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Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

Over The Waters and Grasses

by Airboat John
Airboat John Moorhens and Coots move just far enough to allow my passage, and then scramble to scarf up the Grass Shrimp and minnows stirred up as I pass.

Nearly fifty generations of these marsh birds have interacted with the humans and their airboats; by now they seem to know how we think and how much room we need as we share the river valley. Effortlessly the boat slides across the grass and dollar weed as I make my way to a patch of open water. Small shad thrash the water's surface as bass chase them from below, and birds feed from above.

I give the engine a little more throttle as I slide up the bank and power the boat to the edge. The bow is hanging off the bank, over thin air just enough to allow good casting into the frenzied school of fish.

Briefly, quiet settles over the area, and then the usual marsh noise resumes as the arrival of an airboat, and it's occupants are accepted as normal. Occasionally a water moccasin, marsh rabbit, or wild hog will become aggressive when it's space is invaded, but I won't be sharing this fishing hole with any human today.

The marsh of the St. Johns River displays little impact from half a century of airboat use. Approximately 2,400 airboats are registered in the nearby counties, and many of them are operated on this river through out the year. Most airboaters are conservation minded, and operate their boats in a manner respecting the wildlife and habitat of the river valley, some are just into it for the speed and noise, and don't stay long enough to learn what real airboating is about.

The airboat is more than just a mode of transportation, but a safe haven and portal into and out of an otherwise hostile environment. As dusk arrives, the shriek of eagles playing gives way to the trill of a family of raccoons making their way to the waters edge. Turtles push off logs as the warmth of the sun fades into the trees.

Soon the sound of the marsh by day will turn to a din of crickets and mosquitoes as the splash of feeding gators, and the hoot of owls mark the shift change. I watch the reflective orange eyes of gators sink slowly from my light as my air-propelled sled slides by.

VISIT Airboat John

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