I took a photo of the sign showing a map of the park, which showed that the mangrove tunnels were numbered, and had suggested "directions of travel" for paddlers who would be exploring the park. Also located at the sign was a supply of life jackets for those who did not bring their own, or have one provided by the outfitter.
Nestled among the banyan trees, were covered picnic tables, and each one had a number.
One VERY talented guy was able to push one dolly of kayaks in front of him, and pull another dolly of kayaks behind him, while he balanced on a device called "One Wheel" that propelled him across the parking lot so fast, you wanted to stay out of his way!
The time waiting for the rest of the group also gave me an opportunity to snap a photo for a Facebook page I enjoy, called "Look at the Front of My Kayak". It requires that the contributor show only the front part of their kayak, and the view beyond that. One can take a "virtual" sight-seeing paddle around the world on this site!
After all ten in our group had made it to the open water, the guide asked us to paddle up close to him, so he could tell us more about the habitat we would be exploring. Patrick had a specially-designed kayak that is suitable for either standing up or sitting down. When I booked the tour, I asked if the outfitter provided life jackets (they are required with the "WHOyaker" group of ladies I kayak with back in the Ozarks). He said every kayak had a lifejacket with it, but considering the water was no more than two feet deep wherever we paddled, it was doubtful I would need it. You can see in the photo below how shallow the water is.
Patrick also pointed out how clear the water was, and pulled up a "critter", that I had assumed was a plant. However, he called it an "upside-down" jellyfish (cassiopea), because the tentacles float above the body of the animal, instead of below it.
The information plaque back at the park had explained this area had three main types of mangroves---red mangrove, white mangrove, and black mangrove. The leaves of the red mangrove are a darker shade of green on the tops than on the bottoms.
I took the photo below of roots from a black mangrove tree, which are very unique, because they grow straight up like straws, for breathing. They usually reach heights of about 12 inches. These roots are called pneumatophores. I took this photo several feet away from the water's edge, because black mangrove trees grow on higher ground than red mangrove trees.
The group stayed single-file, once we started through the tunnels, because they are very narrow. I tried to stay as close to the guide boat as possible, so I could hear what he was saying. (By the way, it is not a requirement that you have a guide when paddling through the mangrove tunnels. One can rent a kayak and start out on their own to explore. However, since I was a "newbie" and knew nothing about the area, I preferred the added feature of a guided tour.)
The photo below shows a paddler as she is exiting Tunnel number 2. One would probably not even notice there was an opening in this mangrove forest, if it were not for the floating buoy. Notice how clear the water is, and how shallow it is. In fact, some folks plan their paddling adventure based on the tides. At low tide, you may be a "walker", instead of a paddler through the mangroves. At very high tides, you will be closer to the "ceiling" of the tunnel, than at other times. This means that a paddle boarder may not be able to go through the tunnels standing up, at very high tides.
Patrick told us that the roots of the mangrove trees serve as a nursery for starfish. Most of the ones he pointed out were about the size of a quarter, which I had trouble seeing. However, we eventually passed over one that was about the size of a hamburger bun, which even I could see!
Patrick turned around to tell our group that this area had much more sun exposure due to the damage done to the mangrove forest from Hurricane Ian, in September of 2022. Many of the trees were stripped of their leaves. Yet that massive root system for which mangrove trees are known, helps reduce the amount of beach erosion when violent storms/hurricanes hit the area.
As I waited for all the paddlers to make it out of Tunnel #2, I could easily understand why the roots of the red mangrove tree are called "stilt roots" or "prop roots" They are literally "propping up" the trees in the harsh brackish water, in which they have to survive. I imagined that as the limbs on one side of the tunnel were reaching out to touch the limbs on the opposite side of the tunnel, they are "clapping their hands", as they form a Arc de Triomphe (arch of triumph) from which the victorious paddler can emerge!
About midway through our tour, we stopped at a sandbar, and got out of our kayaks to stretch our legs. Lest you think this was a "potty break", it was NOT! There are no toilets from the time one starts the 2.5 hour tour, until it ends, so keep that in mind when deciding how much coffee to consume before you start the tour!
As I mentioned, the weather was perfect for being outside, and many of the participants took the opportunity to wade in and cool off, as they surveyed the area for interesting sea life features.
Patrick also mentioned that he would be available to take photographs, if anyone had brought their cameras or cell phones on the trip. Naturally, I took him up on his offer!