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Explorers to remain open throughout Marine Lab construction

December 28, 2016
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Although construction is occupying a portion of the Tarpon Bay Recreation Area for the new Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab, Tarpon Bay Explorers will remain open providing all of their services.

Wendy Schnapp, general manager and part-owner of Tarpon Bay Explorers, said they have been the official J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge recreational and environmental education concessionaire since 2002.

"We have been here for 14 years and have operated successfully and have had a great partnership with the refuge," she said.

Article Photos

Kate Church, a visitor from Michigan, laid her hand in front of shrimp while visiting the Touch Tank at Tarpon Bay Explorers last week.


When Tarpon Bay Explorers first opened they were located in a building next to the deck, which will now house the new SCCF Marine Lab building. Their original building was damaged during Hurricane Charley, which resulted in the refuge obtaining a grant to build a new building that they occupy today.

"We have been in here since 2008," Schnapp said. "Now that has opened up space for the marine lab. We are very excited for our conservation partners and happy for them, but unfortunately it is having an impact on us. We want to make sure the public knows that all of our services and activities are still available."

Those include kayak, paddleboard and bicycle rentals, a nature and sea life cruise, fishing charters, and the nature gift shop.

"Once you get here and get checked in and get out on the water it is just as beautiful as it has always been," Schnapp said. "Enjoy the nature."

Since it has been unseasonably warm, the manatees are still hanging out in the bay waters as of Tuesday, Dec. 20.

"We see manatees all throughout the year and for about nine months out of the year we see them almost every day," she said. "When we get into December, January and February we get a cold snap and the manatees head to the power plant. Because it has been so warm, they were only gone for five days in November and other than that we have seen manatees out here every day."

On Monday, Nov. 28, the Tarpon bay Recreation Area boat launch was closed due to limited parking space available during the construction.

The process for the marine lab began after receiving a planning grant from the National Science Foundation in 2009. That process brought in other marine lab directors from all over the United States to look at what SCCF had, as well as examine their scientific programs.

In 2012, the planning began of what the building would look like and this past year the plans were finalized, staying within the initial cost estimate of the laboratory. The building is expected to take a year to build with a tentative completion around Halloween, SCCF's 50th anniversary.

Schnapp encourages individuals to stay tuned for the creative ways they will make sure to meet their customer's demands.

"We need their support," she said.

Fifteen percent of anything a customer does at Tarpon Bay Explorers - either shopping at the gift shop, or partaking in one of the activities - goes to the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Tarpon Bay Explorers started to see an increase in customer traffic Monday, Dec. 19, which is typical for them. Schnapp said the two weeks around Christmas is when they see an influx. Tarpon Bay Explorers is open year round, with the exception of Christmas Day.

"When we really peak is when families are visiting, or when the vacationers are here. The snowbirds definitely come out and participate in our activities, but they usually do it when their kids, or grandkids are down visiting them. That's why it really peaks around the holidays and spring break time," she said.

Trip Advisor awarded Tarpon Bay Explorers with a Certificate of Excellence for 2016 for the sixth consecutive year. The excellence is earned by earning great consistent reviews.

"We have a great staff here at Tarpon Bay," Assistant Manager Adam Sauerland said in a prepared statement. "Just within the past couple weeks alone our staff has gone above and beyond by performing kindhearted acts ranging from retrieving a guest's prescription sunglasses that fell off our dock to providing a ride for a family who accidentally locked their keys in their rental car."

For more information, call (239) 472-8900, or visit



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