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About Us

Explore with Local Biologists

Rising Tide Explorers is the only company in Naples & Marco Island that offers guided excursions led by 100% active local biologists and science professionals! We are dedicated to our mission of sharing our passion and knowledge for SWFLs local ecology with you and your family. Come see the world through the eyes of a Florida biologist!

Our Story

Our Story

Rising Tide Explorers was founded in 2016 by a group of local biologists and graduate students looking to share their knowledge and passion for the unique ecological landscape of Naples & Marco Island, FL with others.  After studying the local ecotourism industry, it was discovered that there are no certification, education, training, or experience requirements needed to conduct ecotours in the entire state of Florida!  This left eager travelers with no way of knowing if the guide they were following into the wilderness had any training, safety certifications, or real knowledge of this unique and complex ecosystem.  Having dedicated our lives to exploring the outdoors and studying the ecology of the area, the future guides of RTE decided to leverage their unique backgrounds,  connection to the local science community, and passion for science to raise the bar of the ecotourism industry in Southwest Florida!

With our diverse background of research experience, we now offer fun, educational and family friendly kayak tours & boat tours unlike any other.  As the first and only biologist owned-and-operated ecotour company in the region, and the exclusive ecotour partner of the Friends of Rookery Bay, we take pride in sharing our knowledge of this wild place through the most unique and dynamic adventures in Naples & Marco Island.

Supporting Local Science

While having fun in the outdoors with you and your family, we are also working to support the local science community.  When you explore with RTE, a portion of the proceeds from your tour or rental goes to support the research, education, stewardship, and conservation efforts of the 110,000-acre Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve through our partnership with the Friends of Rookery Bay.  At the same time, your tour ticket is helping to provide additional income opportunities for local science professionals and graduate students who have chosen to spend their lives working to protect, preserve, and better understand out local ecosystems.

We are endlessly grateful for all the love and support we’ve received over the years from our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and all of our fellow explorers who come back year after year to join us for memorable adventures in the estuary.  Exploring together, making memories, and sharing our passion with you and your family is incredibly rewarding for us, and we welcome you to the RTE family.  Looking forward to exploring with you, and we’ll see you on the water!!

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Proud Partner of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve & the Friends of Rookery Bay

As the only true biologist owned and 100% local biologist guided eco-tour company in Southwest Florida, RTE is honored to represent the Rookery Bay Research Reserve as their exclusive ecotour provider. As partners of the 501c3 citizen support organization the Friends of Rookery Bay, our programming helps to raise funds to support the research, education, stewardship, and conservation efforts of the Rookery Bay Research National Estuarine Research Reserve. A portion of the proceeds from your kayak tour, boat tour, kayak rental, and more are given back the the Friends of Rookery Bay to help protect this wild and incredibly unique natural area here in Southwest Florida. Help protect and preserve the place that makes Naples & Marco Island so special by supporting Rookery Bay Reserve and SWFL’s ONLY biologist guides! Book your Tour or Rental today!

Meet the Guides

Meet our biologist guides, captains, and the RTE crew!  Our team is customer service oriented, highly trained, and certified in safety to provide safe, enjoyable, and memorable adventures.  All of our guides and captains are hand selected through the local science community, and we require a minimum of a Master’s degree or relevant research experience in the ecological sciences to qualify as a lead guide.  Would you call your college buddy with a psychology degree he’s never used a psychologist…?  That’s what we thought.  While some may claim to be biologists, our crew is the real deal and we’re willing to prove it!

Read our team’s profiles below to learn more about the most fun and qualified guide staff in Naples & Marco Island!  See who might be leading your next adventure and read about their research experience, area of expertise, and a little about what they do here as part of the SWFL science community.  While sharing a deep knowledge of their wild backyard and living laboratory, you’ll find their passion for all things ecology extremely contagious.  Our fun guides have some decent jokes, but you’ll find it’s a crutch they don’t need to provide you with the most awesome experience in SWFL!  Get out and learn with the most experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate guides of all time with the RTE team!

Capt. Ryan Young

Founder & Lead Explorer

MS Environmental Science –  FGCU

Research Focus: Wetland Ecology, Restoration Ecology, Water Quality

As an eagle scout, world traveler, biologist, and kayaking expert our guide Ryan knows what it means to be an explorer. After a long career as a student, Florida biologist, and local guide, Ryan founded Rising Tide Explorers to help connect people to the most qualified guides in the region and provide them with the most unique adventures in Southwest Florida. Ryan has a master’s degree in Environmental Science from FGCU specializing in Florida Wetlands, is a level 2 Kayaking Instructor with the American Canoe Association, and can answer any question you throw at him! His specialties include wetland ecology, water quality, species identification, biological indicators, restoration ecology, and more!

Capt. Jeannine Young

RTE Education & Outreach - Boat Captain

MA Environmental Studies –  FGCU 

Research Focus:  Environmental Education & Community Science

Born and raised in Southwest Florida, Jeannine (J9) has a passion for learning and teaching others. J9 has traveled over the country and the world seeking out new foods, new cultures, new environments, and anything that she can bring back and share with others. Her skill for making even long division seem exciting led her to work for Rookery Bay Research Reserve as an Education Specialist, developing and hosting new programs to connect kids with all the awesome ecological secrets that our area holds. Her specialties include species identification, adaptations & competition, estuarine ecology, and environmental interpretation.

Capt. Winston Purkey

Biologist Guide & Captain

BS Biology & Wildlife Ecology – FGCU

Research Focus: Herpetology, Fisheries, Estuarine Ecology, Fire Ecology

A true Florida boy, Captain Winston grew up in Central Florida fishing, swimming, and kayaking along the east and west coasts of the sunshine state. His obsession with the outdoors led him to pursue a career in the sciences working on rattlesnake and indigo snake research, conducting Gopher Tortoise population studies within Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, working as a Florida Wildland Firefighter, and travelling all the way to South Africa where he monitored great white shark and pajama shark populations. His passion for this incredible place is contagious and Winston often goes above and beyond to help advance our research and protection of this area.  Always trying to find new paths through the mangroves and easily distracted by white ibis or a passing bull shark, Winston gets PUMPED about everything he sees on the water and loves sharing it with our paddlers.  This RTE legend has been declared ‘honorary grandson’ by many of our explorers!

Capt. Sarah Norris

Biologist Captain & Captain

Environmental Specialist – City of Naples

Research Background: Sea Turtle Biology & Nesting Patterns, Land Management, Exotic Species Management, Water Quality

Sarah was born and raised in Florida and know she wanted to pursue a career involving the great outdoors from a very young age. After graduating from FGCU in 2013 she pursued her interest in sea turtles and worked in Ghana conducting conservation research before assuming the role of Sea Turtle Program Coordinator at Rookery Bay Reserve. Sarah went on to help with prescribed fire and water quality management at RBNERR and currently works at the city doing environmental permitting and water quality. Sarah enjoys teaching others about Southwest Florida’s unique ecosystems. Her excitement about our local wildlife is contagious and you can’t help but share in it while cruising through the bays with Sarah!

Matt Metcalf

Biologist Guide & Paddle Instructor (ACA)

MS Environmental Science – FGCU

Research Focus: Herpetology, Spatial Ecology, Exotic Herpetology, Seagrass Ecology

Hailing from Alabama, ‘Snake Man’ Matt’s interest in reptile conservation and exotic species brought him to Southwest Florida. Here, he completed his Master’s Degree in Environmental Science at FGCU studying Eastern Indigo Snakes in the Rookery Bay Reserve! Since 2015, Matt has worked with Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake populations throughout the state and is assisting state and federal biologists with upcoming conservation management plans for the species. Matt also makes an annual research trip to Iquitos, Peru, where he leads reptile and amphibian research deep in the Amazon River Basin for months at a time. His vast experiences working with marine invertebrates and seagrasses in the Florida Keys and Panhandle, invasive Burmese pythons and endangered Bonneted bats in the Everglades, and threatened populations of Indigo Snakes and Diamondback Rattlesnakes in Southwest Florida, gives Matt a well-rounded background in all things Florida. His specialties include herpetology (reptiles & amphibians), seagrass communities, spatial ecology, and much more!

Evan Sherer

Biologist Guide & Paddle Instructor (ACA)

MS Estuarine Ecology – College of Charleston

Research Focus: Oyster Reef Ecology, Ocean Acidification, Shellfish Biology

Evan brings a “boat-load” of knowledge (pun intended) to the RTE Team. Hailing from Maryland, Evan has a natural affinity for blue crabs which he will be sure to tell you about. Evan first came to Florida to study marine biology at University of Miami where he helped conduct fish-tagging studies in the Keys and coral reef assessments in Biscayne Bay.  Evan then moved to Charleston, South Carolina to get his Master’s in Environmental Science. When not working on his research into how oysters were effected by changes in water chemistry, he worked as a biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. All-in-all, Evan spent a good deal of time traipsing around in marsh mud (“pluff mud” to Charlestonians). After graduate school Evan moved to New Jersey to work with NOAA in studying how marshes help protect communities by buffering wave energy from storms. Evan developed a program to measure shoreline erosion and identify areas in need of restoration. After going up and down the East Coast doing different kinds of research, Evan is finally back in Florida where he is known to dive underwater to pull up strange critters to show all his kayakers on his tours! Come along on a tour with Evan for a fun time and you will be sure learn something new!

Helen Midney

Biologist Guide

MS Environmental Science – FGCU

Research Focus: Water Quality, Aquatic Restoration, Science Communication & Interpretation

Helen is a SWFL native and recently completed her Master’s Degree at FGCU!  Her research included a study of Lake Trafford where restoration projects are working to remove exotic vegetation and introduce native vegetation to improve water quality and habitat.  When she’s not on the water, Helen works in the Immokalee Community Garden growing crops and helping to share her knowledge of horticulture with others!  With a passion for all things ecology, she loves getting out on the water for a fun time with all of our eager explorers.

Capt. Claire Charde

Biologist Guide & Captain

BS Environmental Science

Research Focus: Sea Turtle Biology, Avian Biology

Capt. Claire has worked in the Southwest Florida as a science professional for years conducting seas turtle research at the Rookery Bay Research Reserve and avian research in Estero Bay!  She is now working with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute conducting stone crab fishery monitoring and research along with coordinating the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program for the state.  Claire just lights up when we encounter wildlife and when our explorers ask great questions about this incredible place!  Her passion for wild SWFL gets her excited to share her knowledge with all our explorers, so join Claire for an adventure in the estuary!

Capt. Morgan Zeleny

Captain & Rookery Bay Education Specialist

BS Biology

Research Focus: Environmental Education, Sea Turtle Biology, Land Management

Leaving Ohio in 2018 to pursue her lifelong passion for the water and outdoors, Morgan found Rookery Bay Research Reserve as a perfect fit! Working as an Education Specialist, she has been able to share her passion for the estuary and connect young minds to this special place. Morgan is also part of the reserves’ Burn Team and assists with sea turtle monitoring throughout our Florida summers. Working as a Captain with Rising Tide Explorers has allowed
Morgan to connect all people with SWFL’s unique coastal environment. Adventure, learning, and FUN are all things you’ll walk away with once you join Morgan on the water!

Capt. Monica McKenzie

Biologist Guide & Captain

BS Environmental Science – FGCU

Research Focus: Environmental Ecology, Mangrove Ecology, Avian Biology

Monica (she/her) is a SWFL native with a bachelors in Environmental Studies from Florida Gulf Coast University. For her senior research, she studied how the Snowy plovers nesting productivity was impacted by hurricane Ian on Ft. Myers beaches. During the summer months, Monica has worked with Audubon Florida and FWC monitoring and protecting the state threatened shorebird and seabird species, like black skimmers, least terns, Wilson’s plovers and snowy plovers, during their nesting season.  In her free time, Monica enjoys hiking, birding and spending time with her dogs and cats.

Capt. Rachael Schinbeckler

Biologist Guide & Captain

MS Environmental Science – FGCU (in progress)

Research Focus: Ichthyology, Cetology, Water Quality

Rachael has kept herself near the water ever since she moved down to Florida over 8 years ago from Indiana.  She knew she wanted be a marine biologist ever since Nemo hit the silver screens, and has since lived up to that dream! Through receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Biology from Florida International University, she has studied juvenile bull sharks, various freshwater fish in Everglades National Park, and even bottlenose dolphins.  Now she is working for her Master’s studying harmful algal blooms throughout South Florida.  As an avid scuba diver and nature fanatic, Rachael loves leaving the lab for a day on the kayaks searching for all the unique wildlife in the estuary, and will make your time on the water extraordinary!

Renee Marino

RTE Kayak Sweep

Florida Master Naturalist

Focus: Florida Coastal Ecosystems

Hailing from Massachusetts, Renee embodies the spirit of RTE through and through!  While ensuring all our paddlers are comfortable, confident, and safe, Renee uses her Master Naturalist training to point out wildlife and share amazing things about our area!  She was brought up with a Native American background and continues her connection to the community, adding to her deep appreciation for the natural world.  Renee also holds titles as a championship powerlifter, championship cycler, and the first female high school football player in the USA!  She is a blast to explore with and you can ensure you’ll feel comfortable and confident in the company of our all-star sweep Renee!

Ray "Raymundo" Boniface

RTE Kayak Sweep

BS Fisheries & Wildlife

Focus: Ichthyology, Water Quality, Trophic System Management

Coming to you from the great Midwest, Ray is a true born and raised Ohioan that has adventured all over the US of A! Having worked in the northern Appalachian Trail to studying wilderness medicine in the Rocky Mountains, Ray is one of the most diversely  knowledgeable members of the RTE family. He has also worked all the way from Isle Royal National Park to Key Largo in the Florida Keys conducting trophic level system research in brackish waters. Ray is awesome to explore and talk with on our kayak tours and will always leave you feeling more educated and appreciative of the amazing Rookery Bay! You can also sometimes catch him at our boat ramps with his trusty chocolate lab co-pilot Sydney.

Heidi Clark

RTE Kayak Sweep

It’s easy to see that Heidi loves everything to do with Southwest Florida and the great outdoors. Her motto is “If it is in, on or around the water, let’s do it”. After joining our RTE crew for a guided tour as a guest, Heidi saw that we shared in her passion for all of the above and decided to join to team! Heidi always ensures that our explorers of comfortable, confident, and having a great time on all of our adventures. She takes pride in making sure all her ‘Ducklings’ have an amazing and memorable experience kayaking the backwaters of Southwest Florida. Heidi has some seriously sharp critter spotting skills and is notorious for finding TONS of awesome creatures in the estuary for us to look at and learn about. Heidi also shares stories about the indigenous people that thrived in SWFL, and how this abundant environment shaped their culture.

Sydney Payne

Biologist Guide

BS Biology – FGCU

Research Focus: Sea turtle biology, Marine Invertebrates

Sydney’s life long dream has always been to become a marine biologist. She became a Florida local 3 years ago to pursue this dream with a B.S. in Biology at FGCU, focusing on marine biology research. Her first research experience in this field was with Collier County Pollution Control where she worked on testing water quality throughout Naples,
FL. In addition she worked to collect samples for the Red Tide Monitoring project. After that opportunity Sydney entered the sea turtle world, and has been sucked in ever since. She has worked with many nesting projects  (Cayo Costa State Park and Keewaydin Island), but her favorite project thus far has been her senior research where she travelled to Anloga, Ghana, in West Africa, to track the migrations of Leatherback sea
turtles. She presented this work at an international conference in Cartegena, Colombia. In addition to sea turtles, Sydney has worked with nesting shorebirds, horseshoe crabs,
and our state shell the Florida Horse conch. Since receiving her undergrad degree Sydney has decided to stay in academia with the end goal of being a research professor.

Capt. Cole Tillman

Biologist Guide & Captain

MS Environmental Science – FGCU

Research Focus: Marine Benthic Ecology, Disturbance Ecology, Hydrography

A true Floridian, Cole’s essence is infused with sunshine and saltwater. Growing up in the picturesque Florida Panhandle, where water competence was a way of life, he discovered his passion for marine sciences. Pursuing this calling, Cole earned his B.S. in Marine Science from Florida Gulf Coast University. During his academic journey, Cole delved into research on Red Tide blooms and Ciguatera Fish Poisoning. His data collection expeditions spanned the waters offshore of Fort Myers, Deerfield Beach, and the Florida Keys. Post-graduation, Cole embarked on a unique chapter, working as a SCUBA Instructor and underwater archaeological surveyor. His mission? Mapping the sea floor in search of submerged shell mounds from indigenous tribes  and “paleo-channels,” or ancient rivers dating back 5,000 years! For his M.S., Cole’s focus was on studying the Southwest Florida continental shelf. His research explored the impacts of human-induced and natural disturbances, ranging from trawling and hurricanes to red tides and agricultural runoff. Venture onto the water with Cole and brace yourself for an unforgettable experience. You’ll emerge not only with more questions than answers but also with an insatiable curiosity for the wonders of the natural world!

Derek Salge

Biologist Guide

BS Wildlife Biology

Growing up in Indiana, Derek spent the first half of his life making yearly pilgrimages to Marco Island to see his grandparents.  Studying wildlife biology in Montana, Derek soon went on to work various internships and field jobs.  Derek went to Tanzania to conduct avian point counts and large mammal transect surveys.  From there he helped with Mexican wolf recovery in Arizona and New Mexico, then on to Georgia to assist with graduate research on bobwhite quail, timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes.  After working for a municipal parks and recreation department outside Denver Derek realized he was tired of the cold and, remembering his time down in Marco, packed his things and flew south to volunteer with Rookery Bay’s fisheries research and shark tagging.  It wasn’t long before Derek connected with Rising Tide and the rest is history.  Whatever you may encounter on the water, Derek’s infectious enthusiasm for the natural world will ensure a truly wild experience!

Celina Ceballos

Biologist Guide

MS Environmental Science (in progress)

Research Focus: Herpetology, Algal Toxins, Sea Turtle Conservation, Proteomics 

Born in the state that is about the size of Collier County (Delaware), Celina the “turtle girl” crawled out of her shell to pursue her dreams in marine science, moving to Florida in 2017. She received a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Pete where she studied mangrove restoration, freshwater turtle population ecology, and gopher tortoise spatial and foraging ecology. While she considers herself broadly an ecologist, her true passion is turtles, having worked with diamondback terrapins, Florida cooters, Florida softshells, musk turtles, gopher tortoises, box turtles, and four types of sea turtles – she hasn’t found a turtle that she doesn’t love! With a minor in journalism and experience as an interpreter, she is also driven to bridge the gap between science and the public through effective communication and inspiration. Celina developed her science curiosity working with terrapins for many summers at the Wetlands Institute at the Jersey Shore and more recently studying sea turtle nesting and rehabilitation at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Currently, through her Master’s at FGCU, she is studying how red tide toxins impact sea turtle and manatee health through proteomics, a novel approach for studying proteins that make living things who they are. She is excited to spend her free time out on the water with you to explore one of her favorite ecosystems, and while it is rare to find a turtle out there, Celina will still make your experience turtley terrific!

Susannah Cogburn

Biologist Guide

MS Environmental Science – FGCU (in progress)

Research Focus: Ecotoxicology, Ichthyology, Ocean Acidification, Harmful Algae Blooms, Water Quality 

Susannah is passionate about ocean conservation both underwater and above water. Her experience as a scientific diver and SCUBA instructor has allowed her to explore underwater ecosystems and raise awareness in the surrounding community. Born in Pensacola, Florida by crystal clear beaches, and spending her early childhood in Louisiana right on the Ouachita River before settling in Central Florida, she is familiar with all types of “SWAMP.” She knew at an early age she wanted to pursue a career in Marine Science and is currently working towards her graduate degree from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Environmental Science. As an undergraduate student, Susannah began volunteering at Rookery Bay and has continued volunteering there for the past five years. This volunteer experience has led her to her graduate research, which broadly seeks to understand organic contaminant concentrations and their effects on osmoregulation in Bull Sharks. When she’s not kayaking through the mangroves, you can find Susannah exploring Florida’s State Parks, finding mermaid loot, or striking up a conversation about sharks!

Rory Cushen

Biologist Guide

BA Environmental Education – FGCU

Focus: Environmental Interpretation, Ecosystem Services

Born in Southern Maryland, Rory has long had an affinity for nature. He was lucky to grow up exploring the undisturbed Maryland woods with a killer view of the Potomac River, especially when the fall leaves fell. After unwillingly moving to Florida at the age of 12, Rory attended FGCU to earn a degree in Environmental Education. While at college, Rory worked as a naturalist, doing peer-to-peer education for over three years, also interning at CREW Trust, educating the public about Southwest Florida’s freshwater resources and ecosystems. Most recently, Rory worked as a local high school marine science teacher, educating about water chemistry, aquatic flora and fauna, and local and global issues. He is super excited to be out on the water, getting in amongst the ecosystems and ideas he taught in the classroom and talking to people who want to hear him speak. When he isn’t paddling in the bay, you can find Rory hiking, reading a book about trees (he’s a treehugger!), or daydreaming about climbing mountains.