<-- More Absolutely Florida

Photo by Nicholas Popov

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Every day around 4 pm, our cat enjoys an afternoon snack of a fresh gecko lizard right outside my sliding glass door. As I avert my eyes, and the kids look on fascinated, my husband always complains that domestic cats - and many street cats live all around Miami Beach - are creating an inbalance of local nature. Daily snack-lizards aren't such a big tragedy (though those little guys are good mosquito eaters), the very sad part is when our cat kills a gorgeous bird visiting from up north or a foot long bright green chameleon, suitable for a pet store. So I put a bell on her collar as a warning toll to any innocent creature of their impending doom - (too bad chameleons are deaf).

Now cats are cats, and they're just practicing being cats. But people, whether as visitors or residents, don't need to practice killing, but still do so intentionally and unintentionally. Awareness of the natural world around us, and our role within it, is the first step towards ensuring that Florida maintains its greatest resource: natural beauty. And we sometimes need a little education about what's OK, and what's not OK. Some of the advice in our Ecotourism section is common sense, some suggest more community awareness - such as elimination of harmful fishing methods, litter, pollutants and the like. Some of the problem, such as the mindless onslaught of constant development into our precious Everglades, is political. But awareness is the key to understanding the situation.

After being a Florida resident for over 11 years, I have compiled my own list of ecologically bad behavior and mindlessness that drives me round the twist. One moonlit night, my husband, our daschund and I went out for an evening stroll on the golf course behind our house. We rounded the corner by a little pond where we always hear a 'blip' of water from a fish that is invariably startled by us. Usually we never see a soul out there, but this night there were two people standing by the pond. Each was holding two freshly caught tarpon, held up proudly by their gills. I couldn't believe that such large fish lived in the golf course pond, or that these guys were dumb enough to eat them. Lovely and scenic as golf courses are, I wouldn't dare eat creatures that lived in ponds fed on fertilizers, run-off from the greens. "Oh, no problem, lady, we just boil them for an hour, then we fry them..." Too bad for the fish, and for us - since then, there have been no 'blips' in the pond.

This month's Ecotourism stories are about mangroves - the protected species of tangled coastal plants that once covered much of South Florida, and which provide an essential base for the life cycle of many animals and plants. Our delicate coral reefs in the Florida Keys, already endangered by careless divers, snorkelers, boaters, and pollutants, are still a great and beautiful attraction, but caution and care must be observed; dolphins are also declining in population, thanks to garbage, pollutive toxins and certain fishing methods which entangle them in nets. Visitors can see dolphins commuting the Intracoastal waterway, or out at sea and, of course, in zoos and aquariums, but they can also swim with the dolphins, preferably in the wild. (Locate them through nature tours and expeditions.) This issue also offers a suggestion for the South Florida Ecotourist, a trip to Redland, an important - and the only - agricultural area in South Florida. And our Food Dude, Simon Lewis, offers his best Florida recipe, using fresh natural ingredients all grown right here in the Sunshine State.

There are, of course, many areas not covered in this first set of Ecotourism stories, and Absolutely Florida will be exploring more of these fascinating subjects as the months progress. So, whether you are planning to visit Florida as an Ecotourist, a business traveler or just a plain sun-loving tourist, we urge you to learn something about the precious environment of our beautiful and unique state, abundant with nature and teeming with life, to be enjoyed and respected - it's only natural.