BY: CLAIRE BULLEN
Estuary and Mangroves
Florida’s mangroves – also known as “walking trees” because of the aerial, stilt-like roots that make them look as if they’re walking on water – make for magical viewing and great holiday snaps. While many travellers assume that mangroves can only be found in the Florida Keys region, which unfurls off the peninsula’s tip into the Gulf of Mexico, there is in fact a thriving ecosystem along the state’s southern coasts. Those planning a holiday in Fort Myers have the ideal opportunity to see these amazing forests in person.
Only found in tropical and subtropical regions due to their inability to withstand the frost, mangroves flourish in southern Florida’s balmy climate. These weird and wonderful trees are home to hundreds of different species; their diversity and importance for the region is comparable to that of a coral reef. The trees’ underwater roots nourish numerous fish and shellfish species, while their branches serve as rookeries for birds. A huge range of other animals, from manatees to gators, also call the mangrove forests home.
Nature lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to explore these ecosystems for a unique glimpse into the area’s colourful and incredible wildlife. Whether by paddleboat, kayak, or simply on foot, there are a number of options for nature spotting near Fort Myers.
Egret on Bunche Beach © dfaulder
One of the most thriving mangrove ecosystems near to Fort Myers is the Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, though it’s also one of the hardest to reach: given its protected status, visitors can only access it when nesting season is over. Those who do come to the area must do so by boat, and both the fishing and sightseeing opportunities are incredible. Home to red, white, and black mangrove trees, the region harbours protected species ranging from bald eagles and sea turtles to manatees and ospreys.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve © Phil Wilkerson/iStock/Thinkstock
An accessible and family-friendly option for nature exploration is on offer at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, which is located in the region’s wetlands. Cypresses, mangroves, and a number of other aquatic plants make the area rich with wildlife. Boardwalk paths weave through the trees, and visitors can spot migratory birds like spoonbills and egrets during their ambling explorations. At Gator Lake, meanwhile, reptiles take centre stage. Fortunately, the observation deck is set at a safe distance!
Kayaking in mangroves © vittorio sciosia/iStock/Thinkstock
Those looking for active exploration can sign up for a kayaking tour. Kayak Excursions offers a number of guided tours, including an eco tour with an emphasis on wildlife spotting (spoonbills, herons, dolphins, manatees, rays, and more are frequently seen), in addition to sunset and full moon loops of the surrounding waterways.
A relaxing beach stint is one last way to get up close to nature. At the natural and unspoiled San Carlos Bay and Bunche Beach Preserve, the glorious sunsets are only rivalled by the rich wildlife. Mangrove forests are just offshore, while tide pools contain dozens of species. Visitors can also explore via paddleboat.
Alligator in the mangroves © Michael Braun/iStock/Thinkstock
Whether it’s your goal to see an alligator, spot a bald eagle, or simply soak up the sights, the mangroves near Fort Myers offer unparalleled nature spotting opportunities.