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Osprey launching.           Out There! eMagazine
Real stories by real people
about their outdoor adventures in the Titusville Florida area.

Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

Aboard the "Skimmer"
on America's most diverse Estuary

NOTE: The "Skimmer" is no longer operating.

by a passenger
Outside the I arrived at the dock and immediately, I was greeted by a crewmember that welcomed us, assisted us onto the boat and confirmed our reservation. Instantly, I noticed how clean this wide, stable, pontoon boat is. I was pleased that the vessel has a cover that provides shade from the sun. We found a seat; padded, comfortable, with enough room for myself, my wife and my child. I noticed how friendly the Captain and crew were, and watched as a family arrived with an elderly person in a wheelchair that was easily boarded and taken to an area that has several places designed for their special needs. I also notice a small sign stating that we are on the official research vessel of the Marine Resources Council. The data we helped collect today will become part of the database charting the health of the Indian River Lagoon.

Inside the It was time to go and the Captain, talking through a PA system, introduced himself and the crew member, informed us about the safety equipment aboard the vessel, pointed out where things are located, and if anyone is interested there are binoculars available for $ 2.00 each did you hear that right? $ 2.00 each? Yes, that's right, just let the crewmember know.

Quickly, we were away from the dock and the Captain was directing our attention to the east, across the Indian River Lagoon at the large structures and buildings. He speaks of the VAB, launch pads, OPF, all terms that are fascinating. We heard about the history of the area we were in. I just never realized who the space industry plays such an important role in this community.

Suddenly, I noticed a difference in the sound of the vessel and the Captain explained that he has just switched to the electric motors. Boy, I was impressed. This really was an Eco-tour.

We passed under one of the last swing bridges in the nation where we observed ospreys, pelicans, cormorants and several species of gulls and terns. Then, the Captain spotted a small pod of dolphins, and he started telling us some very interesting facts about them. The electric motors did not seem to disturb them at all. Actually, the dolphins seemed rather intrigued with us and stayed near the boat for a while.

We passed by several spoil islands, a new term that I am eager to explain to my friends at home. We heard about the relationship between NASA and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR). Again, I never knew how the space industry played such a huge part in the preservation of this diverse and unique area.

I was not sure that I heard the Captain right. The Indian River Lagoon, covering more than a third of Florida's East Coast, is the most diverse estuary in North America. At least 400 fish, 367 bird, 16 amphibian, 52 reptile and 30 mammal species are dependent on the lagoon. It is home to a third of the state's manatee population and provides habitat for at least 59 animal species listed as threatened or endangered. That's more than anywhere else in the world! There are more species of birds that come through this refuge than almost any other place in the continental United States. Dolphins, Bald Eagles, otters, bobcats, such a variety! And here we were, enjoying the view and learning new things to take home and share with others.

Birds #1 Birds #2 Birds #3
In the distance, the captain spots some more dolphins. As the boat gets closer, a hydrophone is lowered over the side and you actually hear the dolphins communicating as they frolic and feed. The day continued with sightings of a variety of birds and manatee and we learned some very interesting facts about this area. From Indians, explorers and settlers to space, it's all here.

All too soon we were returned to the dock. The Captain and crewmember sincerely thanked us for coming. They helped us exit the vessel and were glad to answer any questions. And how smart of them to give us a fact sheet of some of the things we saw today, with addresses and web sites where we could find out more information.

As we walked away, I thought of all the people I know that would enjoy this tour. The size of the vessel will accommodate a large group and my wife's social organization has been looking for something to do. Oh yes, and what a perfect way to view a launch!

This is not a dream of a perfect day on an incredibly beautiful body of water. This was our delightful cruise aboard the Skimmer with Capt. Ron, Number 1 (Darrian) and Space Coast Nature Tours.

We will definitely be back!



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