EcoTourism: December 2021

Aqua Adventure Tours helped Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management (ERM) run a series of boat tours at LagoonFest in downtown West Palm Beach last month. This was our third year with the festival, which gets bigger and better each year! Each tour had a wait list and there was absolutely no way to get everyone onboard who wanted to go. So, I thought I’d share a little about these tours and give you a sense of why we enjoy hosting them so much. They’re fun – and fast! We pack a lot into just 40 minutes on the water, learning about ERM’s lagoon restoration efforts from the experts who designed them. The idea behind the tours is to help people better understand the role that projects like these – and the public/private partnerships behind them – can play in improving the health of the lagoon’s ecosystem. Our first tour stop is ERM’s South Cove project in downtown West Palm. Completed years ago, South Cove is maturing into a vibrant part of the lagoon’s ecology. The tiny mangrove seedlings that were hand-planted on the islands years ago are now taller than our boat and it’s easy to see crabs skittering down low among the mangrove roots. Higher up, as we drift just a few yards away from the rocky shoreline that stabilizes these islands, we will often see great blue and little blue herons, great and snowy egrets, night herons, and osprey perched motionless at the water’s edge; all looking for a morning snack. Continuing past the oyster reef and seawall planter that filter sediment and nutrients from the water, we talk about the importance of oysters in the lagoon. The success of this reef and the abundance of oysters elsewhere in the lagoon suggests improving water quality; so, do all the baitfish and the gamefish chasing them. It’s easy to see yourself dropping a line or joining the kayakers who paddle these islands – they’ve truly become little jewels on the lagoon! Further south we pick up speed and head toward another future treasure, Tarpon Cove. At 46 acres, Tarpon Cove is a far larger project. Still under construction and close to PBI’s flight path, these islands are – amazingly – already hosting least terns, black skimmers, and the southernmost breeding colony of oystercatchers in North America, in addition to many other wading birds. At one point, so many birds had arrived that construction actually had to be shut down to wait out the rest of their nesting season! It’s really encouraging how quickly wildlife colonizes these areas. If you’d like to learn more about restoration efforts, check out https://discover.pbcgov.org/erm/pages/default.aspx. Scroll down about halfway to the Discover Lake Worth Lagoon section and you’ll find all sorts of info to help you explore. Here’s hoping you and your family can enjoy some time outdoors and find some treasures of your own this holiday season!

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