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Kayaking Florida Rivers with Ripple Effects EcoTours

I'm floating along, paddling a bit, enjoying the calmness of the water, and the narrative of our guide, as he points out the fish, fowls, plants, and the dolphin pod we encounter. One thing about kayaking, you can't get much closer to the water without actually being in the water.

I am close to being the world's least eco-adventurist. Safety and stability is my mantra. But I love being truly on the water, so close I can feel the drops on my face, ripple my fingers through the water. These two contradictory impulses have led to a cautious fondness for the kind of kayaking often referred to as a float trip. Enter Ripple Effect Eco Tours.

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Ripple Effects EcoTours

Ripple Effects EcoTours plan their trips to go with the current so that you won't find yourself doing hard paddling. The guides are also equipped with a tow rope for anyone who gets into trouble. Each of their tours start with full paddling and safety protocol on the beach to both prepare and reassure novice kayakers.

They offer an intriguing range of tours from family kayak (ages 6 and up) to full moon kayak tours and even a night sky trip but I was on a tour of the Guana River Estuary. It felt almost primaeval paddling along the marshes and inlets. Our guide was Brandon Mellin -- with a BS in Biology from Clemson University. He kept up a fascinating narrative about what we were seeing, hearing, experiencing.

Birds, Dolphins and More On the Water

To see a dolphin in the wild is incomparable. So when Brandon spotted a pod of dolphins, we stopped cold in the water, almost holding our collective breaths, waiting to see what these much loved marine mammals would do. Seeing a head break through the water made the my day. Apparently, these dolphins have found Florida's intracoastal a safe and food-filled living area.

Of course, there's plenty of other creatures to be seen, including blue herons, egrets, mullets and more, and each sighting pointed out by the knowledgeable, courteous, and funny Brandon was the impetus for a discussion of the bird and its habits and habitat. A species list recently compiled for Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve indicated the presence of at least 44 mammal, 358 bird, 41 reptile, 21 amphibian, 303 fish and 580 plant species. The preserve contains habitats essential to 48 protected animals and 8 protected plants. It is a great place for birders since it is a stop for migrating birds along the Atlantic Coastal Flyway.

Guana River State Park

The Guana River State Park, (where the Tolomato and Guana rivers mix with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean) has become the GTM NERR, much less melodious, but quite important. It is the 25th National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in the United States. This identification means it is one of the best natural systems in the country and the only one in Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.

Oriented toward education and community involvement they have developed partnerships with GTM NERR (National Estuarine Research Reserve), Marineland Dolphin Conservation Center, and the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. They are proud that a percentage of all proceeds goes towards funding the research, education, and stewardship of all of their non-profit partners.

Vegetable Oil Powered Boat

Their concern for the environment and being not only responsible stewards of the environment but cutting edge conservation has lead to their latest... the Vegetable Oil Powered Eco Explorer Boat Tour.

Powered by an engine that actually runs on recycled vegetable oil collected from nearby restaurants, the "Ripple Effect 1" creates a 50% reduction in carbon emissions. And, they note that "yes, the exhaust smells like a restaurant so don't come hungry!"

"Ripple Effect 1" utilizes water-jet propulsion and with no exposed propeller providing extra safety for guests and marine mammals living in these waters. Guides are Florida Master Naturalist Instructors and the focus is on eco-educational exploration.

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Neala McCarten

Updated: August 7, 2016

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