Trading Mickey Mouse for Mother Nature

- When it comes to Florida, people often think Disney.  But there is a new type of tourism featuring the "real Florida."  People from all over the world have a chance to see untouched Florida, thanks to Ecko Tours.

"The ideas behind these tours are to really get together and offer special VIP eco tours for these audiences," said David Pilston, the chief executive officer of "Save our Seabirds."

Ecko Tours is a partnership between 22 local groups in Sarasota and Manatee counties.  His Save Our Seabirds is one of those partners.

"Here you can learn all about the birds up close and personal," he continued.  "A lot of  people don't realize what a great environmental community that we have here."

The group offers five tours of the area, dedicated to showing behind the scenes experiences with local non-profits that study and protect the area's resources.

"Everything is green friendly, the activities and attractions are focused on sustainable eco-friendly living," said Eddie Kirsch with Visit Sarasota County.

Visitors will chose from trips tailored to Sarasota Bay, the Manatee River, the Myakka River or a bike tour or bird inspired trip.

Tours cost anywhere from $800 to $1,100.  The four-day trip includes local food and a place to stay.

"People usually see it on NatGeo or Discovery Channel. This is an opportunity for people to actually experience the marine science and see what is happening in our bays with real scientists working side by side," said Brad Tanner with Mote Marine Laboratory.

On the tour called "Inspired Sarasota Bay," visitors get hands-on experience with scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory.

"They can come out and help tag sharks and rays and see the different things we see when we are doing our research," said Kim Bassos-Hull, a senior biologist with Mote Marine.

They leave with an even greater appreciation for the real Florida.

"If they are involved with it, they will want to help protect it on a larger scale," added Tanner.

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