Captiva Cruises’ latest offering: a three-hour family friendly ecological boat tour of Fosters Bay on North Captiva Island.
Led by Richard Finkel, an environmental educator for the past 10 years, 16 passengers recently climbed aboard the 40-foot sailing catamaran to get a close-up look at the inhabitants of the Back Bay Estuary.
During the excursion, they would discover why the waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva provide such a vital habitat. “These islands contain some of the most dynamic eco-systems found anywhere,” Finkel, from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, 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 — age 6 to a handful of “40-somethings” — enjoyed a little bit of swimming and frolicking in the crystal clear tropical waters. Armed with a seine net, three buckets and a couple of samples collected on previous journeys, Finkel gathered the participants and explained a little bit of the region’s history. He told them that they were standing on a “low wave energy beach,” adding that the daily tides rarely rise or fall more than 3 feet.
“But anywhere that you live along the coast, the tides are going to effect your daily life,” he said. 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 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 closer in relation to spiders than they are to other crabs.
“I think it’s fascinating to see people’s faces light up when they learn something new, or a kid’s eyes get wide when they find a hermit crab,” said Finkel, who added that the ecology-minded cruise was initiated by Captiva Cruises owner Paul McCarthy.
“We wanted to do something that was more hands on than other cruises,” he said. Enlisting the help of two children, Finkel unfurled the large 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 participated with her husband and three children. Following some more free time in the water after an afternoon of exploration, the group jumped back onto the catamaran and started sailing back to port.
“I liked seeing the horseshoe crab moving all around in the water,” William Johnson said. The Hall family from Charlotte, N.C., said they learned about the ecological cruise in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander. “It just sounded like something the entire family would enjoy,” said Drew Hall, husband and father.
“I never knew that there was only one left-handed shell, 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,” 14-year-old Rachel Hall said. “It was very interesting learning about all of the different kind of shells and about horseshoe crabs.”
Future participants are invited to bring hard-soled water shoes or sneakers — necessary for wading in shallow water — bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and a camera.
“It’s great because it’s going to be a different trip every time you go out,” Finkel said. “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. It also offers dolphin watch and wildlife adventures and sunset serenade cruises. For information and reservations, call 472-5300 or visit: www.captivacruises.com.