A bird above the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge looks down an intricate network of color; blue-green water shimmering in the morning sun, spindly white beaches, and groves of dark mangroves swirl together as though painted. This pristine estuary system boasts hundreds of species of wildlife and is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world.
Though the Gulf of Mexico is home to twenty-six species of whales and dolphins, many of these are rarely seen and spend their entire lives in deep, pelagic waters, hundreds of miles offshore. But the bottlenose dolphin—perhaps the most beloved and familiar marine mammal—can be found with ease up and down the Florida coast.
As our bird approaches Marco Island, a bout of splashing catches its eye in Caxambas Pass—silvery fish flash in the sunlight, corralled by sleek gray bodies. A pod of bottlenose dolphins is rounding up their morning meal. The behavior, athletic ability and charismatic “smile” of these animals have attracted the attention of humans in both science and popular culture for hundreds of years. This fame, in part, is due to the fact that they are the most common species of dolphin on the planet, found along coastlines in all but the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. In each unique location, they’ve developed specialized feeding strategies and behavioral systems suited to their environment. Some populations migrate to between regions during different seasons, and some are permanent residents to specific ecosystems. In the waters surrounding Marco Island and the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge, bottlenose dolphins can be found every day of the year and will live their entire lives within a five mile radius.
10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect habitat for bottlenose dolphins. It covers 35,000 acres of marine and estuary habitat, with mangrove forests lining the shores of many islands. Mangrove roots provide nursery habitats for a multitude of fish species along with certain sharks and crustaceans. Once the fish mature, they leave the protection of the mangroves and become part of the food web in the estuaries and coastal waters of Southwest Florida. In other words, they become lunch for bottlenose dolphins, which are regularly seen hunting in the waterways of the refuge and around Marco Island. Look out for dolphins swimming in short bursts of speed and creating large splashes –– you might even see a dolphin burst from the water with a fish in its mouth!
Bottlenose dolphins are highly social animals and often travel in groups. They live in fission-fusion societies, meaning that groups of dolphins merge and separate regularly. On one day, you might see two dolphins together, and on the next day those same two could be socializing with twenty others. More often than not, the larger groups of dolphins consist of females and their babies –– these groups are called nursery pods. Most males dolphins will form a close bond with one other male that can last a lifetime. The two males travel, hunt, and court females together, sometimes creating alliances with other males to fend off threats or gain access to resources. When groups of dolphins socialize, they tend to be pretty active at the water’s surface –– a leaping dolphin may be playing, fighting, fishing, or trying to mate, so it’s important to give them their space. If they’re curious, dolphins may come towards your boat of their own accord.
It’s no secret that the bottlenose dolphins around Marco Island love to bow ride and surf in the wakes of boats. It’s not uncommon for them to leap in and out of the waves right next to traveling vessels. For this reason, the best way to see dolphins up close in the area is with a private tour operator. Local captains know how to safely navigate around dolphins and within the waterways of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Dolphins can be struck and harmed when approached by inexperienced boaters, so taking a dolphin tour from Marco Island is both safer for the dolphins and allows visitors to devote all their attention to these captivating animals.
Bottlenose dolphins are beautiful, intelligent and playful—no trip to Southwest Florida is complete without seeing them in their natural habitat. Booking a Marco Island based dolphin tour will allow you to experience these incredible animals up close as they travel the cerulean waterways of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
If you're visiting southwest Florida with friends and family, a dolphin watch is likely high on your list of things to do. While the bottlenose dolphin can be found in warm and temperate seas worldwide, the robust eco-system based in the mangrove keys of the 10,000 islands provides the perfect year-round habitat for these intelligent and playful mammals, making them less elusive here than the migratory populations found in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere.
If you've spent any time on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, you've probably seen pods of dolphin breaching near shore, but if you'd like to get a closer look and learn more about these remarkable animals, booking a dolphin tour from Marco Island is an excellent option. You'll find dolphin tour providers up and down the coast, but Marco Island's proximity to the maze of nationally protected mangrove keys in the northern stretch of the Everglades makes it uniquely well-suited to finding pods of dolphin consistently. A few of the more experienced tour providers in the area even guarantee dolphin sightings on your adventure.
The 10,000 Islands, of which Marco Island is a part, is a huge labyrinth of white sand islands and mangrove keys just south of Naples and Fort Myers. The root structure of the red mangrove trees, which compose much of the 10,000 islands, creates one of the most dense eco-systems on earth and along with it the basis for a healthy and abundant food chain. This makes the protected waters of the 10,000 Islands a popular fishing destination for humans and dolphin alike. With no natural predators in the region, the bottlenose dolphin has thrived here year-round, creating a complex social structure and fishing techniques unique to the area. A large, healthy population of dolphin and an intricate system of calm waterways make Marco Island one of the world's premier launching points for a dolphin watching adventure.
Tips for Dolphin Watching
Provided that you don't attempt to feed or swim with dolphin, there's really no wrong way, but here are some helpful tips to enhance your experience. Consider the following:
Breakwater Adventures - Discover The Best Things To Do On Marco Island
So your Florida vacation is here and you’re looking for the best things to do on Marco Island . . . at Breakwater Adventures, it’s our passion to provide you with a beach and boating experience unlike any other!
In Search Of The Best Beaches Around Marco Island?
Not only will we take you to the best beaches, but we’ll help you design the perfect beach day and eliminate all of the hassle of planning and preparation.
Looking For The Best Adventure Tours on Marco Island?
Book a private shelling and dolphin tour, or combine your interests with our custom water sports adventures. Not only will you explore the best beaches and waterways that Marco Island has to offer, but you can customize your private boat charter according to the specific interests of your party. This is truly your adventure!
Our Captains, Guides, Instructors, Naturalists, Historians . . .
Okay, so there’s only two of us. Captain Alex and I (Captain Dan) are not only your tour guides and instructors, we own the company. We wear many hats at Breakwater Adventures and it’s our diverse interests, individual attention and passion for what we do that that make our adventure packages the best. You can rest assured that you’ll be in great hands on every tour!
Marco Island Dolphin Tours
Exit the crowd and leave the group boat tours behind. Sign up for a private dolphin tour and enjoy getting up close and personal with the wildlife of Marco Island. In addition to dolphin encounters, we may spot wading birds, osprey, leaping rays and tarpon, sea turtles, manatee and much more.
Our tour boats are spacious and comfortable for your private group and all your gear, yet maneuverable enough to explore in places the larger tour boats simply can’t go. We guarantee that we’ll find dolphin or your next trip is on us!
Wakeboarding, Waterskiing and Tubing on Marco Island
At Breakwater Adventures, our adventure tours aren’t just about sightseeing. Our tour boats are customized for adventure of all kinds. If an adrenaline rush is your idea of relaxation, we’ve got you covered. The sheltered backwater around Marco Island provides the perfect conditions for water sports like wakeboarding and waterskiing.
Breakwater Adventures’ captains are experienced water sports instructors and we have great equipment for beginner and advanced skiers and riders alike. Come waterskiing, and wake boarding with us, enjoy top-of-the-line-equipment, take advantage of our patient instruction, or add tubing to any tour for a thrill that everyone is sure to love!
The Best Shelling on Marco Island
The shores of Marco Island offer some of the best shelling in Florida, but for shelling that’s truly world class, you can join us as we leave the hotels in our wake to explore the beaches of nearby islands such as Cape Romano and Second Chance. These uninhabited islands are only accessible by boat and promise the best shelling around. Real shelling enthusiasts will want to book a shelling tour at low tide for optimal conditions.
Even if you’ve never given shells a second thought, you shouldn’t miss out on a stop in the islands for a truly immersive tour experience. Add shelling to any tour to explore these secluded white sand beaches and discover a side of Florida you’ve never seen.
The Best Beaches On Marco Island
Are you looking for the best beaches on Marco Island? Breakwater Adventures' Beach Day Package offers you the opportunity to design the perfect beach day on the best beaches around! Spend the day with your friends and family on an island only accessible by boat.
Relax, sip a drink and admire the view from a comfy beach camp set up just for you, or strike out and explore by land and by sea! Go shelling, tubing, wakeboarding and waterskiing . . . enjoy all the activities that Breakwater Adventures has to offer and we’ll take care of the details.
The History Of Marco Island Comes Alive
In a land richly laden with history, your Marco Island boat tour wouldn’t be complete without including a few of the sordid tales of piracy, treasure and conquest from the past of this gorgeous yet contentious shoreline. Explore territory of the native Calusa and learn of their encounters with slavers, pirates and Ponce de Leon himself.
Learn about the unchecked development that nearly eliminated the country’s largest wetland and the groundbreaking conservation efforts to steal it back from the brink of destruction. Florida has endured a rocky road from its role as the fiercely contended spoils of international conquest, to frontier haven and finally a premier vacation destination, and we’d love to share some stories to help deepen your appreciation of this very special place.
Things To Do With Kids On Marco Island
At Breakwater Adventures we understand the challenges of finding suitable activities for children that will also keep the adults and older kids entertained. That’s why our custom adventure packages offer something for everyone. Captain Alex and I have about three decades of collective experience accommodating guests of all ages.
If you’re looking for a great activity for your kids on Marco Island, book a beach day or add shelling and tubing to your custom tour for a trip they will never forget. Our tours are so much fun, they won’t even realize that they’re learning something. We promise!
Adventure Awaits . . .
We at Breakwater Adventures would love to help you create a Marco Island experience that your family will rave about for years to come. You don’t have to settle for the average dolphin tour when you can experience so much more . . . the luxury of a private boat tour and the flexibility to customize your own adventure package, all at an affordable price. Call us at (305) 902-4772 or visit our website at http://www.breakwateradventures.com/ today for reservations. We’ll see you on the water!
Shelling On Marco Island: The Fighting Conch
If you've done any shelling on Marco Island, you've almost certainly seen the fighting conch (strombus pugilus). If you've been on the beach after a storm, chances are you've seen them scattered about in droves. Despite it's pugilistic handle, the fighting conch is an herbivore, feeding primarily on algae and males are only mildly territorial. These medium sea snails generally live close to the beach in relatively shallow water. Living snails can often be found washed ashore, so check and see if someone is home before you toss him in your shell bag.
The fighting conch has one of those shells that's both beautiful and commonplace on the beaches around Naples, Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands. While this shell, with its picturesque whorls, spines and spire (the pointed tip of the shell) would be considered a real prize on many beaches, we rarely set foot on Cape Romano, Second Chance, or any of our favorite spots without finding several.
Above you can see different sizes and colors of the fighting conch shell. The colors typically vary from yellow or cream to orange and brown, often with some pink or purple. As always, older shells are often sun bleached, while a dark red-orange or purple can be an indictor that there is still a living snail inside. Look for the sickle shaped operculum or "foot" in the oblong aperture of a living conch.
Thanks for checking out our shelling blog! Stay tuned for more shelling info and tips on how to find great shells on Marco Island, or come and take a trip with us so we can show you first hand!
Fall is a great time of year here in Southwest Florida, and we've taken advantage of our time off between dolphin tours, beach days and the occasional company fishing trip this season to make some great improvements to our boats, our website and even our logo.
You can see that we've updated the "Breakwater B" pictured above, and we'll soon have hats and shirts available to sport the new logo in style. Not only have we updated the look shoreside, but our original tour boat, Breakwater One, has gotten a total facelift! We've reupholstered everything and added brand new custom aluminum seating. We've also gotten a brand new custom welded tower for tubing wakeboarding and waterskiing.
The new wakeboard tower is over a foot higher that the previous one, which allows for more upward pull to ease the transition out of the water during wakeboard lessons and to maximize altitude for experts looking to get some big air. Stay tuned for photos of Breakwater One, now even better customized for your adventure.
See you on the water!
While the weather so far this week may not have reflected your vision of a perfect beach vacation, there is an upshot . . . you can expect the shelling on Marco Island and the Ten Thousand Islands to be excellent this week. The increased wave activity associated with the storms and high winds that we've been experiencing will have exposed a bevy of new shells for the finding. The weather for the next few days should be clear and increasingly warm, making Wednesday or Thursday ideal conditions for a shelling and dolphin tour. In preparation for these great shelling conditions, you can book a private dolphin tour with shelling by 1/23/16 for the date and time of your choice and get 15% off! Just choose "Book Now" below and enter promo code SHELL15 next to the ticket selection.
Here are our new rack cards, fresh out of the design stage and on their way to be printed.
Another great tour... Alex and I took Leah, Kaylee, Jen and Ashley on a four hour watersports excursion from Marco Island through the Ten Thousand Islands. We found Dolphin in Caxambas pass, went shelling on Second Chance Island, everyone got out on the tube and the girls did a little shredding on the wakeboard. Props to Kaylee for getting up on her first try!