You might be asking, what is ecotourism?
“Ecotourism is travel… directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.” By Oxford Languages
Last week we had an extraordinary day exploring Mobile Bay with Ben Raines on his Lower Delta Tour. We were fortunate to pair up with two lovely and adventurous sisters from Washington D.C. who were staying with us at Jubilee Suites as part of their year-long tour of the United States. To say we had a good time doesn’t begin to describe it! For over 7 hours, we traveled in Ben’s small boat* covering about 40 miles of rivers, streams, and tiny shallow waterways in the Delta north of Mobile Bay. We saw so many awe-inspiring things and had such a good time with each other, we all seemed to know that THIS was one of those transformative experiences that stays fresh in your memory forever.
Ben Raines- yes, THAT Ben Raines, the reporter, author, filmmaker and famous founder of the last slave ship Clotilda– was our uber-knowledgeable boat captain and guide to the mysteries of America’s Amazon, the Mobile Bay Delta. In addition to his non-stop stories about the history, biology, geography, and anthropology of Mobile Bay, we peppered him with so many questions over the 7 hour trip, most of which he knew the answers to, we almost ran out of them!
I could write pages about the unique creatures, plants, birds, bugs, fish and trees we saw. But it wasn’t just seeing them that was astonishing; Ben had stories about each one of them. For example, within 60 seconds of leaving the dock at Meaher State Park, we saw our first of dozens of alligators. One thing we all wondered about was how aggressive they are. After all, we were in a small boat and we’d all heard they could jump up to about 5 feet and into our boat on a whim. Apparently, they are as aggressive as they want to be… but they don’t often want to be. Every alligator we saw was spooked by us humans.
Ben’s boat* is small but mighty, built for hard use, and it never failed us. Imagine a good pair of hiking boots, muddy and broken in, but you wouldn’t trade them for anything when you’re on the trail. We learned that there was nothing that could have happened that Ben hadn’t anticipated and brought supplies for, especially when we got stuck trying to cross a sandbar in only about 6 inches of water. Nothing phased him. With 2 motors, a big stick for pushing and all of us rocking the boat on cue, we laughed our way out of the low water and just went another direction.
With over 77k miles of streams in Alabama, there’s always another direction.
In case you’d like to know, here is a list of just some of what we saw:
- Eagles, lots of them, including a 5 month baby sitting on a limb outside the nest. Do you see it in the photo?
- Ospreys and their nests, always in dead trees and the same ones year after year.
- Ospreys and eagles chasing each other!
- A pair of adorable eastern prothonotary warblers that we called in by using YouTube bird calls- a good trick you can even use at home. We eventually had to stop calling them because the male was convinced another male was about to sweep into his female’s perimeter. And we did not want to upset the ecosystem!
- Dozens of white pelicans flying high above in two mysterious formations that ebbed and flowed like twin amoebas in the clear blue sky.
- Tree frogs- Ben showed us that you can stroke their belly and they will stop trying to escape.
- Alligators- big ones, small ones, even baby ones; too many to count.
- Blackberries- wild and sweet.
- Lilies- as far as the eye could see, white and fragrant.
- Irises- we were fortunate to see the last of this year’s bloom. See Ben’s article at AL.com about the lilies and irises to learn more!
- Honey trees- hollow trees with bees flying in and out of hives in the tree.
- Tupelo and Cypress trees- They look quite similar until you examine the leaves.
And in each case, we learned something fascinating about the species, something you would never know unless you took the Lower Delta trip with Ben Raines.
Raines’ love for what he does is contagious. He’s on a mission to educate the world about the Mobile Bay Delta he’s named America’s Amazon because so many of the species can be found in both places. He’s researched it, reported on it, written a book about it, created a documentary about it, and takes small groups out in it so they too can appreciate the enormous diversity of species right here in the Mobile Bay area. Raines’ book, “Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System” can be found in every one of our suites here at Jubilee Suites and our guests are finding it fascinating.
The point is, we’re losing species faster in AL than we should be because public awareness and government funding is sorely lacking. The water we all enjoy recreationally is what holds the entire ecosystem together. And it’s increasingly vulnerable as population growth, new industry, and new subdivisions continue to shrink the available land and to pour pollutants into the water. This affects not only the biodiversity of our delta but our quality of life now and for future generations.
See Ben’s website for more information about Mobile Bay, efforts to save it, and specifics about his Delta tours. You can also contact him there to schedule your own tour. As he says, they’re perfect for kids of all ages! But book soon. He fills up fairly quickly each week. And while you’re on his website, don’t miss the trailer for his documentary, America’s Amazon.
At Jubilee Suites, we are committed to providing our guests with ecotourism opportunities like this one to explore the wonderful natural world we live in. By raising awareness, we hope to help educate our guests and ourselves and help change course before it’s too late. We’ve renovated our property, which overlooks Mobile Bay, both inside and out to provide Mobile Bay experiences daily for every one of our guests. But if you’d like to do even more while you’re here, see our website’s Things To Do page for more examples of ecotourism in our area. We highly recommend the AL Coastal Birdfest, held this year October 6–9, 2021.
We’d love to be your home base while you explore the adventures found here and nowhere else on the planet. To book the perfect suite in our boutique B&B, see our website Suites page for pictures, virtual tours and all the booking details. We suggest a west-facing suite so you can drink in the magnificent view of Mobile Bay and the evening sunsets from your balcony or patio. Be sure to consider booking a guided kayak tour of Mobile Bay right from our beach. It’s a 90 minute easy-paddle taste of all the Bay has to offer and perfect for everyone, regardless of age or ability.
Come see us! We can’t wait to meet you!
*If you want to know about Ben Raines’ boat and motors and such, you’ll have to ask him. I do know that he had one big motor for going fast and getting us out of stuck places and a silent electric trolling motor for cruising the tiny shallow creeks without disturbing their inhabitants.