Just 20 minutes from Marco Island and 30 minutes from Naples lies a sleepy little community originally known as Remuda Ranch. As time passed and the area gained notoriety, the name was changed to Port of the Islands. Lots of folks, both locals and visitors, have heard of it but few have stopped there to see what it’s all about. It was a booming place to be in the 80s but kind of fell off the map for a while. People like Henry Kissinger stopped there. An airstrip was in the area which, in addition to hosting area guests, obtained a seedy reputation for less-than-legal activities.
The marina there is beautiful and becoming more active. An excess of 160 boat slips can handle year-round and seasonal visitors. There a handful of commercial slips and they just got a little busier!
Wild Florida Ecotours recently opened to offer a variety of activities to those interested in taking the road, or should I say waterway, less traveled. Port of the Islands is unique in that the freshwater from the western Everglades flows down the Faka Union river and into the basin where it meets the salt waters that travel up from the gulf. This is an important tributary for the nearby Fakahatchee Strand and provides a pristine locale where wildlife such as alligators, manatees, deer, black bear, a bevy of birdlife and even an occasional American crocodile can be found. Further south the canal meets Faka Union bay where bottlenose dolphins are a common sight and fishing is fantastic. Barrier islands like Hog Key and White Horse Key offer excellent shelling as the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Wild Florida Ecotours has recognized that this location is a great way for folks to discover a multitude of ecosystems, many not explored by residents and area guests. Now, easy access to this playground is available via their pontoon boats and 25-foot fishing boat. Because of the recent national health concerns, many people are asking for the smaller, more private excursions to limit exposure to other people. Wild Florida caters primarily to groups of 3 to 6 guests to help the public meet the above-mentioned needs.
Once you leave the marina at Port of the Islands, you won’t see another building for hours. The ride down the Faka Union canal will surprise you with a variety of birdlife. The regulars such a Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons and Ibis can provide some excellent photo opportunities. Other delights could be Roseate Spoonbills, Black–crested Night Herons, Yellow–crowned Night Herons, Green Herons and more. Seasonal visitors such as Swallow-tailed Kites are seen during the Summer, and right now the White Pelicans are here from the north. White Pelicans have the second largest wingspan of any North American bird with the California Condor being the largest.
The canal will open to Faka Union Bay where dolphins can be seen feeding in the shallows and traveling the passes from the islands to the gulf. The backwaters of these islands are a playground for a variety of fish such as Black Drum, Redfish, Snook, Grouper, Trout and Snapper. Our captains know where to find all of the above so you can enjoy a half–day, ¾ day or full day of catching your dinner.
Barrier island shelling is great because not too many people come here. White Horse Key boasts a nice beach plus a look at old Florida as it stood decades ago.
Hog Key has a similar setting and breathtaking walk along the shoreline. The history of the surrounding islands will offer stories of pirates and skullduggery.
An amazing, well-educated crew will make sure that your experience is fun and full of facts so that you end your venture with a bevy of knowledge. Captain Eddie Farr is a former high school teacher with a degree in environmental science. His passion is dolphins but his scope of information touches many bases. Captain Ed Stamm is a former Marco Island policeman who also pilots the sunset tours on the Good Fortune 2 for Rookery Bay. Naturally, his base of information is varied as well. Marine biologist Hailey Ashby will lead our kayak excursions, and well, she is a marine biologist so she knows a lot! Captain Jimmy Schmidt is our fishing expert with more than a decade of experience in this area alone. He never comes back empty–handed!
Owners Garrett Smith and his wife Judy are Marco Island residents. You will find Garrett involved with beach cleanups quite often when he is not volunteering at the Marco Island Historical Society. Judy will handle the bookkeeping for the company. The other owner, yours truly, and my wife Cathy will also be involved.
My passion is still the dolphin study for the Dolphin Explorer, but the constant requests from guests and residents who want to explore the Everglades lead to this venture. The ability to create a vehicle for folks to see more of South Florida is my way of saying thank you for opportunities given to me and a “pay it forward” to those who want to learn. Cathy, who is also a Master Naturalist, will be lending her organizational and informational talents to the business and answering flora and fauna questions presented by our guests. She knows stuff!
Wild Florida Ecotours is happy to offer the following adventures to all:
- A 2 ½ hour nature tour where guests stay on the boat for an adventure ride through this beautiful area.
- A 3 to 3 ½ hour tour is similar to the above program, but includes an island/shelling stop on a pristine key where you can walk, shell and swim in the gulf waters.
- Fishing: Captain Jimmy will be your expert guide. While most charters offer a 4-hour fishing experience, Wild Florida’s is 4 ½ hours and that extra 30 minutes can make a huge difference. A 6 hour or 8 hour venture is also available.
- Kayaking: A boat assisted tour, whereby we load the kayaks on a boat and then transport you to the bay and island area, will present the chance to paddle in the waters and mangrove forest not seen by most sightseers. This is a 3 hour excursion. We will also offer a kayak adventure right from the dock that lasts 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Again, Wild Florida Ecotours caters to intimate adventures from groups of 3 to 6 guests. You can call 239-218-5852 or reserve online at wildfloridaecotours.com.
YOUR NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE STARTS RIGHT HERE!
Bob is a naturalist on board the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer on Marco Island. He is an author, speaker, owner of Wild Florida Ecotours and an award-winning columnist for Coastal Breeze News. Bob loves his wife very much!