It is a huge privilege to get to see manatees in the wild on Anna Maria Island. Especially considering the fact that they probably will be extinct within the next hundred years. Those of us who spend time on or near the water know the tell-tale pattern on the surface that indicates manatees are below. A series of flat circles usually appears and then, every once in awhile, the nose of a manatee may surface. Sometimes the manatee pushes it nose through the water for a distance. Sometimes its back surfaces, too. Often, the back is badly scarred, having been hit by boat propellers.
A couple of years ago, we spotted a manatee swimming by the house, heading up the bay, and we quickly launched kayaks to go look for it. We eventually found two manatees. We stopped paddling and sat still, drifting, to observe them in the clear, shallow water. As we drifted, I ended up closer to the larger manatee than I would have liked to be. The sheer size of this gentle animal was a bit intimidating. I was worried for both it and myself that we might have an awkward collision unintentionally. Fortunately, I gradually drifted away and then kept a little more distance.
It’s suddenly high season on Anna Maria Island. You can tell by the tremendous increase in traffic, by the length of time it takes to get a table at restaurants, and by the number of house-guests we locals are welcoming. One of the good things about having guests is that it gets us out to enjoy things we don’t usually do when we’re busy with work and daily routines. There are so many wonderful activities and attractions to enjoy on Anna Maria Island and in the nearby region. This week, a guest was the reason I visited Robinson Preserve for the first time. This lovely preserve is just across the bridge, accessible off of Manatee Avenue.
Opened to the public July of 2008, this 487-acre natural area features 56 acres of diverse marshlands, 10 acres of uplands and open water. There are 2½ miles of kayaking and canoeing streams, and 6 nature trails, with 6 bridges, winding through the mangroves. The 500 foot boardwalk serves bird watchers well, and the trails are great for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Sponsored in part by the County Conservation Land Management, the preserve houses endangered species like the gopher tortoise, indigo snakes and the Florida scrub jay.
Exploring the wide variety of neighborhoods on beautiful Anna Maria Island is easy and fun. Depending on how much time you have, you can take a quick car tour, or a leisurely stroll. And there are many other options in between.
In addition to all the fine shops and restaurants that attract many visitors, the neighborhoods, themselves, are an attraction. The charming old houses and dense vegetation that characterize “Old Florida” offer endless interesting details and variety to be enjoyed by the curious visitor or local.
One way to get an even more intimate look at the lovely neighborhoods of Anna Maria Island is to tour around it on weekends, in order to drop in at yard sales and real estate open houses. It’s a sure way to make friends and see how other people have chosen to live on an island.
The island’s free trolley makes it very easy to travel any part of the island on foot, since you can always hop on for a ride if you get tired or short on time. This brings up a great way to start a walk from a variety of points around the island. It also makes it easy to take long walks in one direction without having to backtrack to get home.
Another fun way to wind up and down the streets to look at the vegetation and architecture is from the other side … the water. The island is ideal for very pleasant kayaking. The canals off of Bimini Bay are quite sheltered, offering smooth conditions even on breezy days. In addition to seeing interesting trees, flowers, decks and docks, one may be greeted by a manatee, a dolphin or a duck. And it’s not unusual to see a variety of herons, ospreys, and egrets perching and staring at you as you go by.
The waters in and around Anna Maria Island are perfect for kayaking, and there are more and more people enjoying it. Inside Bimini Bay, the conditions are particularly peaceful. Beginners or those who don’t know how to swim can feel very safe there. Surrounded by land, except for the channel out to Tampa Bay, the water is usually flat and it’s very shallow. In fact, it’s so shallow at low tides that even kayakers should pay close attention to water depth, in order not to damage the fragile sea grass floor of this environmentally important location. Just north of Holmes Beach City Hall is a park with a boat ramp, from which it is easy to kayak into Bimini Bay, under the bridge to Key Royal.
Among the wildlife usually seen by kayakers in Bimini Bay are dolphins, with the occasional manatee. Birdlife is plentiful. Ospreys, pelicans and terns dive for fish. Gulls hang around hoping for scraps. Great blue herons can be seen nesting high in the Australian pines, or wading in the waters at low tide.
Sit-on-top kayaks require almost no instruction or technique, but it helps to keep a few things in mind. A stable way to get into these kayaks is by putting one’s bottom into the seat before trying to bring one’s legs on board. Paddling is quite straightforward, and it’s good to aim for rhythm. In addition to pulling back on the paddle with one hand, one pushes the other side of the paddle forward.