Diving deep into Florida’s rich natural heritage is easier than you think. The Sunshine State is also the splashdown state, with diverse aquatic activities for outdoor recreation, from swimming in springs and rivers to paddling down quiet creeks and diving offshore reefs and wrecks. Even when you’re high and dry, trails offer sweeping views of winding waterways and extensive estuaries. It’s this mix of wet and dry that makes Florida a year-round destination for ecotourism. Wade right in!
Celebrating the success of marine conservation programs in the Florida Keys, REEF Fest is an annual gathering of divers, naturalists, photographers and people who care about the quality of Florida’s coral reefs. The event features seminars, snorkeling, diving and eco-adventures, with proceeds benefitting the non-profit Reef Environmental Education Foundation based in Key Largo.
A mile and a half off the Pompano Beach Pier, Shipwreck Park is a new and easily accessible major dive site centered on the Lady Luck, a 324-foot ship with casino-themed art installations, the centerpiece among 16 other shipwrecks in the Atlantic Ocean. South Florida Diving Headquarters leads regular trips to the wrecks. In Riviera Beach, Little Deeper Charters takes guests out to the Ana Cecilia, a recent addition to the 151 artificial reefs off the coast of The Palm Beaches. Paddlers can explore the Jupiter Waterway Trail, an interconnected route of more than 39 miles including the Loxahatchee River, the Intracoastal Waterway and Jupiter Inlet. An app aids visitors in discovering ecotourism destinations along the route.
Take a journey deep into Florida’s most jungle-like habitat, the Fakahatchee Strand, on a Fakahatchee Tram Tour led by experienced guides from the Friends of Fakahatchee, a citizen support organization for the state park. Each 2.5-hour tour takes visitors deep into the orchid capital of America with moonlit tours so popular they must be reserved well in advance. The Fakahatchee Strand is home to the endangered ghost orchid, which is rarely seen, even with a guide. Visitors to Naples Botanical Garden can now view ghost orchid blooms in a natural habitat, thanks to a special project by the University of Florida to propagate this delicate species in a lab setting.
“Super blooms” of the orchids-multiple flowers on one plant- continue to be a sight at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary as well. Many of the University of Florida orchids have been restored to the wild at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. The annual Florida Panther Festival, held in November, has shifted to the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens as a new venue, now that a Florida panther is a permanent resident there.
It’s taken several years of major restoration efforts by several state agencies, but Lake Trafford is once again a serious draw for anglers and birders. Located in eastern Collier County near Immokalee, this 1,500-acre lake can be accessed via the Lake Trafford Marina and Ann Olesky Park. Nearby Pepper Ranch Preserve now offers a tent campground with access to its hiking trails, and has added 4.5 miles of mountain-bike trails for off-road enjoyment.