SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE
Sights such as this mother dolphin and her three-month
old baby surfing the wake of a tour boat near Cortez
have helped ecotourism become increasingly popular
around Anna Maria Island.
By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer
CORTEZ "One, two, three," counts Matthew
Wynne, 12, his voice shouting over the engine of the Lil
Toot as it bounces up the Intracoastal. "Four, five
Two of the dolphins riding the wake behind Randall Stewarts
boat are leaping out of the water side by side, a mother
"The kids are going to be remembering this when theyre
100 years old," laughs Eileen Wynne, visiting Bradenton
from North Carolina with her husband, Bill, and two more
of their six sons, David, 18 and Stephen, 16.
Scouting from the top deck, David spots the pod again.
"Theyre on the right!" he calls down to
Stewart, who is headed back toward the Seafood Shack after
a non-stop romp with the playful marine mammals.
Stewart doesnt venture far from the waters off Cortez,
which provide almost daily sightings of dolphins and, frequently,
manatees. Sea turtles, sting rays and sea birds also are
a treat for visitors, usually from out of state, and sometimes
with their local relatives in tow, he says.
A half-dozen times a day in the off season, less when hes
teaching math, chemistry and physics at Edison Academic
Center, he runs sightseeing tours with a 21st-century moniker
"This is the closest youll get to dolphins outside
Sea World," says Stewart, adding that on the rare occasions
that no dolphins appear, visitors can come back the next
day without paying the $25 price.
The waters around Cortez are now as much a prime stomping
ground for ecotourism as they have always been for fishing.
At Capt. Kims Charters, based at Star Fish Co. in
Cortez, women tour guides offer both nature and history
tours for $15 per person per hour.
"Our most popular ride is the two-hour eco sandbar
ride," says Capt. Kathe Fannon, who takes her swimming
spaniel, Pup-Pup, on her tours.
Anchoring at sandbars, she encourages guests to jump off,
get wet and scoop up sea critters like seahorses, hermit
crabs and starfish in dip nets, identifying them and maybe
taking a photograph before returning them to their environment.
On historical tours of the Cortez fishing village, she takes
visitors to the commercial fish houses, explains how fishing
boats and equipment are used and offers a history of the
mullet net ban and its effect on the village.
Other tours feature fishing, sunbathing, birdwatching and
The Manatee County Tourist Development Council has started
to get its feet wet in ecotourism promotion. Karen Fraley,
of Around the Bend Nature Tours, heads the councils
Nature Heritage Initiative and is developing promotions
to lure visitors to the area, dangling sparkling waters,
hiking and history as bait.
"Were working on itineraries we can put on the
(Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) Web-site
so people can plan their vacations around ecotourism activities,"
Itineraries will include events such as the Florida Outdoor
Festival on Coquina Beach, held June 24, which featured
kayaking and canoeing, and the Florida Maritime Museums
Great Florida Gulf Coast Small Craft Festival in Cortez
on April 1 and 2, which featured traditional wooden boats.
Boating and fishing history are intertwined with nature
On her historical walking tour of the fishing village, Fraley
points out the 1912 schoolhouse, recently renovated as a
maritime museum, and the Florida Cracker architecture of
the national historic districts fishing cottages.
"We catch the museum folks working on wooden boats,"
she says, a history lesson in itself because the boats are
reproductions of traditional watercraft used for fishing,
and are built with traditional tools.
Fraley says she also plans to add a nature walk to the tour
when work is complete on clearing out trash and non-native
plants from the FISH Preserve on Sarasota Bay at the villages
For more information on ecotours, contact Lil Toot
Charters at 761-3300, Capt. Kims Charters at 920-3307
and Around the Bend Nature Tours at 794-8773.