Leave Only Footprints: It's not just about the litter
Maybe you’ve seen the signs along the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach about the Leave Only Footprints initiative? They’re attached to posts near garbage cans and recycling bins all along the Alabama shoreline. And while they do make it easy to throw out trash after a sunny day relaxing on the beach, they’re only part of the Leave Only Footprints initiative.
Several years ago, community leaders realized we had a serious problem… many problems, actually. The sea turtles weren’t nesting like they used to. Birds were so comfortable around humans, they got bold — sometimes taking food right out of peoples’ hands. The balance of sea life was, well, imbalanced.
The challenge: How to balance beach fun for people with a healthy ecosystem for wildlife?
City, state, business and concerned citizens organized in 2007 to create a sustainability program for the beaches to protect valuable natural assets. In 2015, the Beach Litter Program was added to further protect the health and safety of the beach, surrounding waters, animals and, of course, beachgoers.
The program has been a huge success! Local hotels, condos and businesses have all pitched in, promoting the program with flyers and pamphlets to educate guests. Staff and volunteers have committed to preserving the beach through a number of initiatives. And, eco-volunteers have done an amazing job to protect the dunes and sea turtle nests. The whole community has rallied around healthy beach living, and there has been great progress.
In 2016, the area earned two noteworthy awards: The Alabama Tourism Department Partnership Award and the Alabama PALS Governor’s Award. The Alabama Tourism Department Partnership Award recognizes the successful partnership between the Leave Only Footprints initiative with the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. It recognizes the importance of the campaign on sustainability, protection of valued natural resources, and continued tourism success. The Alabama PALS Governor’s Award recognizes the commitment to litter control, recycling, local cleanup efforts, environmental education and volunteerism.