• Heather

Kayaking from Turtle Beach

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Exploring the Jim Neville Marine Preserve

Sarasota County has 11 area waterways with many paddling trails (blueways) to explore. These blueways showcase a diverse blend of natural areas as you paddle along bays, bayous, lagoons, and creeks and provide paddlers with an immersion into the Gulf coast area’s habitats and wildlife.


One of the waterways I thoroughly enjoy exploring is the Jim Neville Marine Preserve which is easily accessible from the Turtle Beach kayak launch site. The Neville Marine Preserve is a 35-acre preserve which is located between Siesta Key and Casey Key in Little Sarasota Bay. Turtle Beach is a public beach located at the southern end of Siesta Key. This beach is appropriately named because there are a large number of sea turtles that nest along the half mile of shoreline. Turtle Beach has a boat launch with two ramps on the lagoon side and a separate kayak/canoe/stand up paddle board launch site also on the lagoon side. During the pandemic shut down/quarantine, the kayak launch site was closed. However the boat launch remained opened and the county paid a person to sit in his car and prohibit paddlers from launching from the boat ramp. Makes no sense to me! After the quarantine order ended, two kayak rental companies are stationed at the boat ramp and launch from there. There is another kayak launch site, Vamo Drive Park, that has access to the Neville Marine Preserve. Unfortunately, paddlers must traverse the heavily trafficked motorized boat channel to reach the preserve. I prefer the Turtle Beach launch site because you never have to cross open water or a major boat channel.

Turtle Beach has a campground and it has a separate entrance from the beach and the boat and kayak launches. As you travel south on Midnight Pass Road (about 2.5 miles from Stickney Point Road), you will see the sign for the campground on your right. The entrance for the beach and launches is immediately after the campground. The Turtle Beach entrance is across the street from the Bayfront Yacht Works & Marina, a helpful landmark to watch for. As you turn onto Turtle Beach Road, you will see a pale yellow building on the left which houses the restrooms and next is the kayak launch site. The kayak launch ramp has a rubberized asphalt surface so it has a little softness and give for resting your equipment on the ground before entering the water. There is a rinse station and a covered picnic pavilion at the kayak launch site. A little further down, on the other side of the picnic pavilion, there is an outdoor shower.

For details on locations, see photo.

Restrooms: Yellow X

Kayak Launch Site: Pink X

Outdoor Shower: Green X

Boat Ramp: Purple X

The boat and kayak launch sites at Turtle Beach enter Blind Pass, a narrow waterway lined on both sides with waterfront homes and condos. This waterway is known to be home to manatees; therefore, it is a No Wake Zone through the Pass. At the end of Blind Pass where Midnight Pass Road terminates at the condominium complex known as The Pointe on Siesta Key, you enter Little Sarasota Bay and the Jim Neville Marine Preserve. To the left (north bound), you enter a large, shallow, protected bay. There is a narrow deep water boat channel along the peninsula and the rest of the area is very shallow so there is no boat traffic yielding water as smooth as glass.

The Neville Marine Preserve is a series of mangrove islands named the Bird Keys. I often see a wide variety of birds such as great egrets, little blue and great blue herons, brown pelicans, cormorants, and osprey. There is an osprey nesting platform with a huge nest located at The Point condominiums where I regularly see osprey.

As you paddle south by turning right at the end of Blind Pass, you will meander through a maze of mangroves that offer a fun and interesting paddle. There are tunnels leading to hidden oasis and quiet, private places to explore.

Eventually you will come to a small sand beach on the right. This is the boat/kayak only access to Palmer Point Park and Midnight Pass Beach which is a secluded, tranquil, and incredibly lovely beach. This little strip of sand is only large enough to beach 4 boats. I like landing my kayak on the mini-beach and walking over the sand dune. It feels adventurous and a bit special since you are one of the few that are “in the know”. When you crest the sand dune, you are greeted with a breathtaking sight. On days when the Gulf is calm, the water is various shades of turquoise and crystal clear. I really enjoy the break from paddling and casually strolling on this beautiful beach. Many boaters bring chairs and coolers and hang out on the beach. This is the kind of place where you can easily relax and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

In addition to exploring the secluded, secret beach, the other reason why this is one of my favorite blueways is the wildlife encounters. As I mentioned previously, this is a good area for bird watching. There’s not a high concentration of birds but there is a large variety and there are always birds in the mangroves. On one occasion, I saw dozens of small cownose rays. They must have been young rays since their wingspan was only about a foot. I’ve had a spectacular chance encounter with cownose rays on Lido Beach and the rays were much larger with a 2 – 3 ft wingspan. (Click here for My Top 12 Reasons Why I Love Lido Beach including the wildlife sightings.) The rays were present in the shallow waters along the edge of the mangroves. Unfortunately the water is dark making it difficult to see but the rays were in shallow water and it was very sunny that day.

On another kayaking trip to the Neville Marine Preserve, my husband and I had an amazing encounter with manatees. While in Blind Pass, I saw a round ripple in the water. I excitedly pointed it out to my husband and we stopped paddling. Within moments, we were surrounded by manatees. Every minute or two a manatee would surface. They blow out air sometimes sounding like a whale spout, sometimes a cough, and one time it sounded like a fart. Hehehe. It was surreal and I loved every second of this amazing experience! One manatee actually surfaced right under our kayak. This sea cow was huge. It gently bumped us and languidly moved on. I was too caught up in the moment to snap any pics of that. I just stared in wonderment and grinned from ear to ear. The major highlight was seeing a momma manatee with her baby riding her back. The baby was tiny...only about 2-3 feet. A few minutes later we saw her lift the baby up to the surface with her nose. It was simply awesome to witness this. After about 10 minutes we continued paddling to the Preserve. We saw a gorgeous osprey perched on the park sign. A little while later we saw 4 dorsal fins skimming the surface. As we got closer it appeared that the dolphins were mating. Frisky! One dolphin swam right under our kayak and the other followed. The wake of their wave actually rocked our kayak. Another serendipitous moment! Before moving to Sarasota, I never imagined how often we would see wildlife. It is a huge bonus of living in or visiting southwest Florida.

Turtle Beach does not offer any concessions; however, there are two restaurants and a marina with boat rentals located across the street (Midnight Pass Road).

For details on all the kayak launch sites, parks, and paddling trails in Sarasota County, check out the Sarasota Blueways Paddling Guide

Explore the Neville Marine Preserve and launch from Turtle Beach for a peaceful, splendid, and easy paddle through the mangroves, an important natural resource to all of Florida. Be sure to discover the hidden beach at Palmer Point Park. I’m sending you positive vibes for a spectacular wildlife encounter. You never know what you’ll see in Blind Pass and the Neville Marine Preserve.

ADDRESS: 8919 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, FL 34242

HOURS: 6 am to Midnight

AMENITIES AT TURTLE BEACH:

Public Beach

Free Parking

Restrooms

Outdoor Showers

Pedestrian Walkways

Handicap Accessible

Kayak Launch

Kayak Rinse Station

Kayak Rentals at the boat launch site

Boat Launch (2 ramps)

Picnic Areas

Covered Picnic Shelters

with charcoal grills

Children Playground (off beach)

Volleyball Court (off beach)

Campground

41 campsites

No fires or pets

No Lifeguards