By Laura Myers
Captain Andrea Paulson, owner-operator of Reelax Charters based at Sugarloaf Marina on Sugarloaf Shores, has a fierce love for the remote backcountry of the Lower Florida Keys.
On custom charter kayak trips to Content and Mud keys in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, she has educated thousands of kayaking clients about the importance of keeping backcountry waters pristine.
Guests on her wheelchair-accessible six-passenger boat — sporting a 10-foot beam for kayaks and beach chairs –- get trash bags for picking up human-discarded refuse and litter. Paulson even picks up trash out on the water in her spare time.
A native of Rochester, New York, Paulson earned her nickname of “Ree” from a brother who was unable to pronounce “Andrea."
While working in a golf pro shop in West Palm Beach, Florida, she met husband Bobby Paulson — a Florida Keys captain and flats fishing guide — through a friend during a Keys fishing trip. After love at first sight and a long-distance commuter romance, she moved permanently to the Keys in 1993.
On her trips Paulson strives to give her clients a renewed respect for nature.
In spare time, she and Bobby and Clark, their 7-year-old yellow lab, can be found fishing, swimming and hanging out with other Keys fishing guides and their wives.
We asked Paulson, a former beach lifeguard, a few questions.
Keys Traveler: When did you first come to the Keys and why?
Andrea Paulson: In 1984 to fish and snorkel.
KT: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
AP: Being in and on the water. Also our laid-back lifestyle.
KT: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
AP: I think myself. We all should be inspired and passionate about the Keys way of life.
KT: How does that passion influence your business?
AP: My job is very important to me. I love the outdoors. Keeping a safe and clean environment means a happy place for my customers and us alike.
KT: What are some ways, personally or through work, that you connect with or help to protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
AP: It should be our duty to keep the Keys pristine — that’s why people visit our beautiful waters. I’m always trying to be mindful and respectful. Just picking up something every day will help. I also try to pass that on to my customers. I definitely have the hope that if we educate people, they will respect our environment.
KT: What keeps you energized, challenged or focused on your path?
AP: People, and the love of my job as a charter boat captain and eco-tour guide. I just love it out there so much and I want its beauty to stay the same.
KT: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
AP: Respect your environment as much as you respect your own home. Be conscious of what you’re doing. Enjoy the beauty. Take your time.
KT: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
AP: Well, since I’m a kayak tour guide, my answer for sure is kayaking in the backcountry.