Crystal Coast Ecotours offers full, half-day and two hour personalized tours of secluded barrier islands, sea grass meadows, backwater sounds, marshes, near-ocean waters, and the Cape Lookout National Seashore. On our full and half day ecotours participants can explore the hidden natural treasures of the Crystal Coast through shelling, clamming, exploring, birding, crabbing, snorkeling, seining (pulling nets to catch young fish), dolphin watching, fishing, and wild horse watching. You will definitely get your feet wet! We aim to provide exciting experiences for individuals and families that will create lasting memories of nature's beauty. Capt. Jess's experience as an educator and his love of nature also fuel his desire to share the unique beauty of the area and the wonders of its marine inhabitants.
Our ecology tours are uniquely planned by consultation in advance with participants (up to six guests) and last 4 hours (half-day) or 6 hours (full day). The tours are paced so that excursions will be relaxing and experiences can be relished. The 6 hour tour can also involve a climb to the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Throughout the ecotour Captain Jess explains interesting aspects about the events of the day. His education and 30 year career as a marine biologist have enabled him to learn much about coastal North Carolina. For those who just want to see the natural beauty and historical landscape by boat we also offer 2 hour tours. Captain Jess can also accompany school groups on their educational field trips at the Crystal Coast to offer insights to the ecological wonders of the area. As you are planning your trip to the Southern Outer Banks do not miss out on the opportunity to see the beautiful natural resources that make this area one of the most unique and best kept secrets along the coastal United States. Reserve your adventure with Crystal Coast Ecotours and let us provide for you an experience you will never forget.
Enjoy seeing the beautiful Crystal Coast and its wonderful historical locations from the water. Crystal Coast Ecotours can take you through calm waters of the Rachael Carson Reserve which offers scenic views of salt marshes, birds, ponies, maritime forests and sometimes, even dolphins. Along the way you will see the unique waterfront of Beaufort, North Carolina's third oldest town and one that has retained many of its beautiful buildings. You can also schedule tours that will take you to see Fort Macon, which was built to protect Beaufort Inlet and is one of North Carolina's most visited state parks, or a tour of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Capt. Jess will offer his knowledge of the history and culture of the area, as well as talking about its natural beauty. Time your boat tour to experience a beautiful Crystal Coast sunset.
North Carolina's 2.3 million acres of brackish waters and productive fish nursery areas offer prime habitat for bottlenose dolphins to live and raise their young. The waters around Morehead, Beaufort, Harkers Island, and Cape Lookout provide fantastic places to watch dolphins. The exhilaration and awe of seeing such beautiful wildlife surface nearby, glide along-side our boat or even sometimes jump completely out of the water during a Crystal Coast Ecotours dolphin watch is hard to match. When seas are calm, customers can even hear them come up, expel water, and breathe. During the summer these intelligent animals will take their young into backwater nursery areas, where food is abundant and predators scarce. During the fall and early winter dolphins will move out of our estuaries into the near-shore ocean waters, hunting the millions of fish migrating from North Carolina's shallow sounds. Customers are sometimes fortunate to see huge pods of these animals congregating to feed.
Dolphins can be seen in North Carolina's waters almost year-round. Some researchers feel North Carolina has a specific estuarine/nearshore population of bottlenose dolphins, in addition to multiple other populations. Crystal Coast Ecotours will take observers to areas where dolphins are usually common. Sometimes customers are even able to get clear pictures of them swimming and playing. Our vessels can quickly maneuver and are fast enough to get a good view of these special creatures and still make sure they remain unharmed. When observing the dolphins Capt. Jess will explain interesting aspects of their life history and his experience with their conservation. Seeing dolphins near your boat on a Crystal Coast Ecotour is truly an unforgettable moment.
Coastal North Carolina is renowned for bird watching. Over 400 species have been identified in the area. Our habitat diversity and location near the midpoint of the United States Atlantic coast allow us to see birds both associated with warm and cold climates. The almost tropical waters of the Gulf Stream just off our coast also provide opportunities to observe birds one might not see otherwise. Birds of all sizes, shapes and colors can be seen along the extensive barrier islands, maritime forests, marshes, sounds, and near-ocean waters of the Southern Outer Banks. Major migratory routes for numerous water birds lie just off our coast, with some birds venturing near inlets. In the fall, land birds are known to migrate southward along North Carolina's barrier islands. During winter frequent flocks of waterfowl are commonly observed along our waterways. Many waterbirds, such as brown pelicans, terns, oyster catchers, skimmers, and gulls nest during spring/summer in the habitats of the Crystal Coast.
Crystal Coast Ecotours is equipped to take you to secluded observation areas and can easily navigate the shallow estuaries to provide ample birding opportunities. Let us help you experience some of the best bird watching in the eastern United States.
Come to the Crystal Coast and experience some of the best fishing along the Atlantic seaboard. North Carolina has the largest complex of estuaries (brackish waters) of any state of the United States. Our state also has an extensive shoreline and numerous barrier islands, all of which provide prime habitat for a great diversity of inshore fishes. From bluefish to black drum, or speckled trout to Spanish mackerel, the Crystal Coast offers opportunities to catch a wonderful variety of fish. Crystal Coast Ecotours has all of the necessary equipment for a fun, light-tackle near shore family fishing experience.
Capt. Jess has fished recreationally in the waters of coastal North Carolina for over 50 years. Also, he studied fish his entire career as a marine biologist and has taught fishing classes to people of all ages. He loves sharing his passion for fishing with others and specializes in having fun with individuals or families while fishing the nearshore waters and sounds. So, don’t worry about any lack of experience! Crystal Coast Ecotours fishes from the Lucky Dog, a 20 ft., V- hulled, center console boat and the 25 ft V-hulled CheLeiMar, both of which offer plenty of space and stability. Capt. Jess has an ample supply of rods, reels and baits. Capt. Jess can also provide individualized surf fishing adventures for those desiring to learn more about catching fish from the shores of barrier islands. He provides all the equipment/bait
and can teach you fishing techniques from the surf. Let us help you hook your own "catch of the day" on a fun fishing excursion with Crystal Coast Ecotours.
WILD HORSE WATCHING
Come to one of the few places in the United States where wild horses roam free on secluded barrier islands. These horses are one of only three known populations in the world containing genetic evidence of ancestors from horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. The wild horses of Shackleford Island are unique icons of the Crystal Coast and are only accessible to see by boat. They have successfully adapted to life in the harsh environment of a barrier island where food and water are sparse, and yet they produce new foals each year. These horses are such a treasured natural and cultural resource that they are protected by their own act of Congress. To see one or several of these magnificent animals in a pristine setting is truly a memorable vision. Crystal Coast Ecotours will cruise the 10 miles of beaches along Shackleford Banks searching for the 100 plus horses that live there.
In the areas the horses frequent Crystal Coast Ecotours can anchor the boat and we can set out in search of the horses by foot. From a safe distance (these are wild horses!) one can photograph and see the Banks horses roaming freely along maritime forests or tidal flats. Crystal Coast Ecotours will gladly provide you with the opportunities to see these impressive animals that are a true jewel to the Crystal Coast.
Transform a simple walk on a secluded beach into an exciting journey discovering a kaleidoscope of nature's beauty. The shores and beaches of the Crystal Coast are some of the most desirable areas for shelling along the Atlantic coast. Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout, Sand Dollar Island, and Bird Shoal Island offer many miles of prime shelling that are only accessible by boat. These pristine beaches have a great diversity and abundance of shells for collectors. Cockles, clams, scallops, coquinas, whelks, olives and baby ears are but a few of the over 1,000 kinds of mollusks (animals living within a shell) that live in North Carolina. We can also search shoals and sand bars for sand dollars (keyhole urchins).
Crystal Coast Ecotours can easily provide access to many of the best shelling beaches and sand dollar grounds. Along the journey your personal marine biologist, Capt. Jess, can help identify shells and tell about the creatures that once lived within those shells. He will provide interesting information about the role these mollusks and urchins play in the environment. The pace is relaxing and the beauty unmatched. While shelling down the beach Capt. Jess carries a large bucket to pick up plastic debris and other trash. Customers are encouraged to help out, leaving the barrier island better than when the ecotour began! A simple walk down the beach will never be the same after a shelling expedition with Crystal Coast Ecotours.
Come experience what fishermen and locals have enjoyed in Carteret County for generations - the thrill of searching and catching your very own clams for dinner! Carteret County is renowned for its tasty clams. Crystal Coast Ecotours will take you to areas that are only accessible by boat where the waters are clean, the area is filled with natural beauty and clams can be harvested. We will provide all of the gear necessary to catch these delicious bivalves. Captain Jess provides instruction on how to "dig & feel" the clams with your clam rake and then retrieve them from the ground. You will have the opportunity to experience the exhilaration of harvesting your own clams for the first time. Throughout the adventure, Capt. Jess will draw from his 30 years experience as a marine biologist and explain the biology and ecology of what you find while exploring. He might even share some of his favorite recipes as you consider how you will prepare your clams for dinner! This is one of many ways to have a wonderful time on a Crystal Coast Ecotour.
SURF/SHORE FISHING INSTRUCTION
North Carolina is one of the premier surf/shore fishing sites in the United States, with over 300 miles of
barrier islands and the second largest estuary in our country. Fishing is a very popular recreational
activity for people, whether they visit or live coastal North Carolina. The Crystal Coast has miles of
beautiful beaches and estuarine shorelines for people to try to catch fish.
Crystal Coast Ecotours offers personal lessons on how to fish from the shore to enhance people’s
experience at the coast. Capt. Jess has over 50 years of fishing experience in North Carolina and fishing
is his passion. He taught surf fishing lessons for the North Carolina Aquarium for almost 10 years and
studied the conservation of fish for over 30 years. Capt. Jess will teach people the basics of rod and reel
fishing from the shore. He will cover basics such as optimal baits, effective gear, and prime fishing
locations. Crystal Coast Ecotours will provide bait and tackle for participants for participants can bring
their own gear. Call for availability and rates. Participants need to have a North Carolina fishing license.
Contact Crystal Coast Ecotours and let us show you an enjoyable way to experience the beauty of our
area. Remember, a wise person once said “Work is for people who do not know how to fish.”
The blue crab is North Carolina's most important commercially harvested species. More people ply the waters of Pamlico Sound and its tributaries to commercially catch this crusty crustacean than any other aquatic animal in North Carolina. The biology of blue crabs is like a fairy tale, with their "fingernail painted" red-tipped clawed females (sooks) carrying batches of fertilized eggs to spawning areas near inlets, and the larger blue-tipped clawed males (jimmys) preferring fresher waters to scavenge and mate. Amazingly, the blue crab will literally burst out of a confining shell when its mass has outgrown its skeleton. This renewed creature is soft for several hours, until enough minerals have been absorbed from the surrounding waters, when it miraculously becomes hard again.
Crystal Coast Ecotours has their own crab pots allowing participants to experience the thrill of harvesting crabs the way the local watermen do. We also have crab lines that can be fished from our boat or the shore, providing the opportunity to catch your very own crab with a dip net. Additionally, we can pull nets (seines) through grass beds or tidal creeks which will capture juvenile blue crabs and other creatures. Throughout the crabbing adventure Capt. Jess will explain the biology of the blue crab, describe the vital role they have in our estuaries, and tell how important they are to North Carolina coastal communities. Come encounter one of North Carolina's most important estuarine resources, the blue crab.
SEARCHING FOR SAND DOLLARS
Sand dollars are one of nature’s most unusual examples of sea life. Formally known as keyhole urchins,
these animals prefer to live around sandy shoals, feeding on microorganisms and algae. They move
slowly just under the sea floor bottom using numerous small spines. Sand dollars are brown when alive,
but when they die, the animal leaves a fragile, bleached white skeleton. When the skeleton in broken,
chambers can sometimes found that contain bird-like structures which people refer to as “doves” or
“angels”. Christians sometimes use sand dollars as symbols of their beliefs calling it the “Holy Ghost
Crystal Coast Ecotours can take customers to areas at low tide to search for these amazing creatures. All live animals encounters are released and reburied. Customers can retain reasonable numbers of the beautiful sand dollar remnant if they desire. Come with Crystal Coast Ecotours to experience the joy of finding this special sea creature.
SEINING AND CAST NETTING
Most people do not know that the shallow brackish creeks and bays of North Carolina serve as a nursery area for 90% of the fish and shellfish species harvested commercially in the state. Most of the fish that are important to our commercial and recreational fisheries spawn in the ocean and their young make these areas their temporary homes. High salinity submerged grass beds also offer vital nurseries for numerous species of fish and shellfish. At any point in time during the summer one can catch literally hundreds of young fish with one swipe of a seine net. Crystal Coast Ecotours can provide the opportunity for people to experience these spectacular kindergartens of the sea. We can easily take participants to areas containing grass beds or shallow creeks. Feel the excitement of sampling the water the way marine biologists have done for years using a seine net. Touch with wonder the hundreds of young fish, crabs, and shrimp that live in those very waters. Listen as Capt. Jess interprets the experience, describing the fascinating organisms observed, their habitats, and their social and ecological importance. Also available are several sizes of cast nets for those who would like to try their hand at catching fish in this unique way.
ECOLOGY FIELD TRIPS FOR SCHOOL GROUPS
The Crystal Coast provides the setting for wonderful field trip experiences focusing on nature, but also learning about the unique cultural history of the area. Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Rachael Carson Reserve, two unique and beautiful protected sites, can be easily accessed by local ferries. These protected areas offer students the chance to see wild horses on islands, explore tidal flats, experience barrier island ecology, and observe marine and estuarine organisms. The area offers many “hands-on” experiences with nature, often with students who have never been to the coast and seen the ocean. Captain Jess can enhance your field trip experience by pulling seines, throwing cast nets, using dip nets, pulling clam rakes, and utilizing benthic samplers, all the while explaining the things the students are seeing.
Capt. Jess Hawkins, a professional marine biologist for over 30 years, will accompany your field trip and offer educational interpretation as opportunities arise. Trips can be tailored to focus on specific educational experiences. In his prior career Capt. Jess addressed many coastal conservation issues that faced North Carolina. He also worked as an educator at the NC Aquarium for almost 10 years and has taught Marine Fisheries Ecology at Duke University Marine Lab. He currently teaches at the marine lab for North Carolina State University.
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"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson