Tarpon Bay Explorers, Inc. are the licensed concession to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. They provide fun, low-impact, educational & recreational opportunities to the public under contract with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 15% of what you spend at Tarpon Bay Explorers benefits U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!
NATURE & SEALIFE CRUISE
Enjoy a naturalist led, covered pontoon boat cruise around Tarpon Bay. Learn about the bay's rich Mangrove Estuary ecosystem and get an up-close look at wildlife. The first half hour includes Touch Tank aquariums. You will hold and learn about wildlife living amongst the bottom of the estuary from sea stars, horseshoe crabs, oysters, live shells and much more! Then spend an hour boating around Tarpon Bay. Possible sightings include manatees, dolphins, birds and fish! The naturalists will help you spot wildlife, and are able to answer any questions from wildlife biology and ecology to even the history of Sanibel and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
This tour is for the early risers. Experience one of the most beautiful settings on Sanibel, while munching down on a continental-style breakfast. Enjoy a naturalist-led, covered pontoon boat cruise around Tarpon Bay. While drinking coffee, tea and juice and eating pastries, observe birds at the rookery islands including herons, egrets, pelicans, ibis, osprey and more. While boating around the 950 acres of back bay estuary, search for the tremendous diversity of wildlife from mammals such as dolphins and manatees to fish such as mullet, stingray or sharks. The Touch Tank aquarium presentation wraps up the concluding half hour of the tour. This intimate experience will teach visitors about wildlife living amongst the bottom of the estuary from fish, shrimp, horseshoe crabs, oysters, live shells and much more!
EVENING SUNSET CRUISE
Join us as the sun goes down on a cruise to the rookery islands. Be there as hundreds of birds swoop in to roost for the night and witness the sunset that Sanibel is famous for. The diversity of birds is quite the spectacle to observe. Depending on the time of year, visitors can possibly see brown and white pelicans, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, little blue herons and much more! Along with the nightly return of birds, visitors may also see bottlenose dolphins or manatees. The first half hour includes Touch Tank aquariums! This hands-on experience will allow you to learn about wildlife living amongst the sea floor of the estuary from sea stars, hermit crabs, oysters, live shells and much more! Then spend an hour-and-a-half boating around Tarpon Bay looking for any wildlife we can find! The naturalists will help you search for wildlife, and are able to answer any questions from wildlife biology and ecology to even the history of Sanibel and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
The Kayak Trail Tour is a wonderful introduction to Tarpon Bay and the coastal environment. Visitors will kayak with an experienced naturalist through the mangrove forest along Tarpon Bay’s Commodore Creek Trail. The trail provides a unique and up-close perspective to the mangrove habitat. Paddlers will learn about the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s rich mangrove ecosystem and the wildlife living within it. You’ll be surrounded by red mangroves, wading birds and unsurpassed peace and quiet.
LOW TIDE KAYAK TOUR
The Low Tide Tour allows kayakers to explore the bay when most wouldn’t with an experienced naturalist. This 90-minute tour will take you through Tarpon Bay’s tidal flats, where extreme low tides expose mud and grass flats that create great feeding opportunities for a variety of bird species including herons, egrets, ibis and osprey. Low tides also make it easier to find manatees and dolphins. You’ll learn how these birds utilize the low tides and why small things like grasses and oysters are so crucial to the estuary ecosystem.
ROOKERY ISLANDS KAYAK TOUR
This is truly a birders’ delight. Join Tarpon Bay Explorers as the sun goes down and dozens of birds swoop onto Tarpon Bay’s Rookery Islands to roost for the night. This paddle is a truly unique experience. The Rookery Islands provide an evening hangout for over a dozen different species of birds including: brown pelicans, egrets, herons, ibis, and cormorants. An experienced naturalist leads the way and discusses local flora and fauna of Tarpon Bay. The excursion is bird-oriented, but the paddle travels through the open waters of Tarpon Bay giving paddlers a good chance to also see dolphin or manatee. The return of the birds along with Sanibel’s famous sunset makes this tour a highlight of anyone’s visit to the area. (Must be an experienced kayaker.)
REFUGE TRAM TOUR
Our experienced naturalists can help you spot wildlife most visitors would never see. Hop on our tram that travels along Wildlife Drive through the J.N. “Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Search for roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets, ibis, alligators and much more while learning about the refuge’s ecology and history! Taking the Refuge Tram Tour also benefits wildlife. Reducing the number of cars along Wildlife Drive helps to protect the animals from polluting exhaust fumes and noisy automobile engines. Plus, by leaving the driving to us, you’ll have your hands free to capture those amazing photos or to peer through binoculars and gaze at the wildlife. (Tram Tours check in at Tram Ticket Booth next to the Visitor’s Education Center, NOT 900 Tarpon Bay Rd.)
TOUCH TANK EXPLORATION
Explore what lives beneath the waters of Tarpon Bay by coming to our aquarium and Touch Tanks. Learn all about the benthic ecology of the bay by getting a hands-on experience with live shells, sea stars, oysters and much more. Plus, our aquarium displays will introduce you to some of the less seen fish in Tarpon Bay. This is an awesome program whether you get your hand wet or just stand back, learn and enjoy. The Touch Tank is always included in the Breakfast, Nature & Sealife & Evening Cruises, but is also great for a rainy day. For those who wish to participate in just a half-hour Touch Tank presentation, arrive just before 3pm.
Tarpon Bay Explorers offers back-bay, saltwater fishing charters likely catches of sea trout, redfish, snook, mangrove snapper, sheepshead and much more! The captains are very family-friendly and can find challenging fish for any angler. Mangrove estuaries, like Tarpon Bay, are some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world. Over 200 species of fish make their homes in Tarpon Bay. Some of Florida’s most sought after sport fish live in the bay as well as a wide variety of bait fish. While live gulf shrimp are extremely effective bait, small fish like grunts, pin fish, sheepshead minnows, and killifish are also found in Tarpon Bay and can be used to catch some of the larger sport fish. Species such as snook, redfish, and spotted seatrout are the most popular fish targeted by local anglers. A few of the many other species caught in Tarpon Bay include grouper, mangrove snapper, pompano, flounder, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, and even a few species of shark. Over a dozen different types of fish can easily be landed during a single fishing trip in the Tarpon Bay estuary!
NATURE THEMED GIFT SHOP
Tarpon Bay Explorers has one of the most unique gift shops on the island filled with a variety of distinct gifts and souvenirs that are perfect for all ages. 15% of every dollar spent at Tarpon Bay Explorers from rentals, tours and merchandise goes back to U.S. Fish & Wildlife for the care and protection of National Wildlife Refuges around the United States.
The Mission of Tarpon Bay Explorers is to be a successful eco-tour business by providing excellent customer service and quality educational tours, rentals and merchandise all while furthering the goals of the US Fish & Wildlife Service at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and encouraging superior stewardship of our unique natural environment.
page information credit: Tarpon Bay Explorers, Inc.
photos from the sources listed above, as well as publicly posted online sites with thanks to the contributors