The American Ecotourism Association (AEA) defines Ecotourism as pleasure travel to nature and culture based areas which minimizes ecological impact and supports the well-being of the community. In practice, ecotourists visit and interact with a natural or a cultural environment, and the local community benefits from their tourist dollars.
It is a fast growing segment of the tourism industry. A 1996 study reported in the Journal of Travel Research, found that 33 percent of U.S. consumers (35 million adults) are interested in ecotourism, and that 7 percent (8 million) have done ecotravel. San Diego with its natural beauty and scenery is benefiting from this trend. The county hosted its first Ecotourism Summit in 1997 after noting that many tourists were packing hiking boots in addition to swim suits.. Each part of the county is becoming known for its refuges and preserves. Locals and tourists alike flock to San Diego sites to bird watch, hike the estuaries and roam the deserts in order to view the native flora and fauna.
The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park was created in 1970 when the City of San Diego dedicated 6,000 acres of tide and submerged lands as an underwater park. The area of the park extends from Alligator Head, La Jolla to the northern end of The Torrey Pines State Reserve. The park contains two areas created by the California Fish & Game Commission: the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge. The areas are regulated to protect native marine and geological resources. The Ecological Reserve is open to the public for recreation although permits are required. Swimming and boating as well as fishing are all permitted activities.