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.
San Diego County is home to 200 breeding and 300 migratory bird species making it a paradise for birders. The San Diego Audubon Society offers field trips to all around the county to view various species and add sightings to lists. Hikes are varied to fit every level of experience. Salton Sea, San Elijo Lagoon, Lake Murray, Lindo Lake, Old Mission Dam, Lake Morena and Point Loma are all areas with numerous species of birdlife. Nature Festivals of San Diego County hosts the San Diego Bird Festival every winter. The 2004 event will be held February 4-8th.
Point Loma is particularly noted for its migratory birds and Fall is a good time to view warblers, flycatchers and western migrants. The Point Loma Ecological Reserve is 840 acres located at the tip of Point Loma. The Reserve is managed by the U.S. Navy, Cabrillo National Monument and other Federal agencies in order to preserve a rare pocket of California?s coastal sage scrub.. The Bayside Trail is a two and one-half hour self-guided hike located in the Cabrillo Monument Park. Hiking the trail gives the visitor a view of plants, small reptiles, mammals and a number of indigenous and migrating birds. The Tide Pools located at the base of the cliffs are another popular area and offer views of tidal marine life.
On its Pacific Ocean side, Pt. Loma also has Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This 68-acre park includes beaches, intricately carved coastal bluffs, arches and sea caves. This is an excellent spot to watch both spectacular sunsets and migrating whales during the winter months.