Eco-tourism brings big business to Cape May Co. -

Eco-tourism brings big business to Cape May Co.

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In the first study of its kind, wildlife officials in Cape May County have learned real data showing them just how valuable nature is to the economy there.

In Cape May County, bird watching is big. From the World Series of Birding, to major migratory missions, people come to the area specifically for the birds.

Kathy Hume is the General Manager for Sunset Beach Gift Shop, and explained, "We are like, the largest migration area in North America. So there are people coming here primarily just to track the birds, look at the birds, and to check everything out! And they check out our shop!” Kathy Hume says her shop gets tons of business throughout the year from the bird watchers. "In the off season, I mean we are here all year, and the migration varies for different species of birds - so of course there are going to be bird watchers here, pretty much all year."

And for the first time ever, a new study conducted by the Nature Conservancy of New Jersey verifies that.

Elizabeth Schuster is the Environmental Economist who performed the study and said, "It's about $313 million each year in spending on things like hotels, tourists, restaurants, retail, etc."

The study gives hard facts about nature's economic impact on the county. Schuster says she just finished the nine month study, which also concludes that the restored beaches, dunes, and wetlands of the Lower Cape May Meadows ecosystem will also save the county $9.6 million over a fifty year span by avoiding costs associated with flooded homes.

Schuster explained, "So that's the goal of the study, is to finally quantify what the benefits are of the ecological restoration."

The 465 acres of the Lower Cape May Meadows were restored from 2005 to 2007 and bird watchers have been flocking to the area ever since.

Environmentalists say this is a crucial first step in better managing the coastal habitats of South Jersey.

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