A simple law of science is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. If we were to take a moment to apply this idea to an ordinary circumstance, you may find yourself staring into the eyes of second chances, like an old lobster boat becoming an eco-tour boat. This particular second chance was given to a boat as it joined the Honest Eco tour family in Key West, Florida. What was once taking from the environment now provided a window into this world, and the passengers became observers rather than hunters. The reasoning behind this second chance is simple: there is so much we can learn from nature, and what better way to become the student than by hopping aboard the E.O. Wilson and heading out to sea.
As we climbed aboard, we were greeted by a spectrum of light blues, which on a clear day matched the hue of the water and the sky. Bright yellow, tandem sea kayaks rested on top of the awning, and on her stern were the letters E.O. Wilson in white. The Captain opened the throttle and turned up the reggae. We were headed west towards the outlying islands of the Florida Keys. Suddenly, we found ourselves slowing to a stop. A pod of dolphins were spotted starboard side. With massive leaps and synchronized rolls, they made themselves known, soon after disappearing beneath the surface. A group of three were spotted with a small calf nestled in between. Following his parents every move, the calf bobbed in and out of the waves.
The E.O. Wilson was built for adventure and with ease took us into the shallow, backcountry waters of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The kayaks were lowered off the awning and into the water. We climbed in, one in front and one in back, and paddled towards the mangrove island heavily decorated with birds like a wildflower bush is decorated with blossoms. Even with our proximity to Key West, we were the only people in sight.
Around every turn, cormorants would fly out of the tangled branches making a lot of commotion before finally getting air. A great white pelican sat in the water not far off from the island, paddling by in a kayak must have not seemed like a threat so he remained in place until the clumsy flock of cormorants shooed him into the sky. For a moment we ceased paddling to take in the warm ocean breeze and the sounds of the small wind driven waves receding into the mangrove island. In this moment, an osprey flew low over our heads displaying her recent catch in her clenched claws: a large needle-nose fish doubled over, mouth agape pointing to the earth as the water became farther and farther away. We joking asked the Captain how much they payed for the trained osprey flyover. The moment had played out so well it seemed perfectly staged. Passing through a small channel draped by branches and waxy, green leaves, we ducked underneath a horned spider’s web bridging a small branch on our left side to a smaller branch on our right. We were able to steal a glimpse of her crab-like silhouette enhanced by a beautiful red, white, and black garnish.
We paddled along tracing an outline around the island. Directly in front of us a bird much larger than an osprey, carrying what seemed to be a smaller bird, swooped past us and into the heart of the mangroves. Two ospreys appeared on the scene chasing down a second intruder. Before our eyes, a blistering brawl between two bald eagles and three osprey broke out. We sat in the water below them in awe. The ospreys were protecting their nests and the eagles were hunting- our presence was trifling, disregarded.
We had finished our loop around the island and with the boat in view, we began our return. Back onboard, we shared vegan snacks where our Tahoe Trail Bars, that we had brought to share, felt right at home. The colors of the sun began to grow brighter as it began to make its descent. We hopped on stand-up paddle boards and paddled out to soak up the rich warm colors coming off of the water. Paddling around between the E.O. Wilson and the Western horizon, we celebrated the day and the last moments of light.
A day aboard the E.O. Wilson allowed us to discover a world only accessible by water and to observe life in its raw, natural form. Both of our lives have been spent living in and around Nashville, Tennessee. This centralized city greatly distances us from any ocean, making our time around saltwater pretty rare. The entire day was built on good vibes, and by the time we left the marina we felt like we were familiar friends headed out from another day on the water, leaving behind the busyness of the city. The boat that returned that evening to the marina did not return bearing a cargo full of lobsters plucked from the sea; instead, aboard her deck was laughter, a resonance of excitement from the day’s adventure, and so much life.