Vacationing on Marco Island provides a fantastic opportunity to experience the uninhabited 10,000 islands just to the south of us. Recently we had the pleasure of accompanying Captain Drew Naeckel of Everglades Area Tours, and another couple from Naples, on a 2 hour eco-educational tour. We left Calusa Marina on Goodland (only 10 minutes from Marco) at around 3pm on a cloudless afternoon and all these pictures were taken on that tour.What we saw.Lots of bottlenose dolphins, some of them jumping and diving in the wake of the boat. A great view of a mother West Indian manatee and calf in Gullivan Bay as well as a loggerhead turtle, a spotted eagle ray, osprey, cattle egret, great egret, brown pelican and many other wading and shore birds.We stopped at a sand shoal that has been deposited over the last fi ve years and is now showing signs of vegetation. This is an island in the making and demonstrates the changing face of our local shoreline. The shelling was amazing and included a great specimen of a fragile Angelwing. We also found the molt of a prehistoric looking horseshoe crab that Cap'n Drew explained looks like a complete version of the animal that shed it. Apparently they preceded the dinosaurs by millions of years. We came across a tiny Least tern chick just at the wrack line, trying his best to look like the rest of the beach! We also saw other terns nesting and chicks starting to run around. We learned how to identify the difference between the red and black mangrove trees (only distant relatives) and how vital they are to the entire ecosystem in the 10,000 islands and beyond. As Cap'n Drew told us. "It's not a zoo out there" so no one can guarantee what you'll see, but in our experience the thrill of seeing these amazing creatures in their natural environment was so much more rewarding than seeing them in captivity. All these photos were taken on the trip.What we liked about the tour. (in addition to the wildlife, shelling and views of course!). Captain Drew was very personable and is one of the best guides we have met in SW Florida, with extensive knowledge from having lived on Marco and been on the water for 17 years.. Good sized boat, but limited to 6 passengers.. Comfortable captain's style seating, enabling you to swivel 180°s to watch everything.. Not a fi xed tour following a rigid path, but adapted by Captain Drew and his passengers, depending on the tide, season, weather and his local knowledge of what is happening.. Close to Marco but closer still to the rest of the 10,000 islands.Everglades Area Tours offer several eco tours daily from Calusa Marina in Goodland, as well as sunset trips. Cap'n Drew is just one of four extremely experienced licensed USCG Captains and Florida Master Naturalist Guides that may take you on your eco trip through the 10,000 Islands. Some of these trips are extended to 3½ hours and can also include seine netting, which is especially popular with families with children. EVERGLADESAREATOURS.EVERGLADES AREA TOURS.COM 239-695-3633
Although we're locals, we have never tried kayaking in the Everglades so when the opportunity to take a 3 hour guided Mangrove Tunnel Tour came up, we jumped at it. Late one afternoon at the end of January, we met at JT's in Choko-loskee, were introduced to our guide Chris Schuld and headed back to a launch site off US41. Chris, who is a Florida Master Naturalist, gave a great overview of the area for us and our three kayaking companions, showing us where we would be paddling and how the Everglades eco-system works.Our kayaks were comfortable and stable and it was comforting to note that no-one had capsized one (not recently anyway!). The lake was calm and edged with mangroves and after we had paddled 100 yards or so it was diffi cult to believe we were so close to the highway. Slowly the quietness crept upon us as we absorbed the strange kind of beauty that surrounded us. This was nature at its best.Tunnel aheadWe continued down the lake, silently and unobtrusively, until Chris pointed to a very small entrance in the mangroves that was so narrow it required us to take apart our paddles and use only half of one. It was easy to see why they are called mangrove tunnels - the mangrove trees on either side met about ten feet above our heads to form a canopy. The creek through here twists and turns, providing some interesting challenges for the novice kayaker, but it was nothing we couldn't cope with as we took in the beauty of the sunlight shimmering through the canopy and the overall peacefulness.Eye level with alligatorsAt the end of the tunnel we found ourselves in another lake. Chris signaled for us to get close as he had seen a number of alligators in the water and a large one sunning himself on the bank. Over the years, we have seen hundreds of alligators in different situations but never has our experience seemed so intimate, watching them at eye-level at the water-line, only feet away. They are shy animals and after a while they quietly submerged and the one on the bank slipped silently into the lake.