WEEDON ISLAND, Fla. — When the pandemic first started in the Spring of 2020, ECOmersion Kayak Tours was a fledgling company. The hardships they faced in those first few months are now in the past, and the company is thriving after beating out 10 other competitors for a premiere spot on Weedon Island Preserve.
"It's surreal, and it's humbling that the independent selection committee from Pinellas County selected us as the operator," Noah Shaffer, Manager and Owner of ECOmersion Kayak Tours, said. "But it was a tight thing. We spent hundreds of hours putting together our proposal."
Shaffer said the focus for the team is educating kayakers about Florida's rich and diverse environment.
"So we set out to preserve and to build a passion amongst our guests for preserving those ecosystems," Shaffer said. "All of our staff are trained in marine or environmental science. And we spend a significant amount of time off hours researching the local ecosystems and making sure that we can take all of the scientific facts and condense it down into fun facts for the guests."
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska and photojournalist Reed Moeller went out with ECOmersion for a paddle through Weedon Island's famous mangrove tunnels. The canals were made to be mosquito control ditches. Today, it's 3.8 miles of kayaking through some of the most beautiful scenery Florida has to offer.
"It's one of the largest preserves in Pinellas County," Shaffer said. "You can paddle through be fully immersed in nature and the wildlife around you."
"It's so peaceful, especially how the mangrove trees block out the sound from all that traffic feels like you are miles away from everybody else," Ellie Foden, Director of Conservation and Manager on Site said. "My favorite part of this job is being able to see people's faces light up when we get to engage with beautiful animals like dolphins or osprey that swoop by and getting people to understand how important something, even something as small as a snail, can be in Tampa Bay."
ABC Action News first profiled the fledgling company in 2020. At the time, they took us out to Shell Key Preserve. They met customers wherever was convenient. But, having a place to call home is now their top priority.
"Weedon Island is our base, and we want to be stewards here for the next foreseeable future," Shaffer said.
Weedon Island Preserve is home to gopher tortoises that have set up their burrows in the ruins of an abandoned airport, Grand Central Airport. And, there's more than kayaking. Weedon Island Preserve Trail is a 4.3-mile loop accessible year-round.