Posts Tagged ‘serendipity’


As South Florida residents happily fling open windows to cool sunny days, swirling snowflakes will remind our family and friends it’s time to visit us lucky folks. Today’s post will help you guide your guests on a budget-friendly but memorable excursion. Miami deserves its reputation as a world-class destination, but it’s not always easy to show it off to its best advantage. The photo montage is to give you a taste of a Canoe View of the Magic City.

These photos were taken during excursions skirting the mangrove preserve on the west side, near the north end, of the barrier island called Key Biscayne. You access this paddling destination at Crandon Marina. You will have to supply your own canoes or kayaks; there is no rental facility at the marina. The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, so you can paddle out whenever the mood strikes!

This location was the first saltwater canoeing Dr. Tom Kazo introduced me to, at the beginning of Wildlife Research Team in 1993. In those days, sad reminders of Hurricane Andrew’s force were everywhere, with many broken boats rudely shoved into the mangroves. We would often launch in the very early morning, but sometimes we would wait until the late afternoon and enjoy a beautiful sunset. On occasion, we could then turn the bow of our canoe to the east and watch the full moon rise over Key Biscayne. Sometimes, Tom and I would stay out until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the bioluminescent creatures lighting up the waves, chilled by the mist rising from the water.

The old, gnarled red mangrove trees have withstood the brunt of many hurricanes. These stalwart protectors of the shoreline also fringe a championship golf course for part of the way. The peninsula jutting out into Biscayne Bay, known as West Point, is all dense mangrove habitat. As this is part of the treasure designated as the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, you and your guests may be delighted by sharks, sea turtles, dolphins both fish and mammal, manatee, rays, barracuda, tarpon, snook, glass minnow, pufferfish, needlefish, crabs, jellyfish, brown pelican, cormorant, anhinga, herons, egrets, magnificent frigatebird, and osprey, among many others.

I seriously recommend you check the weather and tides before venturing forth. When the tide is high, you will be able to paddle into cozy coves hidden behind and beneath the mature mangroves, which we made use of just the other day to escape the sun. If there is a strong wind from the east, northeast, or southeast, you can then be fairly sheltered in the lee of the island. I speak from white-knuckled experience: the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay can kick up big time! A strong west or southwest wind, combined with low tide? Pick another day, especially if you are leading a tour of guests unfamiliar with South Florida’s dramatically ephemeral weather.

To get there, take the Rickenbacker Causeway across to Key Biscayne; there’s a $1.75 toll for cars, and if you are towing a trailer, that will jump significantly,  to over $10. My advice is to strap your canoe or kayak to the roof of your vehicle if possible! Your guests will certainly enjoy the view from the causeway; and as you pass through Virginia Key, don’t let them stop at the Miami Seaquarium! Point out University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science just before you drive over Bear Cut; and then you are on Key Biscayne’s Crandon Boulevard. (NOTE: Bear Cut overpass is under construction, so traffic might be heavier.)

Keep a sharp eye to your right for Crandon Marina, as it’s close to the bridge and easy to shoot by. Make that right turn into the marina, and work your way past the parking lots and boats being launched or landed to the very end of the docks, on the left, or south end. The safest place to launch canoes and kayaks is as far away from the big stinky powered vessels and their often erratically driven tow vehicles as possible! Fee to launch a boat is $15, but canoes or kayaks are just $4.00. There are 24-hour automatic pay stations that accept exact change, or a credit or debit card; their public restrooms are about what you’d expect. “Nuff said.

Once you launch, keep to the left, where the water is shallow, so you can get away from powerboats. By following the fringing mangroves, you are most likely to see wildlife, which cannot be guaranteed; but the fabulous view of Miami’s ever-growing skyline is always ready and waiting for a photo! Just make sure everyone has stowed their camera equipment while entering or exiting their vessel, as that’s when you are most likely to drop it overboard! The sailboats moored between the marina and the small  island/rookery make first-rate photo compositions. It’s a nice relaxing paddle along the curving shoreline of mangroves, exploring the nooks beneath the old mangroves and the tiny islands. You are likely to see stacks of glass minnows flashing beneath the surface, occasionally “skipping school” as they leap into the air. Eventually you will reach West Point, inhabited not by future officers of the US Army, but by seabirds, raccoons, and crabs. Straight out from there are sandbars and tidal flats where it’s possible to get out and slosh around with the wading birds, or even picnic, if conditions permit. It’s a stunning view, always. Look for the ivory gleam of Viscaya across the bay.

West Point can be a good turnaround, or you can follow the mangrove preserve until houses appear. At one time, President Richard Nixon’s waterfront home could have been seen further south, but it was razed years ago  Although it would be quite a workout, it’s possible to paddle all the way down to the south end of Key Biscayne and the well-known Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Key Biscayne offers many other great destinations: Cape Florida’s historic lighthouse, Crandon Park’s beach, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Crandon Golf Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Tennis Center; and in the developed central area are hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants. Those may be for another day, though, unless the paddlers in your party are in great shape. Don’t forget the sunblock and a personal flotation device for every person in your group.

And remember, there are no two days alike on the water. Every trip will produce its own unique set of wonders, challenges and irreplaceable memories.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

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Exercise is important for diabetics, with walking highly recommended by doctors. One of the reasons Tom wanted a canoe, back in 1993, was to help him burn off his blood sugar through exercise. His diabetes caused perpetual foot ulcers and he often had to endure being in a wheelchair. Although there are many ramps these days for folks in wheelchairs, even a one or two-inch curb can prevent their access to the place beyond.

Here was a guy who had walked the length of the Alaska pipeline with his sniffing dog trained to detect oil leaks, who found himself unable to walk across the room. But he had tremendous upper-body strength! So when I tell people that canoeing saved Tom’s life, I am not exaggerating.

Once I had overcome my fears and gotten good enough to handle a canoe on my own, Tom and I began a program we called, “You Point, We Paddle.” Each of us was not only a guide, but the engine of the canoe, as the person in the bow seat was usually unable to paddle.

As Tom had spent about two years in nursing homes, and substantial time in hospitals, he was keen to share our adventures with as many people as possible who were dealing with their existence in those places. It was not uncommon for our passengers to weep with silent joy when our canoes were gliding over the calm waters of early morning.


If you’ve ever had a challenge to your own mobility, you can appreciate the reaction of these dear people to our outings. Empathy was one of Tom’s greatest qualities, whether dealing with a human or a critter…he knew, he knew… There was one trip where he paddled several blind folks (I wasn’t on that one) into Biscayne Bay, and made them get out on a sandbar in the bay! His mom had gone blind from diabetes overnight, so he was experienced with people dealing with that disability.

I would really love to get back to our You Point, We Paddle excursions again. Our waterway and coastal cleanups are amazing in so many ways, don’t get me wrong, we have a blast while making the water safer for wildlife and people by removing marine debris.

I’ve learned that canoes possess so many ways for folks to improve their lives. On our cleanups, our volunteers challenge themselves as they work with others who care about the environment the way they do. We get a great workout, for sure.

But what if you could barely walk without help, and your world was limited to a small room, hallways, a common eating area, doctors’ offices? Smelled only those odors common to nursing homes, saw only other suffering people, or professional health care workers, or what was on the tv?

Imagine, then, how you’d feel when placed in the bow of a skillfully paddled canoe, to breathe in lungfuls of fresh salty air, cutting through satiny waters as the sun peeked over the horizon and birds wheeled overhead?

Is it any wonder, my friends, I love canoeing so much? And miss my soulmate so much? If ever there was a man who could think of simple things to change lives so completely, it was Tom Kazo.

Learn more about Tom and our Team on www.wildlife-research-team.org. Let me leave you with one thought: do you own a canoe? Do you know how to paddle it well, and do you have all the safety gear? Perhaps you could invite a less-than-robust friend out for a joyride one summer morning. Enjoy the sunrise together as if it’s the only one ever made. Tell the birds and the fish that Dr. Tom sent you.

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Kicking off a blog is no easy task. I wish we could start in the middle. You know what they say about first impressions. Well, might as well launch!

Wildlife Research Team, Inc. is a nonprofit, 501©(3) environmental education organization with a unique twist: we use canoes for all of our projects and programs. Human-paddled canoes, no motors (that’s cheating!). We are located in South Florida, where there are plenty of places for us to wet our hulls.

There are thousands of places to explore Florida from a canoe, and we look forward to paddling all of them. Sometimes we may paddle in the Everglades, sometimes Biscayne Bay, maybe down in the Keys, or up north a bit in a spring-fed crystal-clear river. We also do urban canoeing, such as in the Miami River, keeping a close eye on the freighters on that busy working waterway. That’s our “Drug Boats to Tug Boats” tour.

We’ve been around since 1993. My name is Donna Kazo, and I am one of the two co-founders. In a later post, I will tell you more about the main founder, Dr. Tom Kazo, the guy with The Dream.

The canoe is a very humble vessel, very ancient. Yet for us, it does a superb job bearing some very large dreams, magnificent goals, while teaching life-changing lessons. We really enjoy changing people’s perspectives with a simple canoe excursion. We help people find adventure in their own neighborhood. We show them how wildlife habitat still exists along the shorelines and that they can have a part in saving what’s left.

My personal view, taught by experience, is that canoeing is a metaphor for Life itself. At times you may be uncomfortable in your canoe, perhaps fighting the wind and tide, wondering where the next bathroom is located, feeling a blister emerging on your hand, hoping a jetski doesn’t run you over, aggravated with yourself that you didn’t bring enough water, or other typical annoyances.

Yet! There always will be a reward if you stick with it, and simply pay attention to your surroundings. Some of our unexpected gifts have included sneaking up on an eagle wading at the river’s edge, a huge stingray surfacing and leaping twenty feet in front of our bow, or a manatee swimming right next to our canoes, close enough to touch. This is pure serendipity. Pure reward for perseverance.

What’s even better is knowing that each time Wildlife Research Team’s “trademark” black canoes are on the water, our people will leave that area a bit better than when we found it. You see, we are very widely known for our waterway and coastal cleanups. You can stow a heck of a lot of trash in a canoe which floats on just a few inches of water. We get into places where nobody else can.

It’s just who we are: our members cannot bear the thought of leaving marine debris behind. Not only is it unsightly, but frequently it’s dangerous to wildlife. We’ve extracted miles of fishing line, rope, zillions of plastic bags… you name it, we’ve pulled it out of the habitat.

Please check out our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org to learn more. I will soon be back to share more with you, and as always,

We hope to see YOU in a black canoe!


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