With so many areas of the Sanctuary receiving special protection, there is an abundance of animals residing in the Sanctuary and Refuge. Shallow, clear, warm waters provide an ideal environment for all kinds of critters including dolphins, endangered manatees, spectacular Queen conch, rare sea turtles, stone crabs, spiny lobster, pink shrimp, blue crabs, graceful rays, star fish, sea slugs, sponges, snapper, puffer fish and colorful parrot fish.
You never know what you may find in the water. On a kayak tour of the Refuge’s backcountry, one of our guides assisted in the rescue of an injured 230 pound loggerhead turtle. “Waffles” was taken to Marathon’s Turtle Hospital for rehabilitation.
The novice paddling through the quiet, calm, clear waters of the Refuge’s backcountry or the Sanctuary’s deserted mangrove islands may only spot the larger inhabitants such as fish, turtles or rays. But your guide knows this area well and they introduce you to unusual marine life that normally goes unnoticed.
While each experience is different, your guide may find and pass around for you to touch large, colorful lettuce slugs, shells inhabited by hermit crabs, graceful starfish, or even a squirting sea cucumber. At first you don’t notice the Cassiopea, or upside-down jellyfish, on the bottom of the water and then your guide points one out. Suddenly you see a whole carpet of them. Same for the one crab making his way across protruding mangrove roots or an iguana sunning on a tree limb.
You begin to appreciate the incredible diversity of marine life and marvel at how much you didn’t see before. With your eyes opened to a new world, you return to shore already looking forward to your next Key West vacation.