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Family friendly eco-cruise offers a fun, educational and enjoyable adventure

By Staff | Jul 29, 2009

Last Thursday seemed like your typical sunny, breezy, picture perfect summer afternoon for folks embarking on Captiva Cruises’ latest on-the-water offering: a three-hour family friendly ecological boat tour of Fosters Bay on North Captiva Island.

And it was. But it was also so much more.

Led by Richard Finkel, an environmental educator for the past 10 years with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, 16 passengers climbed aboard the 40-foot sailing catamaran to get an closeup look at some of the unique inhabitants of the Back Bay Estuary during the special excursion, where they would soon discover why the waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva provide such a vital habitat to all.

“These islands contain some of the most dynamic eco-systems found anywhere,” Finkel told the group as they headed out from the dock at South Seas Island Resort. Less than 20 minutes later, Capt. Yogi Schmidt was backing the vessel into shallow waters off of North Captiva, where it would anchor throughout the afternoon.

Before heading off on foot for some exploration and adventure, the group – from age 6 to a handful of “40-somethings” – enjoyed a little bit of casual swimming and careless frolicking in the crystal clear tropical waters. Wading in soft sands, in the bath-like Gulf, seemed the perfect ambiance to begin this science-minded getaway.

Armed with a seine net, three large buckets and a couple of samples collected on previous journeys onto the island, Finkel gathered the participants together and began to explain a little bit of history about the region. He told them that they were standing on a “low wave energy beach,” adding that the daily tides rarely rise or fall more than three feet.

“But anywhere that you live along the coast, the tides are going to effect your daily life,” he added.

Leading them from the Gulf of Mexico side across to the San Carlos Bay portion of the island, Finkel noted the tremendous difference between the two, most notably the decrease in wave action.

“Where would you prefer to live – on the Gulf side, where the waves are crashing along the shore?” he asked. “Or on the Bay side, where the tidal presence is much calmer?”

Almost immediately, something caught Finkel’s attention. He ran about 10 steps to his left, and quickly pulled a horseshoe crab from the water. Youngster and adults stepped in for a closer look at the creature, which the former park ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine noted was an arthropod. He also pointed out that horseshoe crabs are actually closer in relation to spiders than they are to other crabs.

“I think it’s fascinating to see peoples faces light up when they learn something new, or a kid’s eyes get wide when they find a hermit crab,” said Finkel, who explained that the idea to offer an ecology-minded cruise was initiated by Captiva Cruises owner Paul McCarthy. “We wanted to do something that was more ‘hands on’ than other cruises.”

Enlisting the help of two children, Finkel unfurled a large seine net and dragged it around a small area along the shoreline. All were surprised to see that the quick dip yielded a treasure trove of interesting sea creatures caught in the net – including a kingfish, shrimp, molt and a true tulip – before being examined and set free.

“I think it’s great that they’re getting to learn about this stuff because they are our future,” said Jill Johnson of Ramsey, N.J., who attended this cruise along with her husband, Tim, and three children, Connor, 14, Calum, 12 and William, 8.

Following some more free time in the water after an afternoon of exploration, the group jumped back onto the catamaran and started sailing lazily back to port, with soft music from Sting, Norah Jones and UB40 providing a serene, carefree backdrop.

“I liked seeing the horseshoe crab moving all around in the water,” said William Johnson during the trip back to Captiva.

The Hall family – mom and dad Debbie and Drew, plus kids Rachel, 14, and Leah, 6 – from Charlotte, N.C. said that they first heard about the cruise in last week’s Sanibel-Captiva Islander.

“It just sounded like something the entire family would enjoy,” said Drew. “I never knew that there was only one left-handed shell (lightning whelk) and we also learned a lot about the history of the islands.”

“I liked seeing the variety of marine life that was caught in the net,” added Rachel. “It was very interesting learning about all of the different kind of shells and about horseshoe crabs.”

Future participants on the ecology cruise are invited to bring hard-soled water shoes or sneakers (necessary for wading in shallow water), bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and, of course, a camera to capture everything you’ve seen.

“It’s great because it’s going to be a different trip every time you go out,” added Finkel. “I also like when we get a good group of people who ask a lot of questions. It’s always going to be a unique experience.”

Some of the other programs Captiva Cruises offers are excursions to Cayo Costa for beaching and shelling, Cabbage Key, Useppa Island and Boca Grande as well as Dolphin Watch & Wildlife Adventures & Sunset Serenade Cruises.

Additional information and reservations for all of Captiva Cruises tours and programs may be obtained by visiting www.captivacruises.com or by calling 239-472-5300.