Although Florida is home to the large cities of Orlando and Miami, it’s also full of charming, small coastal towns. But you may be surprised to learn Florida’s tiniest city has a population so small that every citizen could fit inside an average company’s board room.
Read on to learn all about the smallest town in Florida and its history as the first oceanarium used to film marine life.
The Smallest Town in Florida: Marineland
Marineland is located on the northeast coast of Florida, about 18 miles south of St. Augustine. According to the town’s website, Marineland has a population of under 20 people, making it the smallest town in Florida. A relatively new city, Marineland wasn’t incorporated until 1940.
More well-known than the tiny town of Marineland, is the marine park that shares its name, Marineland Dolphin Adventures. The park offers interactive experiences with dolphins and tortoises and has exhibits with marine animals such as bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, red-footed tortoises, and sharks.
Although some think the town and the park are one and the same, Marineland is a town of its own right, with a governing body, mayor, and city council that meets weekly. Marineland is also home to research and conservation of marine life, and it’s located within the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Where is Marineland on the Map?
The small town of Marineland is within the counties of Flagler and St. Johns. It’s about .3 square miles in size and bordered by the Matanzas River on the west with the Atlantic Ocean on the east. It’s about one hour south of Jacksonville and 90 minutes north of Orlando.
Marineland Dolphin Adventures
Within the city limits of Marineland is Marineland Dolphin Adventures. Originally named Marine Studios, the park was created in 1938. According to the town’s website, Marineland was incorporated as a town in 1940 after the popularity of the park grew. And in 1947, the first dolphin was born in human captivity at the park.
Marine Studios became a popular place for tourists to see marine life up close and personal. It was the first opportunity many people had to be that close to some of Florida’s native marine animals. It was also a favorite of Hollywood filmmakers to capture underwater footage for their studios. The iconic Hollywood classic, Creature From the Black Lagoon, distributed by Universal Pictures, was filmed at Marine Studios in 1954. In 1961, Marine Studios renamed itself Marineland.
The Decline of Marineland
A popular tourist destination in the 1940s and 1950s, by the 1970s, the park found itself competing with nearby Disney World and Sea World. Attendance at the park began to drop, and by the 2000s, Marineland was showing signs of wear and tear. Having fallen into disrepair, Marineland closed in 2004, retiring most of its original buildings and exhibits. However, in 2006, the park reopened as a state-of-the-art dolphin conservation center. Finally, in 2011, Georgia Aquarium acquired Marineland.
Marineland Dolphin Adventures Today
Today, guests can visit the park to swim and paint with dolphins, feed tortoises, be a dolphin trainer for a day, or visit the many marine life exhibits.
Marine animals you can encounter at the park include:
- Bottlenose dolphin
- Red-footed tortoise
- Loggerhead sea turtle
- Sand tiger shark
- Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
- Yellow-spotted stingray
- Diamondback Terrapin
- Moray eel
What Is There to Do in Marineland?
For such a tiny town, there is a lot to do in Marineland. Aside from the marine park, there is a variety of coastal activities for visitors and conservation organizations. For example, Ripple Effect Eco Tours offer boating and kayaking through the coastal lands of the southern boundary of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
River to the Sea Preserve
The River to the Sea Preserve located on both sides of Highway A1A provides protection for the rare maritime scrub environment. The preserve offers a paved walkway and observation decks to view the birds and marine life in the river. Birds you may see here include wood storks, bald eagles, and swallow-tailed kites. Swimming in the river you may see manatees, river otters, and the occasional dolphin or sea turtle swimming in from the Atlantic.
Research and Conservation
It may be a small area, but Marineland is a hub of conservation and research for marine life and sustainability. Located in the town are the following organizations:
- Whitney Labs Sea Turtle Hospital
- Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
- Center for Sustainable Agriculture Excellence and Conservation
- GTM Research Reserve
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