Florida sea turtle
Anastasia Beach shore birds

Explore Florida’s Wildlife and Nature with these Free Experiences

Florida is “home” to a fascinating collection of birds, fish and animals. Here's how you can see them for free!

Visitors to Florida’s Historic Coast are captivated by the beaches, the broad Atlantic, fragile sand dunes, vibrant salt marshes and sun-dappled maritime forests. Beautiful to look at, these ecosystems are also “home” to a fascinating collection of birds, fish and animals. Here are some suggestions on how to see them – for free!

Sea Turtles & Crabs

Sea turtle nests marked with brightly-colored tape and wooden stakes are a common sight along our beaches. Each nest contains approximately 100 eggs and are marked to protect them from passing vehicles and curious people. If you are lucky enough to see a nest hatching or a tardy sea turtle returning to the sea, please do not disturb them! Any distraction from their instinct-driven rush to the water could prove fatal for these amazing creatures.
 
Notice holes in the soft sand – some as large as two inches in diameter? These are ghost crab burrows, and they’re called “ghosts” because their camouflage makes them nearly impossible to detect. In the pools left behind when the tide goes out, blue crabs, juvenile fish and ray-like skates can often be seen waiting for the tide to return so they can escape to the sea.

Beach Mice & Birds

The endangered Anastasia beach mouse only comes out at night to forage for food. At dawn, you might see the fragile tracings of their paws and long tails in the dunes. Also, the large “turtles” you see on the landward side of the dunes are actually gopher tortoises. Never put them in the ocean – they can’t swim!
 
Wood storks are a threatened species, but after a heavy rain they can often be seen gathered at the retention pond beside Route 312 at the western end of the bridge from Anastasia Island. Bright pink roseate spoonbills like this pond, too. Flocks of vivid green Monk’s parrots can often be seen (and heard) flying along A1A on Anastasia Island. Always in a hurry, they sound as if they are constantly arguing.

Dolphins & Manatees

Dolphins? Absolutely! They sometimes come close to the beach – just beyond the breakers where their fins and upper backs can be seen rising and falling in the waves. The Bridge of Lions, the seawall lining downtown St. Augustine and the inlet at Vilano Beach are also good spots to watch for dolphins.
 
Admission is free to Fort Matanzas National Monument on A1A at the south end of Anastasia Island. Follow the trail south along the water.  Bird life is plentiful in the trees – sometimes owls nest here. At the shoreline, wading birds silently stalk their prey and it’s not unusual to see dolphins or a manatee slowly swimming along. When operating, a free ferry takes visitors to the old Spanish fort on Rattlesnake Island – another great opportunity for wildlife viewing.