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Campers get a close-up look at wildlife within Tarpon Bay

By Staff | Jul 20, 2011

Last Friday's Nature & Sea Life Cruise offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers was attended by participants from the Sanibel Recreation Center's Summer Day Camp program.

One of the most popular traditions for participants enrolled at the Sanibel Recreation Center’s Summer Day Camp took place again last week, with some two dozen campers and counselors joining Tarpon Bay Explorers on their Nature & Sea Life Cruise, a 90-minute journey where youngsters not only learn more about the marine life inhabiting the vibrant waterway, but have loads of fun doing it.

Starting with a visit to TBE’s Touch Tank, where kids took turns talking about — and touching — a variety of undersea creatures, including a sea star, horseshoe crab, tulip snail, other mollusks and marine invertebrates with naturalist Lewis Irvine, the group soon made their way to the covered pontoon vessel, where they would embark on a Nature & Sea Life Cruise through Tarpon Bay’s mangrove-laden estuary.

During the hour-long tour, dolphin and manatee habitats are explored and discussed, along with opportunities to see the many bird species — including pelicans, herons, egrets, anhingas, least terns, wood storks, spoonbills and double-breasted cormorants — which call Tarpon Bay home.

“Tarpon Bay is one of the most important things we have on Sanibel,” Irvine said. “In fact, I think it’s THE most important thing we have here.”

Passing a rookery filled with dozens of brown pelicans, both adult and juvenile, Irvine explained some of the history of the region, from the days when the Calusa Indians roamed the area to the days when big game fishing was born at Tarpon Bay.

Camper Rebecca Congress takes a look at wildlife through a pair of binoculars.

Passing small mangrove islands, kids took turns passing a pair of binoculars around, each of them pointing excitedly when they spotted an egret hidden amongst the craggily roots. Along the shorelines surrounding the bay, a wide assortment of wildlife — including raccoons, bobcats and even a recently spotted coyote — may be seen.

Near one cove visited during the cruise, three individual osprey nests — located on top of a man-made pole, on the slanted roof of a house and next to a boat lift — were each active with nesting pairs.

“Ospreys typically build their nests in dead trees, but we tend to cut those down,” Irvine said after one youngster asked why osprey platforms are built and located throughout the islands.

As the boat made its way back to TBE’s dock, Irvine noted that even in the evening, when darkness fills the skies, the bay is alive with activity.

“In those (mangrove) islands, herds come here to feed every night,” he added. “Sometimes, there’s thousands of them.”

TBE naturalist Lewis Irvine, second from left, answers a young girl's question about the pen shell from the Touch Tank.

In addition to their Nature & Sea Life Cruise, TBE offers a breakfast and evening cruise, boat, bike, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing guides and deck talks at Tarpon Bay. They also operate the Refuge Tram Tour at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with guides offering informative details about the wildlife seen throughout the historic island preserve.

To inquire about their daily Nature & Sea Life Cruises or other activities, call Tarpon Bay Explorers at 472-8900 or visit www.tarponbayexplorers.com.

Deacon Warren, 4, of Lakeland, Fla. gets an up-close look at marine life during Friday's visit to TBE's Touch Tank.