As one of Palm Beach County’s top educational and tourist draws, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center prosthelytizes marine and oceanic conservation to thousands of visitors a month. The sea turtle rehabilitation tanks, which have small viewing windows installed at a toddler's eye level, have helped raise awareness for the ancient marine reptile, a flagship species LMC champions to protect the entirety of our coastal and offshore ecosystems. It’s no small task protecting the vastness just east of our homes, educating locals and visitors alike about marine life and on ways to help protect it. But when it comes to exploring the ecosystems LMC is dedicated to protect, the facility can offer only a small slice of what’s actually out beyond the pavement.
To give visitors an opportunity to discover these natural wonders firsthand, LMC is taking the eco-curious out on the watery exploration of the estuarine nurseries of the east Loxahatchee River and Jupiter Inlet atop paddleboards and kayaks. Led by LMC Education Programs Coordinator Evan Orellana, a veteran paddler and surfer as well as a marine biologist with a specialty in invertebrate zoology, the tour is devoted to the local shallow marine ecosystem and its smaller inhabitants.
“I figured a lot of people that live in the area … know the manatees, the sea turtles, but often don’t notice the smaller things around,” he says. Partnering with paddleboarding outfit Blueline, LMC launches the tour from the floating docks neighboring Guanabanas and explores the Jupiter Creek surrounding Burt Reynolds Park and the River Center. Then, it's over to Sawfish Bay and along the Pete Damon Memorial Bridge, returning to the launch point at Guanabanas. The round trip takes roughly two and a half hours, with plenty of activity and learning opportunities along the way.
Orellana essentially turns the tour into a roving marine biology laboratory, with tour members seining the waters for small critters, digging for marine worms and hunting for fish. The group then examines the animals caught, with Orellana giving quick explanatory notes on each, their importance to the ecosystem and the greater food web, all while painting a larger picture of the natural ecology of the area. This helps show a broader swath of the ecosystem than just the macro species that get all the love.
“Whether it's little animals living on branches or rocks, people are really surprised how much life they pass by day to day on the water,” Orellana says. “We focus on a lot of different things you wouldn’t normally see.”
- The next eco-tour is scheduled for Saturday, December 28, from 9-11 a.m. and is limited to 10 people. This month, the paddle tour is dressing up for a Holiday Dress-Up theme.
- The tour costs $35 for adults, $25 for teens (ages 16-18), which includes the rental of a stand-up paddleboard from Blueline. For those with their own kayak or stand-up paddleboard, the tour costs $25 for adults, $15 for teens. Any participant younger than 16 must ride in a tandem vessel.
- December’s eco-tour date has yet to be announced; stayed tuned.
- Preregistration and payment is required; call 561-627-8280 ext. 119 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.