Kayaking in Cocoa Beach
By: John McNamara
When thinking about Cocoa
Beach, Florida it’s easy to imagine the beach, space launches,
and surfing, but it’s a little more difficult to visualize
kayaking in some of the most abundant wildlife estuaries in
Florida. I certainly never imagined that Cocoa Beach could offer
such an experience, until I learned of Cocoa Beach Kayaking
Guided Nature Tours. Their tour has it all…a great tour
guide, easy paddling, scenic rivers, and best of all, great
Kathleen, our guide,
met us at Ramp Road Park. This three-acre neighborhood park
offers two boat ramps, picnic facilities, a fishing dock, and
a lighted tennis court. Florida Sportsman Magazine has ranked
the park one of the state's best fishing spots. The fishing
dock and picnic facilities overlook the beautiful Thousand Islands,
which are owned by the city. The city is working towards preserving
the Thousand Islands in their natural state for future generations
At the park our happy guide introduced herself and prepared
us for a 2-1/2 hour tour. Kathleen’s tee shirt said, “Body
by God”, but it should have said, “Body, Attitude,
and Customer Service by God”. Kathleen provided us with
everything needed for an adventurous and safe day. First, she
supplied all participants with polarized sunglasses, hats to
protect our faces, and plenty of sunscreen. As we and lathered
up and prepped ourselves with the proper equipment, Kathleen
got our kayaks ready for us to board. Kathleen gave an interesting
safety and educational briefing before we entered our kayaks
into the water.
Once in the water, Kathleen
tested our motor skills by having us practice with our paddles.
She reminded us this tour was not a work out but a leisurely
and educational experience. This was reassuring since I have
been on kayaks before with friends and it always seems to turn
into a race. Kayaking with novice paddlers is never fun when
the kayaks swerve all over the river. Kathleen had only one
person paddle in each of the two man kayaks. In my vessel, my
16 year old nephew did most of all the paddling. I got to relax
and absorb the scenery.
Once leaving Ramp Park, Kathleen led us out into the Banana
River. The Banana River is a shallow lagoon, 30 miles long and
3 miles wide, between Merritt Island and the Cape Canaveral
barrier beach, which separates the river from the Atlantic Ocean.
The river is connected with the Indian River lagoon by channels
at the North and South ends.
This first part of our
kayaking journey took us through the Thousand Islands. As we
paddled down the river, Kathleen described the different mangrove
trees that lined the banks of the river. The trained eye can
spot all three types, red, black, and white. These trees are
tropical plants that have adapted to loose, wet soils, salt
water, and periodic tidal submersions. The mangrove trees trap
and cycle various organic materials, chemical elements, and
important nutrients in the coastal ecosystem.
We encountered plenty
of wild life along the river. Kathleen told us about the unique
Indian River dolphins that are indigenous to the Banana River.
My expectations were to see dolphins, but to my pleasant surprise
we soon met the distant relative, of the elephant. Yes, that’s right,
the distant relative, of the elephant…and they live in the sea. It’s
the manatee, of course.
West Indian manatees
are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a
flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers,
with three to four nails. Their head and face are wrinkled with
whiskers on the snout. The average adult manatee is about three
meters 9.8 feet long and weighs between 800-1,200 pounds. Manatees
are gentle and slow moving. Most of their time is spent eating,
resting, and in travel. Manatees are completely herbivorous.
West Indian manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed
they can live 60 years or more. Many manatee mortalities are
human-related, and occur from collisions with watercraft. There
are approximately only 3,000 West Indian manatees left in the
As we floated along there
continued to be plenty of wild life, especially birds, but at
one point on the river, we were confronted with homes lining
the banks of the river. At this point Kathleen had a choice
of going straight down the river or right down a canal where
the homes were situated. You wouldn’t expect to find anything
interesting where the homes where but Kathleen knew we would
find the manatees there. These lovable creatures have summer
homes in these canals and many other areas around Cocoa Beach.
I’ve seen manatees before but learned quite a bit from
Kathleen, as she provided many fascinating details about them.
Kathleen had us paddle
to a section of the canal where a group of about six manatees
where hanging out. As Kathleen is a sanctioned manatee researcher
for the state, she tracks them on paper and sends it to the
state for record keeping. She was very conscious not to disturb
them and made sure that the manatees could come to us but we
couldn’t approach them. We waited patiently and at first
they didn’t seem to pay much attention to us. In fact,
they passed us by and went out to the open canal. We started
to head out to continue on our journey. Then, all of sudden,
Kathleen spotted a manatee coming our way to check us out. We
stopped, and sure enough this huge manatee came right up to
our kayaks. Kathleen said with a smile, “It’s Pumpkin
Head”, a manatee she has befriended in the past. Pumpkin
Head was an incredible ambassador of good will. She hung out
with us for almost 20 minutes. In fact, she approached each
and every kayak and let us take incredible close up candid photos
of her. This was, with out a doubt, a high light of the trip.
After Pumpkin Head investigated our kayaks she headed down the
canal and we continued on our journey.
The 2-1/2 hour trip flew
by. After our manatee encounter our time was about up. We started
to head back to Ramp Road Park. On our way back down the river,
we stopped on one of the Thousand Islands for a break. After
refueling with cool water we paddled back to the dock. We finished
the paddle down a Mangrove tunnel that lead to the Ramp park
docks. Can you believe we ran into another pack of manatees
swimming up the river? It was a great day for manatees.
Once back at the dock
I noticed that no one was totally exhausted from the paddle,
and everyone was quite invigorated, thanks to Kathleen. She
left the pace up to everyone’s ability that day.
As we said our goodbyes, Kathleen told me an interesting fact.
She provides internships for young and inspiring naturalists.
She has them focus on aspects of her tour, plant life or animal
life, and lets the intern learn about it and teach it to her
participants for a week. This is an inspiring offering, and
an excellent reason to contact Kathleen.
The cost of the kayak
nature tour is $30 per person and you’ll need to call
ahead because space is limited.
Cocoa Beach Kayaking Guided Nature Tours
place for breakfast and lunch Nick’s New York Deli. The
food is good and reasonably priced:
Nick's New York Deli
410 N. Atlantic Ave., Cocoa Beach, Florida