Cole Kolasa is kayaking for conservation. The nineteen year old environmental engineering student, who attends University of Central Florida (UCF) has been in the water most of his life. Cole’s long-term goal is to study the nearshore reefs and living shorelines to determine how they how improve coastal resilience and increase fish and wildlife habitat.
He has participated in coral research for the past six years and he has been a science diver with SCUBAnauts International since age 12. He’s spent his summer breaks volunteering with organizations such as MOTE marine in the Florida Key, and visiting Washington D.C. to discuss ocean issues with politicians and scientists.
This summer, Cole wanted to do something different, and organized a fundraiser called “Kayaking for Conservation - Gulf of Mexico” with the purpose of raising funds and awareness for Hernando County’s artificial reef program and coastal restoration projects.
Cole obtained four sponsors who donated various supplies to make his trip a success: Travel Country Outfitters of Altamonte Springs, Sun Bum Sunscreen, Wagan Tech Solar Products and Chuck Morton of Coastline Realty in Hernando Beach. Responding to his GoFundMe campaign, over $3000.00 was donated to purchase the materials for the artificial reefs.
Cole’s father is Hernando County’s Aquatics Manager, Keith Kolasa. When Cole presented the long-distance paddle plan to his dad, and Jill, his mom, their first response was a resounding “no way!” After some discussion and working out safety details, the elder Kolasas gave their blessing for Cole’s trip.
Keith explained, “...We agreed to the trip as long as he had the following key items: a SPOT Tracker (Provides location-based communication), two EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), VHF marine radio (To summon Emergency Services or Coast Guard in case of emergency), cell phone, whistle, flare kits and signal smoke, strobe lights, and life jackets.”
Still, with all this equipment on board, Keith said, “The main concern for us was if a boat ran over him in a busy channel … then none of that safety equipment matters.”
Cole added “Lots of people don’t care, or don’t pay attention,” and recalled some close-calls on the water with larger boats that apparently did not see him. While still in the panhandle, Cole entered the open water of the Gulf of Mexico, and faced increasingly rough waters. He described the first days of five to six foot seas as “not fun,” then afterward found mostly calmer waters along the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, that provided smoother paddling. Cole averaged 20 to 30 miles per day. The longest day he described was 45 miles, “Paddling from 7:00 in the morning until 11:30 at night.”
Cole spent his time off the water camping at various state parks and visiting marine research stations. According to his blog, he was able to meet with staff from the Nature Coast Biological Research Station, Crystal River Marine Science Station, Florida Institute of Oceanography and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
He indicated the coast of Hernando County, and said, “When I got way down here, it was every day, storms.” One of Cole’s longest stretches of active paddling was from New Port Richey to St. Petersburg in one day, “Just trying to outrun the storms.”
Keith added, “When he entered the Everglades we also provided him with a rental Satellite phone since there is no cell service in the 10,000 Islands and across Florida Bay.” This decision ultimately became life-saving when Cole encountered Tropical Storm Cindy while off the coast of the Everglades.
Cole was eighty miles short of his goal, Long Key State Park, when his kayak became partially submerged due to the high surf caused by the storm. Most of his electronic safety devices became submerged and non-functional, and the kayak journey ended there.
Keith described how his son actually did get to complete his journey to Key West, “He caught a ride with the president of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and worked a week helping out for the program’s annual scuba diving challenge. He assisted the wounded veterans and their families. Mostly helped out by taking their children snorkeling and on field trips as well, assisting some of the wounded veterans with their offshore diving.”
Cole was presented with a Certificate of Achievement at the July 25th Board of County Commissioner’s meeting, and said that more expeditions are possible in the future.
Details of Cole’s last paddling expedition are posted on both his Facebook page and blog site listed below.
Cole’s Kayak Tour Facebook page:
Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/paddling/saltwater.htm
Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge: