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Southern Coastlines Calling

Some people live near the South’s beautiful coastal regions their entire lives and never experience the rich biodiversity that thrives in marshlands, maritime forests and remote barrier islands. Fortunately, there are many experienced boat captains in these areas who offer guided excursions along secluded waterways, where groups can encounter unique ecosystems and wildlife such as manatees, alligators, wild ponies and sea turtles.

For travelers who enjoy more immersive and firsthand experiences on the water, here are five boat tour companies in the South that replace the typical with the extraordinary.

Double R’s Fishing and Tours Company

Naples, Florida

Based in Naples, Florida, Double R’s Fishing and Tours Company takes groups into the heart of Everglades National Park, a 1.5 million-acre wetland that extends across coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods. Hundreds of animal species inhabit this vibrant ecosystem, including rare and endangered species such as the leatherback sea turtle, the West Indian manatee and the Florida panther.

Gary Eichler purchased the boat tour company in 2006, choosing the name Double R’s Fishing and Tours in honor of his son Garry, who was nicknamed Double R and passed away at age 17.

“Since we run the tours in memory of my son, the most important thing to me is that the kids going out have a great time,” said Eichler.

The company’s most popular offering is a three-hour Eco-Shelling Tour to uncultivated islands and mangroves throughout the Everglades, providing passengers a glimpse of wildlife like dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and alligators. The boat later stops by Whitehorse Key for a 30-minute shelling excursion along the beach. Mollusks, starfish, sand dollars  and conch shells are just a few of the ocean treasures that guests may find.

“My favorite type of trip is when we have grandparents and kids — sometimes three generations,” said Eichler. “They go out and have an absolutely fantastic time and often become repeat customers every year.”