Zach McKenna
St. Augustine Eco Tours

What does your company do?

Professionally guided marine ecology tours in the estuaries surrounding St. Augustine, Florida. We utilize custom built research boats, sailing catamarans and kayaks to introduce small groups of humans to the animals and habitats of North Florida. 

 What is your background and how did you get into the business?

I am an animal lover, conservationist and waterman raised in the low country of South Carolina. I worked in the emerging ecotourism industry on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine. Upon completion of a business administration major and economics minor in 1997 I set my sights on telling the story of the hyper fertile and critically important habitats surrounding St. Augustine with the goal of conservation. 

More than just making a living as an ambassador for the animals and habitats, what would become St. Augustine Eco Tours needed to do some good. The company was designed to offer interpretive tours to clients interested in viewing wildlife while learning about complex connections to unique habitats and also respond to any type of injured marine wildlife using specialized vessels and years of professional experience. Relationships and partnerships with local, state and federal agencies allowed St. Augustine Eco Tours to offer aid and assistance to distressed birds, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and small whales. This initiative would grow to include federally permitted dolphin research of the local population, recently academically published, and several collaborations with the Coastal Environmental Science department at Flagler College. 

What sets your company apart from others?

We have done more than 500 hours of annual community service through animal rescue, scientific research and educational outreach. This is outside normal business operations. Also, a level of professionalism demonstrated by our expert staff that communicate scientific concepts in a way that is digestible by clients of all ages. Information shared on all excursions is based on the latest scientific findings and fact checked using scientific journals and publications.  

What is the biggest challenge your business faces?

Declining habitat health and overuse, unpredictable extreme weather events and challenges to consumer confidence. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

Every day is an opportunity to learn and explore. I am constantly stoked and amazed observing animal behavior and adaptation. The environmental challenges facing Florida’s waterways and inhabitants are real and overwhelming. I feel that I have the personal constitution and knowledge to confront challenges and offer pragmatic solutions. 

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Individuals should have an intense passion and expert knowledge base of product or service.  Master every element your craft, start small, and have a unique and ethical product or service. Treat staff as if you work for them and reward excellence. Set reasonable goals for growth and understand where quality and quantity reach equilibrium.