Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center

The Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center is a marine life nature center located on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida. It currently occupies 57 acres and is located between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean. 

This is the current exhibit hall. A capital expansion project will be underway in August to build a new Eco Center with 30 new exhibits, new lagoon bridges, expand the gift shop, and add the Waterworks Exploration Zone.

The Oceanographic Center is run by the Florida Oceanographic Society, a non-profit organization with the mission to inspire environmental stewardship of Florida's coastal ecosystems through education, research, and advocacy.

One of their conservation projects is FLOOR (Florida Oceanographic Oyster Restoration). The program actively engages the public in the restoration of the oyster reef habitat. Thousands of volunteers have been recycling shells, constructing reefs, and growing oysters. You can see evidence of these efforts along the banks of the Indian River as well as along the Riverwalk in downtown Stuart.

The Saint Lucie River has lost over 80% of its oyster reef habitat in the past 60 years due to poor water quality and low salinity levels. Oysters are the most important commercial bivalve in the world. We need them because they filter and clean the water, provide food and habitat for hundreds of species, they stabilize the shorelines, and reduce erosion.

This Life Span of Garbage display was a very effective way to illustrate how our trash can pollute our environment for a shockingly long time. 

Outside is the Stingray Pavilion where you will learn all about stingrays and also get to touch them and feed them. 

Then there's the Children's Activity Pavillion which has some interactive exhibits for kids.

Next to the Children's Activity Pavillion is a pretty little butterfly garden.

There's also the Sea Turtle Pavillion where we listened to a 30-minute live presentation about sea turtles. The Oceanographic Center currently houses four sea turtles that cannot be released back into the ocean. Their shells have been too damaged by boat propellors and they would not be able to survive on their own.

These nurse sharks live in the Gamefish Lagoon. You can watch the gamefish feeding Monday-Saturday at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.

There are also two nature trails you can explore. The Indian River Lagoon Trail is a 1-mile loop and the I-Spy Trail which is a 1/3-mile loop. The I-Spy trail is fun for little kids but regardless of which trail you choose to explore, I would recommend you bring along some insect repellent.

On the trail, you will discover this replica of an Ays Indian Encampment.

300 years ago Native Americans, such as the Ays Indians, inhabited the coastal hammocks between the ocean and rivers. Their living quarters, called "Chickees," were made from the trees and plants of the hammock.

We spent a few hours at the Oceanographic Center and since it was a typically hot and humid July day here in Florida, we decided to go across the street to Stuart beach afterward for a dip in the ocean. Our timing was amazing because we got to witness the hatching of these adorable baby sea turtles and put our fresh sea turtle knowledge to good use.

Don't worry! The FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation) was called and all the hatchlings made it into the ocean. 

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or visiting the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center visit

Friday, January 4, 2019

Get Outside

A few weeks ago my husband and I went on a trip up north to Old Town, Florida. We've stayed in all kinds of places all over the world and figured nothing could be worse than a $7.00 hostel in India so we decided to finally give Airbnb a try. We rented a cabin in the woods that was right on the Suwanee River and I'm happy to say that the experience exceeded our expectations.

We were on a mission for some peace and quiet. 

The cabin was located 3 miles down a dirt road and had no cell phone service, cable or internet. Mission accomplished. It was exactly what we were looking for. 

The lack of distractions gave me more time to create these little travel sketches.

On the second day of our trip, we went to Fanning Springs State Park. Entry is only $6 per car and it is one of the prettiest little State Parks I've ever visited with a canopy of enormous old live oak trees overhead and crystal clear freshwater springs for swimming or scuba diving.

We decided that no matter how cold it was, we would jump into any and all springs we came across. It was definitely brisk!

Fanning Springs State Park is located in the town of Fanning Springs. There is a canoe launch but it's down a steep hill and despite what their website says, we discovered that they do not have canoe or kayak rentals. They do offer hiking, swimming, scuba diving, camping, a boardwalk, and a boat launch. We had a great time hiking, swimming and wandering this beautiful little park.

We also spent a few days exploring Manatee Springs State Park. The entry fee was also only $6 per car which is an excellent price for a park that offers so many activities. The park is immaculately maintained by supervised state inmates and highly dedicated park rangers. Our first day there we brought our paddleboards which were a great way to spot manatees.

The park is home to one of Florida's largest freshwater springs and is a winter refuge for West Indian manatees. The springs are also very popular among scuba divers as their underground aquatic cave system is one of the longest in North America. Even though it was cold outside, we had to jump into this spring as well. Make sure to bring snorkel gear or at least goggles to see underwater. You will not be disappointed.

There is also a boardwalk that you can use to view the manatees if water sports are not your thing. Whether in the water or on the boardwalk, everyone was pleased. The manatees were everywhere. 

It was raining and cold on our second day at the park and not ideal for being on the water so we went for a hike. Their trail system has 8.5 miles of trails for walking or bicycling.

This was the largest magnolia tree I've ever seen!

Our last day at the park was spent kayaking. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes or paddleboards from Anderson's Outdoor Adventures which is located in the park. Our kayak rental was only $25. My sketch (above) shows some of the wildlife we encountered when we were kayaking. 

If you own your own boat you can use the boat ramp to access the Suwanee River.

Manatee Springs is located in Chiefland, Florida and offers trails for bicycling and hiking, a boat launch, canoe launch, camping, snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving, wildlife viewing, and concessions. 

Mostly everything was closed on Thanksgiving except for the Nature Coast Trail. The Nature Coast Trail is a 31.7-mile paved trail for walking, biking, skating, horseback riding, and bird watching that spans Dixie, Gilchrist, and Levy counties. 
We found a trailhead near the cabin and went for a stroll. There is no fee to enter and it's open 7 days a week, 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. 

On our last day, we finally strategized a way to get our very large and very heavy paddleboards off the steep and rickety dock at the cabin and into the Suwanee River. As you can see from my sketch (above) we had to get a ladder involved. I also provided photographic evidence to prove that, yes, this ridiculous plan was in fact undertaken but also accomplished.

For more detailed information about visiting Florida's State Parks, you can go to