Giving Back

environmental citizen science projects to help Sarasota Bay

Our ocean needs some love!

As a strong local voice for environmental awareness, we know our small business can affect big change in the hearts and habits of our visitors and the surrounding community! Happy Paddler is an active participant in environmental stewardship and citizen science programs throughout Sarasota Bay. These projects give people the opportunity join in ocean pollution research, wildlife monitoring, as well as litter removal & tracking.

Not only does this help keep our coastal waters beautiful, but it’s also really FUN!

We are members of the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism and avid proponents of the Leave No Trace ethic, wherein no environmental footprint is left on the paddling trails that we enjoy so much. Check out some of our projects below and please contact us if you’d like to jump in and get your feet wet and your hands dirty!

Our Projects

Sarasota Bay citizen science & environmental stewardship

Florida Microplastics Awareness Project

Happy Paddler is the data gathering hub for the Florida Microplastics Awareness Project in Manatee County. Our work involves collecting water samples, filtering them, and counting the number of microplastics found in each liter of seawater. This citizen-scientist-driven effort not only provides baseline information about the prevalence of microplastics in our local waterways but also draws awareness to our need to tackle the global crisis of plastic waste in our oceans.

Plastics are all around us in our daily lives, so it’s no surprise that much of this plastic ends up in our waterways. Microplastics – plastic particles smaller than five millimeters in size – pose a significant environmental risk when they enter our waterways. Pollutants including pesticides and manufacturing chemicals, like BPAs and flame retardants, can adhere to microplastic particles and bioaccumulate in aquatic life. Microplastics have been shown to affect feeding behavior and predator avoidance. Moreover, they can interact with other pollutants to modify cell function in fish. They’re also able to move from the digestive tract of organisms into the bloodstream. Microplastics have several sources – they’re laundered from nylon clothing, they wash down the drain with many cosmetics and toothpastes, and they weather from debris like bottles and bags.

In support of a cleaner paradise, Happy Paddler is committed to providing a plastic-free and zero-waste service. We humbly request that you bring your own reusable water bottles with you on your adventure!

Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch

In collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Happy Paddler serves as a data center for the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch in the Manatee County area. With our team of happy paddler volunteers, our Horseshoe Crab surveys help provide baseline information about the population dynamics of these amazing creatures along Longboat Pass beach, Robinson Preserve, and Emerson Point Preserve.

Horseshoe crabs are one of the most fascinating critters out there! They have been in existence for hundreds of millions of years, much longer than any other species on Earth and are therefore considered living fossils. They have survived multiple mass extinction events and have changed little in the last 400 million years. They seem to have it all figured out!

Besides being wonderfully cool creatures, horseshoe crabs are important for several reasons. If you’ve ever received a vaccine or had a surgery, horseshoe crabs have helped you! The FDA requires that all injectable medicines, devices used for injection, and internal prosthetics undergo testing with an extract only found in horseshoe crab blood (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate). Many birds and marine species eat horseshoe crab eggs and they also serve as bait for conch and eel fisheries. Because horseshoe crabs must survive to at least 10 years old before they can mate, they are vulnerable to over-harvesting before they have the chance to reproduce.

Horseshoe crabs mate along beaches, especially during full and new moons of the spring (Mar-Apr) and fall (Sept-Oct) months. During these periods, volunteers help count and tag horseshoe crabs before releasing them back to the wild. Reports of tagged horseshoe crabs help track crab movements, reappearances on beaches, and population numbers. Our goal is to help provide a foundation of knowledge for proper management to ensure the ecological functions of the horseshoe crab are sustained.

Adopt-a-Shore Beach Cleanups

In 2015, Happy Paddler adopted the stretch of shoreline along Anna Maria’s Bayfront Park, adjacent to the historical City Pier. We lead quarterly coastal cleanups each year in partnership with Keep Manatee Beautiful. There are always huge smiles of satisfaction among our team of volunteers at these cleanup events… maybe it’s the free kayak rentals, the post-cleanup cookout, or just a love for making a positive impact on our beautiful coastline! It all makes this job well worth the effort! Be sure to sign up for one of our upcoming cleanups:

Check back for our 2021 Great American Cleanup!

Paddle Clean Initiative

In 2017, Happy Paddler was awarded the ‘Bay Partners Grant’ from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program for the development of our Paddle Clean Initiative, a program which encourages rental patrons to collect litter during their excursion. With the help of countless happy paddlers, we continue to improve the ecological integrity of the beautiful Longboat Pass area.

Common debris observed in our project area include aluminum cans, plastic bottles, food wrappers, and fishing line. Much of the debris can become entanglement or ingestion hazards to wildlife that frequent the area (manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and birds, etc.) so collecting litter before it can impact these animals is critical. We strongly advocate the Leave No Trace philosophy of only leaving your sandy footprints behind, because by maintaining clean coastal areas, the entire ecosystem functions more effectively (humans included!). We also encourage our paddlers to join the Take 3 for the Sea campaign, where you can make a big difference by just taking 3 pieces of litter with you when you leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere.

Want to get involved?

We are huge fans of harnessing the power of people to generate positive change in the environments we work and play in! Our citizen science programs make it easy for non-scientists (and scientists!) to get involved in important stewardship projects that benefit environments in our local community – and ultimately our planet as a whole. Please contact us if you’d like to jump on board!