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Q&A with Tarpon Bay Explorer Don Parsons

By Staff | Aug 13, 2009

Don Parsons is a friendly fellow who is passionate about nature. The Sanibel resident is quick to enlighten anybody about the wonders that blosom, slither, crawl and flutter all around us.

Where did you spend your childhood?

I grew up in Havertown, a suburb of Philadelphia. Many of my summers were spent at my family’s cottage on the eastern shore of Maryland. This is where my interest in nature started.

What did you do for a career before moving to Sanibel?

Most of my life I worked as a photojournalist, mainly in TV news.

What brought you to Sanibel?

We moved to SW Florida 13 years ago after taking an early retirement from WTMJ TV in Milwaukee. The long cold winters got to be too much for us especially since we lived in the South Pacific for four years and got used to the warm humid weather.

We hear you work as a naturalist/tour guide for the Tarpon Bay Explorers. Can you tell us what that’s like?

This has to be the perfect job for me, I get to work with a great team of people that are really interested in nature. We are constantly sharing info about wildlife sightings and other things that would help us make better presentations to the visitors that take our tours. For me, every day there is a new learning experience, so its never the same old thing.

What do you enjoy most about the islands natural resources?

The diversity of both plant and animal species. Sanibel is in the sub-tropics so we have an overlap of species from both temperate and tropical zones.

What is the most amazing bit of nature you ever saw on Sanibel or Captiva?

Without a doubt, Manatees mating in Tarpon Bay. Bill Burch and I were doing a sunset cruise last summer when we saw a lot of splashing and heard some unusual sounds. When we got about 100 yards from the splashing we saw several Manatees engaged in, shall we say “reproductive activities”. Our guests on the tour got quite an eyeful that night.

What do you find most rewarding about being a TBE tour guide?

Introducing visitors to the unique eco system that exists on Sanibel. Most of our visitors live in the temperate zone and many have never seen the local plants and animals that we sometimes take for granted.

What is the best way for islanders and visitors to enjoy the natural wonders?

For starters take a guided nature tour. This will give them an introduction to what’s out there and then visit one of the education centers such as , “Ding Darling”, Tarpon Bay Explorers, SCCF, CROW, or the Shell Museum.

What do you do when you are not leading tour groups?

Garden. Our yard looks like a botanical garden with varieties of bamboo, orchids, bananas, heliconias, gingers etc. Working in my garden gives me great satisfaction and relaxation. I still dabble in photography, mainly nature photography which I share with my fellow workers at Tarpon Bay and “Ding Darling”.

What is the wildest nature adventure you have ever experienced?

When I lived in Samoa my job required me to travel between islands in small (35 foot) boats. One day a whale shark that was as long as our boat came up along side our boat and stayed with us for about two hours. Needless to say this was a real thrill.

What is your family life like?

My wife Lani and I have been married nearly 47 years and have two children and five grandchildren.

What do you consider to be your long/short term goals?

At my age I think I’ve achieved most of my goals, but living healthy to be 100 wouldn’t be too bad.

You seem very relaxed and enthusiastic when you are out and about on Sanibel. What are your words of wisdom for living a happy life?

Be endlessly curious, and don’t take yourself too seriously.