibility to sort of help educate people to help preserve the area."

This is the second season for Tanya Calver as one of the owner-operators of the All Points East Campground. She's also chair of the Island East Tourism Group. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Calver would even like to see signage about the importance of walking lightly on the beach.

"I think eventually we'd like to see more information at the beaches themselves, just in case there's that missed opportunity, if it's not my guest or someone else's guests, we haven't had the chance to connect with them about it," Calver said.

"Something as you arrive at the beach to say, here's what we're doing to protect them, here's how you can help, would be wonderful."

Harris is thrilled that Island East Tourism has distributed the Walking Lightly materials to all of its operators this season.

"That's fantastic, that's what the intent was and it always helps to have partners who are actively engaged in sharing it with their visitors and are invested in making sure their visitors walk lightly on the land," Harris said.

Expanding information

Eventually Harris would like to see the Walking Lightly information in every tourist accommodation on P.E.I.

"There's not a lot of cost associated with creating these and that's intentional, we'd love to see them in every rental cottage," Harris said.

"We hope too that people on vacation have a little bit of time to read things and kick back on their deck at the cottage and maybe have a little bit more time to think about the messages," Harris said. 

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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