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Local kayak tour company rebounding with the help of locals, the beauty of wild Florida

Shell Key Preserve, Pinellas County.
Posted at 1:39 PM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 18:28:25-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — For two months, ECOmersion Kayak Tours, like the rest of the world, stood still.

As lockdown orders lifted, the tour company operating out of Shell Key Preserve and Weedon Island Preserve is getting back out on the water.

"It was frustrating, I would say," said Zack Hamm, co-owner of ECOmersion. "Luckily, we've had locals you know step up and kind of started going out and booking tours, which has eased the burden on us. Now, Sarasota area, Tampa, up north, we've even had people from Orlando. Without them, we would be in trouble. We wouldn't be able to pay our employees people that are social media people content creators."

Hamm said 95% of their business relied on tourists from around the country and Europe. With most planes all but grounded, Hamm didn't know what they were going to do.

Then at the end of April, the company started seeing an increase in booking requests from locals.

"They realized how important it actually is to go out when you are not allowed to have it," Hamm said. "So, being stuck at home all day makes people say 'wow nature really is amazing for the health and mental state of people,' being outside is just extremely important."

We launched with ECOmersion for a 2-hour tour through Shell Key Preserve. We paddled through huge mangrove caves, watched birds hunt for fish and saw stingrays dart away from the shadow of our kayak through the shallow crystal clear blue waters.

"There is wildlife out there," Noah Shaffer said.

Shaffer co-owns the company with Hamm. The duo grew up together as kids playing soccer. Now, they are sharing their joy of nature with the community they love.

"It's important to preserve it and see it first hand all of that plays into more people locally to Tampa getting out and exploring their backyard," Shaffer said.

The company has a total of five employees but is looking to expand. To rebound out of the coronavirus crisis, they are setting their sights on locals to get them back to normal.

Hamm said sharing amazing videos of dolphins hunting on social media is driving people to their kayaks, and he is excited about what the future holds.

"Right now, during the next few months, at least until a vaccine locals are definitely the most important thing for us so we can stay alive and keep doing what we love," Hamm said. "Just connect with nature which is kind of the motto of our business and just see dolphins, wildlife, manatees, different kind of birds, and of course the most important tree, we say in Florida, the mangrove tree."