All Aboard the Discovery Pontoon Boat

Explore the Indian River Lagoon aboard Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute pontoon boat

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Pelican sighting during an eco-tour. Photo by MaryAnn Ketcham
Pelican sighting during an eco-tour. Photo by MaryAnn Ketcham

Home to a biologically diverse ecosystem of approximately 4,000 plant and animal species, the Indian River Lagoon spans 156 miles, encompassing 40 percent of Florida’s east coast and spreading across two climate zones. To help folks experience everything it has to offer and learn a little something along the way, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute offers 90-minute narrated tours from its Fort Pierce campus every Friday and Saturday. 

“It’s a unique opportunity to visit an oceanographic institution and go out on this floating laboratory to learn directly from marine scientists, see what tools they use to study the ocean and the lagoon, and get a look at the wildlife from a totally different perspective,” says Gabby Barbarite McHenry, director of outreach and engagement at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The tours first launched in January 2020 but were short-lived because of COVID. They resumed last June and now operate year-round.

Captain David Heuberger. Photo by MaryAnn Ketcham
Captain David Heuberger. Photo by MaryAnn Ketcham

Led by a Coast Guard–certified boat captain and narrated by an FAU graduate, the tours take place on the custom-built Discovery pontoon boat equipped with a remotely operated underwater drone that provides a fish-eye view of what’s happening below the surface of the water. Seat-back screens display educational content relevant to what the guide is discussing, ranging in topics from water quality to seagrass beds to various habitats and wildlife. Binoculars are available so passengers can get a better view of wildlife encountered on the journey, including birds, manatees, dolphins, and stingrays. 

The cost of the tour is $40 per person, and up to 30 guests are allowed per trip. Private charters are also available. For more info or to book a tour, visit fau.edu/hboi/bookatour or call the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center at 772-242-2293. 

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