Last Updated on July 16, 2023

How old is St. Augustine? Founded in 1565, this charming coastal gem predates Jamestown as America’s oldest city founded by Europeans. The seaside community magnificently reflects its Spanish heritage and old-world allure. It draws history buffs and romantics alike with its laid-back Southern vibe. Increasingly popular are St. Augustine eco tours.

St. Augustine is well-known for its delightful historic district with brick-paved walkways and coquina-shelled buildings. Remnants of the old city wall cling to the banks of the sparkling Matanzas River. It’s as if St. Augustine remains untouched by time.

Unfortunately, however, time can affect and destroy wildlife and habitats as we know them if humans don’t do everything we can to protect and preserve these irreplaceable treasures. In St. Augustine, there is an amazing company doing just that. On my last trip, I had the pleasure of taking a small-group eco tour with interpretive naturalist Zach McKenna, a true-blue nature lover.

Eco Tours in St. Augustine

St. Augustine Eco Tours, located on the Municipal Marina in historic downtown, was founded as an educational resource for the local and extended community. The goal of their programs is to provide out-on-the-water interpretive experiences focused on environmental education, conservation, and wildlife and habitat protection.

The company proudly combines over fifty years of experience in the ecology-based tourism industry and understands that, now more than ever, important measures must be taken to maintain ethical observation and preservation standards. With these efforts comes great responsibility. They’ve found the best way to educate locals and travelers about the area’s wildlife and habitats is to get them in the water aboard one of the St. Augustine Eco Tours adventures.

Even the company’s boats are eco-friendly – quiet and powered by low-emission engines, minimizing the impact on the marine environment and allowing for a closer and more intimate wildlife viewing experience.

The Dolphin and Wildlife Adventure Tour

Dolphin swimming next to our St. Augustine Eco Tours boat.
Dolphin swimming next to our St. Augustine Eco Tours boat. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Though the company offers a variety of tours including sailing, boating and kayak adventures, me and my small group of friends had took a Dolphin and Wildlife Adventure Tour, one of the most popular eco-tours offered by the St. Augustine Eco Tours company. Visitors on a 90-minute catamaran tour ride through the Matanzas Bay and the Tolomato River in search of dolphins and other wildlife inhabiting this stunning area.

This tour isn’t just about spotting wildlife, but rather providing informative and insightful commentary on the local plant, land and sea life. We were also told about the company’s partnership with local organizations to support ongoing research and conservation efforts protecting dolphin populations. 

The greatest threats to dolphins, like other sea creatures, are pollution and gill nets. Thanks to laws regarding these nets used for catching tuna, thousands of dolphins are saved each year. However, industrial waste and garbage dumped into the ocean pollutes the dolphins’ habitat and can result in disease and death. These masses of tangled nets and discarded fishing gear – known as “ghost gear” – along with plastics are continually being removed from ocean and bay waters in St. Augustine and around the world thanks to concerned environmentalists.

The effort is akin to holding back the tide. Until America and the rest of the globe gets serious about dramatically reducing our use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics, the oceans will continue to serve as waste dump and the animals that live there will suffer.

Exciting Variety of Marine Life

Zach explained that during the tour we may see Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, fiddler crabs, and a variety of bird species such as ospreys, egrets, and herons. And we did!

No sooner did we get out to the open water when next to our boat a pod of playful Bottlenose dolphins greeted us. We also spotted manatees and a few sea turtles along the way, with egrets and different varieties of herons in the estuaries, and fiddler crabs on the beach next to the oyster beds. To my delight, I got to see one of my favorite bird varieties-the pink-hued roseate spoonbill.

The early 1800s brought a major period of decline for the spoonbill when the wings of this beautiful creature were made into fans, a ‘regular article of trade’ in St. Augustine, according to John Audubon. The millinery or ‘hat trade’ also took a heavy toll on the spoonbill in the late 1800s.

Though their feathers were never in as great demand as egret plumes because they faded, spoonbills were still slaughtered along with many plume birds, causing their numbers to drastically decline. It was the establishment of the Everglades National Park in 1947 that saved Florida’s spoonbill population, which then began reusing nesting sites that hadn’t been occupied since the late 1800s.

If You Go (And You Should)

St. Augustine Matanzas River.
St. Augustine Matanzas River. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Though there is much to see and do in St. Augustine, you should build time into your visit for St. Augustine Eco Tours. Not only is the city picturesque from the water, but the chance to learn about the local wildlife from a fascinating and engaging interpretative naturalist like Zach McKenna is priceless.

Just be sure to pack your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a windbreaker if it’s a cooler winter morning. And of course, your camera or cell phone as you’re certain, just like us, to have some delightful surprises along the journey.

Author

  • Noreen Kompanik

    Noreen Kompanik is a retired registered nurse, legal nurse consultant and military spouse turned travel writer. She launched her travel writing career in 2014 and has over 1,000 published articles in a variety of digital and print publications.