office of national marine sanctuary whale tail logo, celebrating 50 year

Enjoy Spectacular:

What Does Adventure Mean to You?

By Rachel Plunkett

July 2022

When you think of your next great adventure, what sort of things come to mind? Generally, “to adventure” means engaging in an unusual and exciting activity or experience, but the things you find to be unusual and exciting might be completely different from someone else. That’s the beauty of adventure—it’s all about that feeling you get leading up to and anticipating the event, and the other feeling you get when you finally get to do that thing you’ve been looking forward to for so long. Your national marine sanctuaries are filled with opportunities for adventure, no matter how you define it. Which adventure will you choose?

a person holding a fishing pole while standing on a boat with the orange sunrise in the distance
Image: Will Benson
two hands gently holding a fish with its mouth wide open underwater, about to release the fish safely
Image: Bonefish Tarpon Trust

Getting out of bed before sunrise is usually a struggle, but you’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks, and have no problem springing out of bed at 5 a.m. to get a move on. It’s dark and everyone else in the house you rented in the Florida Keys is still asleep, so you try to be quiet while getting your things together. You put on your favorite fishing shirt, grab your tackle box, sunscreen, and the snacks you packed the night before, and tiptoe outside. There’s no need for shoes where you’re going.

There’s a fresh morning dew on the helm and boat seats, and the mosquitos are already buzzing. The air is hot and still, but hopefully the bugs won’t be so bad once the boat is underway. As you start the motor, your fishing buddy shows up, gets onboard, and hands you a cup of coffee. She checks that the rods are all secure and unties the dock lines. As you head into the cut, the water is flat as a pancake and glassy, and it’s so quiet that the only sounds you hear are the crackling and popping sounds of crabs and other critters in the mangroves lining the channel, and an occasional fish slapping the water when it jumps out to avoid being eaten by a tarpon or small shark.

It’s early in the season and you got a very early start, so there are no other boats in sight. As you move through the cut and head towards the flats, you see the faint orange light of the sun just kissing the horizon as sunrise approaches. By the time you reach the first channel marker, the sky is bright orange. You can see that the waterline is high on the marker pole—it’s high tide now, so you’re right on time—this is going to be a good day of backcountry fishing in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

a child gazes off in the distance at a whale in the water
Image: Matt McIntosh/NOAA
a large black and white whale breaches the surface of the water
Photo: Laura Lilly/NOAA

After learning all about the baleen and toothed whales in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary online, you’re excited to get out there and see your first whale. Your parents are just as excited as you—it’s really nice to see them relax and enjoy a vacation. After boarding the whale watching boat, you try to find the best spot to sit so you can get a good view of the water and also hear the on-board naturalist explain where you are going and which animals you may encounter.

As the day grows longer, you’re getting tired from the sun and a little queasy, but there must be a whale coming soon. You came all the way from Oklahoma for this after all! Just as you start daydreaming while staring off to the horizon, a humpback breaches right in front of you, jumping clear out of the water and landing with a massive splash. “How can an animal be that big?” you think to yourself. Your family walks over to the port side of the boat to get a closer look and you get your camera ready, hoping to capture some of the action. The whale is at the surface again, this time it looks like it is almost floating on its back with both pectoral fins up in the air—then splash—it slaps one of its fins on the water. You hear the naturalist explain that this “flippering” behavior may be a way of cooling off, or perhaps a form of whale communication. How cool! You got a great photo of the whale and plan to enter into the Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest. You can’t wait to share this story with your friends at school!

a person diving in a kelp forest and holding a large camera with strobe lights while photographing an anemone
Image: Jon Anderson/Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest entry
a small sea slug with bright orange protrusions all over its body and two bright orange to red rhinophores
Image: Rachel Plunkett

It’s a chilly morning, about 46 degrees fahrenheit, and you’re already thinking about how great the hot chocolate in your thermos is going to taste when the dive is over. You can’t wait to get your thermal layers and drysuit on so you can stay warm and get in the water. You double- check your dive gear and get your camera ready to explore nearshore kelp forests in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. As you seal your camera’s housing, you get a flash of excitement thinking about the last time you dove here and got that unforgettable photo of a Limacia cockerelli nudibranch with those brilliant orange colors. This time, you’re using your wide-angle lens, and are hoping to capture how the sunlight dances through the kelp forest.

After a final buddy check and dive site overview, your friend hands you the dive flag and you head over to the beach to get in. Who knows what will happen—you might just have a relaxing dive through towering sunlit kelp stands with colorful sea stars, or you might encounter a herd of playful sea lions. It’s time to find out!

two people take a selfie from a tandem kayak on the water
Image: Kim Hernandez/Maryland Department of Natural Resources
an aerial view of several sunken wooden ships as a paddler maneuvers around them
Image: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

You have a three-day weekend and are ready to get out of the city for a bit, and decide to head to Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary for a camping/kayaking trip with some old college buddies. After logging out of your last meeting on Friday, you rush to grab your hiking pack, fill up your canteen, and call to confirm the campsite and kayak reservations. It’s been a while since you’ve seen your college friends, at least two years since you’ve been camping, and it’s your first time kayaking.

After catching up with friends and recounting all of your old inside jokes, you set up camp at Smallwood State Park and spend the evening roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. In the morning, the group heads over to paddle around the Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet. There’s a light mist over the water, but as the sun gets higher in the sky, the mist disappears and it’s a beautiful day. As you get closer to one of the wooden ships, a bald eagle swoops down in front of your kayak and catches a fish with its impressive talons.

a child holds a small intervebrate in their hand while an adult and another child observe cheerfully
Image: Matt McIntosh/NOAA
purple sea urchins in a rocky tidepool
Image: Elizabeth Weinberg/NOAA

You walk down to your local recreation center to meet up with a few neighbors and play shuffleboard. As you pass the pool house in your retirement community, you see a beautiful seashell in the window. Suddenly, it’s as though you can hear the swooshing sound of the ocean and smell the sea air, and it reminds you of the time your mother took you to the beach to explore tidepools when you were a young girl. You feel a rush of excitement, and this feeling sticks with you all day. After closing out the final shuffleboard match, you head home and decide to start making some plans. In two weeks, you’re heading out to Washington to see the tidepools at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary!

After walking down a sandy beach path onto the rocky coast, you feel the chill of the Pacific Ocean through your water shoes. You look around and see so many colorful critters hiding in between the rocks, and blanketing the pockets in the tidepools where the water sits at low tide. There’s sea stars, sea urchins, limpets, and even a few small crabs. While staring out at the unforgettable rocky seascape, you hear a squeal of excitement and high-pitched laugh. You turn around and see a young child also exploring the tidepools, and it reminds you of when you were younger and first came here.

Adventure Awaits

Being adventurous is all about embracing the unknown, in whichever form that is for you. So pack the car or book your transportation tickets, get your kids pumped up (or not), call your friends to start making plans, or keep it to yourself and enjoy a little solitude. No matter how you define a good adventure, there’s something for you in a national marine sanctuary.

Responsible Wildlife Viewing

If you plan to visit waters within the National Marine Sanctuary System in the future, familiarize yourself with responsible recreation activities available at that location and check out our wildlife viewing guidelines before you head out.