2. It has truly marvelous marine life
The marine life in Florida is extremely diverse and this, in part, is thanks to the 1,350 mile of coastline and over 30,000 lakes that are dotted throughout the state.
Fort Myers in particular is a water world. The combination of the Gulf of Mexico, freshwater streams, brackish wetlands and the steady waters between the main barrier islands allow for a range of aquamarine species to thrive here.
This, of course, includes two of the world’s most charismatic animals: manatees and dolphins. There’s nothing quite like an encounter with marine mammals in their natural habitat. The opportunity to see both bottlenose dolphins and West Indian manatees with relative ease – whether it’s paddling through mangroves on the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail or sailing out in Pine Island Sound – is a major attraction for eco-tourists, making it a dream destination for many.
When you finally make it to the beach (and there are plenty to choose from) you’ll immediately understand why the region is famous for its shells. The surrounding barrier islands are part of a large plateau in the Gulf of Mexico. A deep swell pushes shells towards this natural 'shelf' and onto the beaches in their millions, still largely intact – scattering the shore like pebbles.
Tread carefully though. Fort Myers has over 40 miles of nesting habitat for another marine favourite: sea turtles. Although nesting activity happens at night, keep your eyes to the ground for ‘bubbling sand’ during the daytime, the tell-tale sign of hatchlings that are a little late to the party.
Although the megafauna is a big draw, you’ll soon find yourself attracted to the miniature marine life too. Sand dollars, jelly-fish, sea cucumbers and sea urchin can all be seen whilst snorkelling in the shallows. Don your scuba gear and the wonders of the reef await, including octopus, pufferfish, smalltooth sawfish, rays and sharks.
3. Because of the plethora of birds
Florida is located smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic Flyway – a ‘north-south’ waterfowl migration route that stretches for over 3,000-miles, down from Greenland’s arctic tundra to the tropical seas of the Caribbean and South America.
As such, in addition to its numerous native residents – some of which include the great egret, osprey, anhinga, and the double-crested cormorant – in the winter, Fort Myers becomes home to something akin to a bird super-festival. In peak season, there are over 270 species of bird in Lee County. They’re all here because of the productive ecosystems that support these variety of birds in such large numbers.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is one of 10 notable locations along the flyway and a popular hotspot for those looking to immerse themselves. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or a friendly admirer of mother nature, there’s something for everyone.
Cycle the trails, take a tram ride or stroll along the boardwalks. Download the smartphone app ‘Discover Ding’ for more information and to help you explore the refuge. If you’re looking for some expert insider knowledge, get yourself onto a guided kayak tour and find out more about the natural riches hidden among the tangled branches.
It’s not only in the mangroves that you can find an abundance of wildlife: out in Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve are 16 colonial rookery islands, including the three largest rookeries: Broken Islands, Hemp Key and Useppa Oyster Bar.
These islands account for 13 species of wading and diving birds, and together harbour over 5,000 nests. Report all of your bird sightings on eBird and Florida Nature Trackers to add to the valuable data of these citizen science programs. For more information on where else in the state you can go to see bird life, the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail has a network of 510 prime wildlife viewing sites.