24GASPARILLA ISLAND November/December 2018
parks: Cayo Costa, Don Pedro, Gasparilla Island
and Stump Pass Beach. Sharon decided to create
the tours in 2009.
After applying for several grants, she received
money to get the programs launched in 2010.
“I thought it was really important to bring in
more educational programs for the community,”
McKenzie and Longo train beach ambassadors
who clean up the beaches while educating
visitors about seashells, sea creatures and the
importance of not polluting.
“Bobby is very passionate about the wading
tours, and he’s really good … he gets people
excited about the kinds of creatures they find in
Park rangers now guide the wading tours that BIPS,
a 501(c)3 non-profit citizen support organization,
began years ago.
McKenzie managed and ran the tours herself for
several years initially, but three years ago, park staff
and volunteers began leading the programs. They
also steer other educational programs, including
beach walks, shell searching and sea turtle events.
You can help protect our estuaries by not littering
and picking up trash in the water or along the shoreline
and limiting the use of fertilizer.
“Habitat destruction is probably one of the biggest
threats for marine creatures,” Longo said. “People
who ignore the ‘no wake zone’ signs (which is illegal)
not only can harm manatees and turtles, but also
damage the health of the seagrass.”
Expect to get wet during these adventures. You will
be wading in water at least waist-deep, depending on
the tide. Water shoes, sunscreen, a hat and a towel
are suggested for the tours.
Look for future adventures beginning this
fall at barrierislandparkssociety.org.
Space is limited, so sign up early.
For more information, call (941) 964-0060.