Imagine taking a sunset cruise and seeing a pod of dolphins. Or discovering turtle hatchlings during an early morning walk on the beach. Or swimming with manta and sting rays in crystal clear water. Doesn’t that sound like the most epic vacation ever? We couldn’t agree more and Adventure Guides Gary Hites of Seahorse Water Safaris and Jessica Swindall from the Gulf County Volunteer Turtle Patrol know all the secrets of these “GCFL Firsts” and the traditions they’ve created for visitors.
Hites takes people out on guided snorkel and scallop trips and sunset cruises, which he says are a great introduction to St. Joseph Bay. There’s something about being on the water when the sun goes down. Being right in the middle of a 360-degree, panoramic view of your natural surroundings is a gentle, breathtaking experience.
Another cool thing about those sunset cruises? Dolphins. These playful creatures feed at dusk and, combined with a unique tidal current that flows out of the Intracoastal, they’re usually splashing about. Recently, Hites has seen pods of 12 and 24 dolphins!
Bonus experience: Hites also rents boats to visitors. For the past four years, he’s had two boys and two fathers rent a boat for a whole day out on the Bay. “Given the choice between Disney World or St. Joseph Bay, the boys choose the Bay,” recalls Hites. “It knocked us over!”
Another truly remarkable GCFL First? Being a part of the Gulf County Volunteer Turtle Patrol. Jessica Swindall’s background is in conservation behavior and she’s been the program’s volunteer coordinator for the past five years. “Gulf County is a huge hot spot for turtles and is the highest density beach in North Florida,” says Swindall. “What I find fascinating is the interaction between people and turtles. My favorite part is when someone sees a nest or crawl for the first time. It’s like a first time for me, too — every time!”
Imagine this: It’s just after sunrise and you’re with your family on the beach. It’s deafeningly quiet — all you hear are the waves crashing on the shore. You notice some marks on the sand and realize you’re close to a nest. As you carefully approach it, you witness baby hatchlings crawling toward the shore. Your kids squeal in delight with eyes wide as you step out of the way and watch this magnificent occurrence unfold.
Fun Fact: St. Joseph Bay is full of saltwater and has very little runoff, making it an exceptional place to snorkel. Manta and sting rays. Seahorses and bay scallops. The list goes on and on. And, it’s crystal clear — you can see as far as 15-feet down and it’s relatively shallow — perfect for watching fish chase one another for food.
Check out even more GCFL Firsts, and stay tuned for an update on this season’s turtle hatchlings.