Ten thousand years ago, when mastodon, woolly mammoths, and a fifteen-foot creature known as the dire wolf roamed the land, what we know as Biscayne Bay was a grassy valley about ten miles away from the Atlantic Ocean. A tribe of people known as Paleo Indians wandered here, hunting and gathering in the days before giant glaciers to the north began melting and in turn flooding the tribe to oblivion.
It's hard to imagine what the region may have looked like back then. But you may get a clue while pondering the horizon from the hull of a pontoon boat that chugs from the dock of the Deering Estate to Chicken Key and a few mangrove islands in between. Capt. Skip Taylor, the helmsman and tour guide of the Pontoon Boat Bay Tour, explains it all for you, cramming in pertinent dates and factoids about the bay and its people in just two hours.
The twice-weekly pontoon tours are part of Miami-Dade County's effort to inform the public about the fragile ecosystem that thrives in the bay and the natural history of the region. They incorporate the local human history as well, delving into tales of early South Florida surveyors and developers such as Dr. Charles Perrine, who agreed to settle the swampy mess of South Dade in 1836 by buying 36 square miles of the land around the Deering Estate and placing at least one settler on each square mile.
There's much to learn from the knowledgeable Captain Skip, but he's not one to overindulge on the facts. At times he is known to turn off the engine and drift quietly, letting those on board drink up the tropical atmosphere or enjoy the rush of watching a tern dive-bomb into the water for a quick meal.
On the tour you'll also hear about the "microbial stew," a life-sustaining chemical reaction that occurs in the dank muck of the mangroves as dead matter and bird droppings contribute to the nutrients of the bay, keeping the fragile ecosystem intact. After the two-hour adventure, you may never look at the bay in the same way.