As tropical storm Alberto made landfall this weekend, there was another storm brewing on our island. According to this article from 1985, the disagreement among islanders on how to manage the island has been going on since Jeff Lewis the Tallahassee businessman who bought the entire island in the 1940s passed away. There are the people who want their own private island and there are others who want to share the beauty of the island with others.
We are part of the sharing the island camp. Some property owners do not want us to bring people out to the island beaches for day trips. They are afraid that people will just disturb the wildlife if people come here. While our primary business is fishing charters, our intention in providing rides to the island is to educate passengers on the natural beauty and conservation efforts of the inhabitants of the island. If you involve the local communities, they will take some responsibility for and may become enthusiastic about the active conservation of Dog Island. If you look at any conservation group, their main goal is outreach and advocacy, not secrecy and restriction. Carrabelle and the surrounding towns in Franklin county are the first stop for tourists. Being a full time resident, I have a lot of interaction with the local community and from what I gather, Dog Island has the reputation of being a pretentious private country club. This impression will breed resentment and the local community won’t care to get involved nor educate visitors in conservation of the island wildlife. With the population swelling, social media, and locally, the development of Island View Park in Carrabelle, it is inevitable that tourists will come to the island. Ecotourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry and we can as a community get ahead of this and manage it or we can get left behind as we watch the integrity of this ecosystem get destroyed. Nobody wants Dog Island to be built up, but ecotourism growth creates significant opportunities for conservation and can provide much needed revenue for the protection of our natural areas that might not be available from other sources.
We have been told that people have been fighting commercialization of Dog Island for generations, but continuing to do something because it’s always been done that way is not a good reason for doing it. I believe there is a better way to preserve the wildlife than to just pretend like Dog Island is a private island and discourage people from visiting. Finding a way to come to some democratic way of agreeing on shared management of this beautiful stretch of land is paramount to preserving its pristine environment.