When people think of Southwest Florida, I imagine they think of the picturesque sunsets on the white-sand beaches lined by condos or playing golf in any one of the plethora of manicured courses. Growing up fishing on the posh shores of Naples and playing golf on the frugal summer rates, I too held onto these iconic misconceptions of southwest florida. However, this region is so much more than a resort destination for snowbirds escaping the winter or a haven for retired Americans.
Naples and Marco Island are the gateways to a vast wilderness area consisting of serine mangrove estuaries and biologically rich wetlands. As I matured, I began venturing into these more authentic representations of southwest florida. South of Naples and Marco Island lies a labyrinth of barrier islands held together by tropical mangroves, the Ten Thousand Islands. A seemingly impenetrable ecosystem as far as the eye can see, teeming with dolphins, manatees, and a great biodiversity of fish and birds.
One of my greatest passions in life is sea kayaking. With a sea kayak, one is able to seamlessly explore this exotic water world and all that it has to offer. Setting out in my sea kayak to explore in the mangroves is always exciting. I never know what I am going to encounter as I stealthily paddle on the placid waters that weave through the network of streams and bays created by the mangroves that thrive in these coastal estuaries.
On the water, I often feel like I am traveling back to a time when this place was untouched by man. A common encounter for those who choose to explore without a motor are bottlenose dolphins. Anyone can encounter these majestic creatures cruising up and down the coastline, but you can only truly see them come to life in the back waters of the mangrove estuaries. There, you can see dolphins socializing and hunting for fish. In the seat of my kayak, I can observe the true nature of southwest florida. Its serene calmness demands your attention. Exploring this wilderness is not for the faint of heart but its reward is the feelings of discovery and regional authenticity not found in the strip malls and outlets of southwest Florida.