Paddlers pitched their tent on an uninhabited island and enjoyed sunset views. 

Paddlers pitched their tent on an uninhabited island and enjoyed sunset views. 

During the last week of July, Sanibel Sea School offered campers a unique opportunity to canoe the Caloosahatchee River for the first time ever. Six participants between the ages of 13 and 18 joined the nonprofit organization’s executive director, Dr. Bruce Neill, and marine educator Spencer Richardson for an adventurous 40 mile paddle from Alva, FL to Sanibel Island.

Taking a break during a long day of paddling on the Caloosahatchee River. 

Taking a break during a long day of paddling on the Caloosahatchee River. 

The group launched their canoes from a boat ramp in Alva on Tuesday morning, carrying their camping gear and plenty of food for their expedition. On the first day, they were able to complete 16 miles, passing through the Franklin Lock and ending their day on a small, uninhabited island. “We enjoyed the sunset together, cooked dinner, and played cards until we fell asleep,” said Richardson. Participants also discussed the close connection between inland and coastal communities in our region, reflecting on shared waters and environmental issues that affect all of us. 

The next morning, they observed the transition from a freshwater to saltwater environment, and began to see dolphins, manatees, and eagle rays in the river. Storms rolled in during the afternoon, so after 15 miles of paddling, they set up camp under a shelter at Cape Coral Park until the thunder and lightning had passed.

Campers found and explored an abandoned sailboat. 

Campers found and explored an abandoned sailboat. 

On Thursday, the paddlers set out to complete the final 9 miles of their journey, which ended at Bailey Beach on Sanibel. “We were all so exhausted on the last day,” said Richardson, “but once we could see San Carlos Bay, it felt like the home stretch. I think we all felt energized by that, and we easily finished the trip across the estuary.”

“These young adults did a great job on their first long-distance river paddle,” said Neill. “Following the Caloosahatchee was a very special experience, and one that not many people in Southwest Florida are able to have.” Richardson added that it really felt like the adventure of a lifetime. “There were hard moments, fun moments, and moments of realization, and we all improved our paddling skills. In the end, we were all so excited to have accomplished this together.”

The group posed for a photo at Bailey Beach after their long journey. 

The group posed for a photo at Bailey Beach after their long journey. 

Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit sanibelseaschool.org. 

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