MORRO BAY — During the last decade many spots around the globe have taken up what is termed ecotourism as a better way to meet the financial needs of the citizens who formerly relied on non-sustainable environmental economic methods. The most remote places on earth are now easily reached by travelers and tourism is the world’s number one industry with nature tourism the most popular.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) defines ecotourism as environmentally responsible travel to natural areas to enjoy and appreciate nature. This describes what Morro Bay has offered travelers for longer than the terminology “ecotourism” has been around. The description by TNC goes on to say that ecotourism promotes conservation and has a low visitor impact. They identify most modern ecotourism today as not sustainable suffering from a lack of emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and community participation. How does Morro Bay measure up to that?
Morro Bay has a lot to offer both the visitor and residents with an abundance of natural sites, birds and animals. One could say from the time the area was discovered by white men, it has been an ecotourism destination. In the early years men took advantage of this abundance and over time began to deplete some of the resources. For at least the past 50 years however, the emphasis has shifted to one of sustainability as interest in natural areas has increased. People love to come to Morro Bay to see the variety of marine life and birds. Many of the residents who live here chose Morro Bay because of its natural assets.
Education and conservation have been in the forefront locally with places such as the Museum of Natural History with its interactive displays and the Central Coast State Parks Association offering educational programs, outings, and demonstrations for the public. Non-profit groups of volunteers like Pacific Wildlife Care and the Marine Mammal Center have worked tirelessly on rescue and rehabilitation. Morro Coast Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, and the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, to name a few, are always active doing projects to help maintain a healthy land and water environment.
Thousands of visitors come to Morro Bay every year to enjoy viewing the local wildlife. And the town has responded with a variety of ways for people to do that. There are a variety of kayak operators along the waterfront, in town and at the marina in the State Park with rentals, guided tours, and instructions. There are also paddlesport operators offering another way to get out on the water, along with lessons and guided tours. Both kayaking and paddlesport are relatively easy to do and offer you an up-close view of the marine wildlife on the bay. You will be able to see pelicans, herons, shorebirds, and gulls as well as sea otters, often with babies on board, and sea lions lounging on floating docks. Be aware that keeping a low visitor impact means not getting too close to these sensitive animals and birds.
Other ways to enjoy the natural landscape and wildlife is to take a ride on one of the tour boats operating on the bay. Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise offers a comfortable covered boat with seating and large window areas for viewing. Lost Isle Adventures also offers tour boat excursions on the bay. Both will afford you a with a guide who can inform you about the marine wildlife and some of the history of Morro Bay. If you want to go it alone, but don’t want to kayak, there are the electric boats available. Easy to operate and you can bring your picnic lunch on board to enjoy.
To view underwater life there is Sub Sea Tours and whale watching on the Dos Osos. Virg’s Sportfishing also offers whale watching tours.
For people who want to enjoy this great natural setting there are hikes available at locations around the bay. Hiking up Black Hill is popular where you can take in a 360-degree view.
Morro Bay celebrates ecotourism with the yearly Winter Bird Festival in January, the Avocado and Margarita Festival in September and the Harbor Festival in October. There is always something fun going on in eco-friendly Morro Bay!
Special Note: As of Aug. 1, Morro Bay celebrates the reopening of scenic Highway One to Big Sur with a new tourism promotion “Morro Bay is No. 1 on Hwy 1.” Visitors can expect to enjoy special meals in many restaurants, fun coffee drinks and desserts at the coffee houses, specialty items at retailers and promotional items at hotels and motels.