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4 must-see destinations to celebrate Earth Day

As Earth Day approaches, it is time to reflect on the beauty and diversity of our planet's ecosystems. For those with both serious wanderlust and a passion for the environment, there's no better way to celebrate than by immersing yourself in the natural world. Here is a selection of 4 of the best destinations that not only offer a getaway, but also a chance to rub shoulders with wildlife and contribute to conservation efforts.

From the historic wild horses of North Carolina's Crystal Coast to the resilient manatees of Fort Myers and the marine sanctuaries of Santa Barbara, these places promise authentic encounters with nature.

Crystal Coast, North Carolina

North Carolina's Crystal Coast is full of incredible opportunities to view wildlife up close, both on land and under the sea. Often called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” it offers ideal conditions for scuba diving with visibility of over 100 feet, as well as over 2,000 shipwrecks and abundant marine life. Carefully regulated fishing and regional conservation efforts have helped safeguard the richness of marine species.

Take the ferry to Shackleford Banks to admire the majesty of the island's famous wild horses. These are the ancestors of horses that survived several Spanish shipwrecks off the coast in the 1500s. Or go for a horseback ride (on a tame horse, of course) through the Croatan National Forest. The area's marshes offer plenty of opportunities to search for birds and listen to the beautiful songs of many species.

Fort Myers – Islands, beaches and neighborhoodsFlorida

What's better than experiencing the region's incredibly rich wildlife diversity with rare encounters with the magical manatee, as well as flamingos, alligators, peacocks and more than 240 species of birds (including the rare roseate spoonbill). More than 60 percent of Sanibel Island is protected and dedicated to wildlife preservation. There are also more than 25 miles of bike trails through the JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, one of nearly 50 nature reserves in the region.

Visit Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs to see rescued, rehabilitated and unreleased animals. Animal lovers can combine their love of nature and thirst for outdoor adventure by renting kayaks or canoes at Manatee Park in Fort Myers. Or head to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve which offers panoramic views of the 3,500-acre wetland habitat. You will probably enjoy some encounters with sea turtles, dolphins and many species of birds.

Santa BarbaraCalifornia

Santa Barbara is known for being a champion of wildlife and for educating locals and visitors about the importance of safeguarding the diversity of the coast's ecosystem. The Santa Barbara Channel was recently designated the ninth Whaling Heritage Area in the world (making it one of two Whaling Heritage Areas in the United States). Famous for its incredible biodiversity and thriving marine ecosystem, Santa Barbara is a sanctuary for more than 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and visitors can enjoy wildlife viewing experiences throughout the year. Go on a whale watching expedition with Condor Express; they offer excursions in a unique quad-jet configuration without sharp propellers to ensure safe interactions with dolphins and whales.

The Santa Barbara Zoo's California Condor Recovery Program is fighting to save the endangered California condor, considered the largest land bird in North America. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara offers a family “Ambassadors of the Environment” program in collaboration with Jean-Michel Cousteau. Enjoy a unique education about the natural environment and the indigenous people of the Chumash tribe with free eco-hikes along the Gaviota Coast and beach walks with on-site naturalists.

Corpus Christi, TX

With diverse habitats ranging from sandy beaches to verdant wetlands, Corpus Christi is home to an impressive number of native marine and terrestrial species. The Padre Island National Seashore is a sanctuary for more than 380 species of birds and a variety of mammals, including coyotes, deer and the endangered Kemp's sea turtle.

The city is located along the Central Flyway and therefore hosts a large number of migratory birds such as the roseate spoonbill, Kentucky warbler and cinnamon teal. The region's rich birdlife is why the area is affectionately known as “America's Birdiest Town.” Mustang Island State Park is another great spot for wildlife viewing, as you can get up close and personal with coastal birds like the Aplomado Falcon and Reddish Egret.

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