By Jacquie Kubin, DONNE TEMPO MAGAZINE
Titusville, Fl…. Surrounded by water, the Peninsula that is Florida offers visitors plenty of things to do.
When planning a Florida vacation our thoughts immediately go to the oceans and beautiful beaches that are plentiful along the Ocean and Golf Coasts, however one of the states undiscovered joys are the estuaries – brackish water, often shallow, inlets where the sea and fresh water meet.
These inlets, often referred to as the Cradles of the Ocean, are important parts of our ocean life and our world. These shallow water environments provide protected breeding and early life habitats for more than seventy percent of Florida’s fish, crustaceans and shellfish.
The fish and crustaceans migrate through the inlets to spawn, creating offspring that are transported back into the estuaries by the tides and currents where the shallow waters, salt marshes, sea grasses and the gnarled, reaching roots of the Mangrove trees provide safe harbor from open-water predators.
And you can get up close and personal with the waters of the Indian River with A Day Away Kyak Tours of Titusville, Florida. On these eco-tours, person of all ages take to the shallow river with an experienced guide .
Within the safety of the group, explorers go out onto the estuaries in kayaks for one, or two, to explore the rivers, springs, islands, beaches and lakes throughout Florida. It is a safe experience for kayakers of all ages.
Kayakers ready for adventure (Photo courtesy of A Day Away Kyak Tours)
Tours during the day get out away from the noise of society to seek out a vast array of Florida wildlife. Guides can help you to find the gentle manatees or watch the otters frolic.
This is also a great place for birding including the Southern Bald Eagle, White Pelicans, Red Header Woodpeckers and the Great Blue Heron.
A unique opportunity offered by A Day A Way are the nighttime bioluminescent tours. Bioluminescent creatures on this tour are microscopic small, single-celled plankton called Dinoflagellates. These tiny organisms produce light, called cold light as it does not emit any heat, through chemicals that are energized from the sun during the day, leaving them shining brightly in the night.
Stepping into our kayaks on the Indian River at dusk, the river, and sunset, was beautiful. A single dolphin fin visible from land had hopes high for incredible animal encounters.
As darkness descended the stars emerged and, on the very black water, in the very still quiet they were brilliant.
Paddling down the Indian River our goal was Mosquito Lagoon, which, for very obvious reasons was, in hindsight, not a great place to be heading on a very calm, warm September night.
This was not the trip to take the environmentally friendly mosquito wipes. You want DEET. Lots of Deet.
As the night got darker, the stars brighter, the water began to sparkle with each paddle stroke. From the bows of the boats in front of you, you could see the streaks of shining light in the water.
Once on Mosquito Lagoon, we began slapping the water with our paddles, making quite a ruckus, as we watched fleets of mullet fly through the water before taking to the air, all the while shining eerily from the dinoflagellates that are seemingly everywhere.
This evening, other than the dolphin who once again appeared at the end of our journey, there was no other wildlife encounters. No manatees, or turtles swimming below the surface; no porpoises or great winged owls hooting down at us from the trees.
Just a lot of teeny glowing plankton, scared fish and very voracious mosquitoes. But it was still very, very cool to see.
Dolphin curious (Photo by TJ Dunkerton )
A daytime journey brought us South to Rockledge, Florida and back onto the Indian River, but this time in the relative comfort of a flat-bottomed pontoon boat along with Dolphin Girl Cruises & Eco-Tours Tiffany Barrineau.
Adding to the adventure, and ensuring that no one sails hungry, every Dolphin Girl Cruise starts out at the Conch Key Grille, a fun Caribbean inspired eatery with outdoor Tiki Bar, perfect for a post cruise cocktail, while watching the day wind down over the Indian River.
Ms. Barrineau has a B.S. in Bilology with a concentration on Marine Biology and she is passionate and committed about protecting the Indian River estuary and in educating young people on the wonderful and diverse habitat to be found there.
Each tour takes along an experienced captain and a naturalist, if not Ms. Barrineau herself, to see what can be found along the banks of the Indian River Lagoon. Our trip introduced us to many native birds, the beauty of the bank hugging mangrove trees and, sadly, how people are building large homes, creating run off pollution and destroying the shores and habitats.
We again listen and take to heart the environmental message that more than seventy-percent of the fish and shellfish that support Florida, both commercially and recreationally, spend part of their lives in these estuaries. Their lives start, and often end, in these shallow waters.
It is where they return to reproduce and where the young find shelter from larger, open-water predators. The shallow water, salt marshes, seagrasses and mangrove roots providing hiding places in which to grow.
On this day, the cruise had a special guest, a mother dolphin and her calf swam near us, but not too close. The mother had come here to give birth. However she and the manatees, along with their lesser sized water neighbors, are in danger from man. The building, the pollution (which we saw plenty of amongst the shore) and the motors - on boats, on jet skis.
It was a remarkable experience that only heightened the lessons learned on the Indian River. From seeing the homes built near the shore and the predator man that lives within them, to espying the pollution and paddling under bridges that rain down fish killing toxins. To industry and development.
All of which threatens this, the Oceans Cradle.
Jacquie Kubin is editor and writer for Donne Tempo Magazine.