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If you spend a lot of time on Cape Cod, you know that once you get past the bridge traffic, a world of warm sands, grassy dunes, and vast seascapes awaits. But beyond those iconic beaches, there are so many other ways to enjoy—and celebrate—the natural side of Cape Cod.
The wealth of marine and aquatic life on Cape Cod might surprise even the most seasoned resident or visitor. As an adventurous youngster, I spent my summers exploring the Cape’s varied waters, from kettle pond to ocean. As an adult, I rediscovered that spectacular underwater world after spending years working in Micronesia and other far-flung locations around the planet. Upon my return to the Cape, I was reminded that some of the most exotic, weird, and beautiful scenery and wildlife can be found just off our front doorstep.
While not everybody is ready to don scuba gear and dive to the deepest (and coldest) depths off the Cape, there are still plenty of ways to experience the natural wonders of beautiful Cape Cod. Here are a few suggestions to get you on your way.
Kettle Ponds: When massive glaciers traveled north 15,000 years ago, they left behind countless depressions, or kettle holes, which later became the Cape’s ponds and lakes. Most people associate Cape Cod with the sea, but these freshwater gems are the ideal place to watch the mini-ecosystems that flourish throughout the region. Walk the trail surrounding Small’s Swamp in Truro or take a dive into Scargo Lake in Dennis.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary: Featuring a salt marsh and five miles of scenic trails, the sanctuary is ideal for a day of outdoor exploration. Guided tours of the Cape Cod National Seashore allow for seal spotting, and a tour of the wild oyster reef restoration site is a great conservation lesson. Best of all? The tour ends with an oyster tasting. You can’t get more local than that.
Salt Marsh Kayak Tour: The “Naturalist’s Dream” excursions offered by Great Marsh Kayak Tours are designed for paddlers of all levels. The three-hour adventure explores Barnstable Harbor’s barrier beaches and native birds up-close, and history buffs will appreciate the tour guide’s accompanying narrative about Cape Cod’s earliest settlers.
Provincetown Whale Watch: The Cape’s nutrient-rich summer waters attract a variety of whale species that come to raise and feed their young, including Northern Right, Fin, Minke, and Humpback whales, as well as dolphins and seals. Provincetown Whale Watch guarantees sightings. Food and drink are available aboard the boat, and kids under five cruise for free, so even little squirts will have a whale of a time.
Sea Sports Snorkeling Tour: Snorkeling tours offered by Sea Sports Inc. gives participants a chance to explore Cape Cod’s near-shore waters, providing a front row seat to observe unique underwater species. Snorkelers of all skill levels are welcome, and the included wet suit rentals will keep swimmers toasty in the chilly Atlantic waters.
Ethan Daniels is the author of Under Cape Cod Waters (Union Park Press 2010), a book that explores the Cape’s near-shore waters through vivid underwater photography and essays on the conservation capturing a world unknown to most. Trained as a marine biologist, Daniels is an award-winning photojournalist who leads diving trips around the world, shooting underwater locations as exotic as Belize, Palau, and Micronesia. Daniels is also the author of the newly released Coral Triangles Seascapes (Asian Geographic, 2012). To see more of his spectacular photography, visit Daniels’ website.
Union Park Press is an independent publisher specializing in books about the arts, history, and culture of Boston and New England. Under Cape Cod Waters is available online (on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and in bookstores across Cape Cod and Massachusetts.