Discover Ebb and Flow of Florida Keys Backcountry by Kayak
BIG PINE KEY, Florida Keys — The Florida Keys are known for beautiful scenery, world-class fishing and unparalleled water-sports activities. Away from the mainstream, however, is a quiet world ruled by the natural ebb and flow of the sea — the backcountry. Naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts combine environmental tourism with the sport of sea kayaking to explore this unique environment, which is home to one of the most diverse assortments of marine life in the world.
This shallow backwater region of flats and mangrove islands lies along the north side of U.S. Highway 1. Not easily accessible to boat traffic, the area is largely untraveled, unspoiled and teeming with fascinating plant and animal life.
Quiet, shallow-draft kayaks — exceptionally stable and requiring no special skills, strength or experience to paddle — are ideal for excursions into backcountry waters.
Both guided tours and kayak rentals are available throughout the Keys, and most guides are eager to share their knowledge about the local environment. Tours provide a fascinating mixture of field trip, natural history lesson and just plain fun.
The shallow-water backcountry environment ranges from mangrove communities to turtle grass flats to sponge flats. Wildlife and rare birds abound, and kayakers might spot roseate spoonbills, osprey, great white herons and occasionally even bald eagles.
Mangrove islands are composed of tangled stands of mangroves, their aerial roots forming tunnels and fantastic twisted shapes. The roots act as a nursery for many species including young grouper, lobster and barracuda.
Nearby turtle grass areas are a unique component of the shallow-water backcountry. Turtle grass looks much like lawn grass, and harbors snails, tiny aquatic animals, scurrying juvenile fish and other inhabitants.
The sponge flats — the rocky, calcium carbonate sea bottom — are home to bright-colored sponges and soft corals. These include the mustard-toned golf ball coral that derives its name from its domed shape and characteristic dimples.
For those who love the outdoors or are eager to venture beyond the usual tourist realm, there’s no better way to experience the wonders of the Florida Keys than a backcountry kayak excursion.
Guided kayak jaunts are available throughout the Keys and are designed for paddlers of all skill levels. Tours include the standard three-hour trip and half- to full-day trips that include motorboat excursions. Multiple-day guided trips also are available, as are kayak fishing excursions. Kayak rentals (at hourly, daily or weekly rates) are available for those who want to venture into backcountry waters on their own.
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