Discover Sea Grass Jungles in Florida

Discover Sea Grass Jungles in Florida

Florida shorelines are underwater jungles teaming with young fish and marine live finding food and shelter in mangrove roots and sea grasses. Their predators come and go with the tides. It is a world of eat and be eaten, just like the jungle.

This wet world is waiting to be discovered. You don’t need scuba diving certification to get there.

Wading shoes will do just fine. *

The really good news is that there are knowledgeable guides who love showing this shoreline world to “newbies” like you and me.

Take the program F.I.S.H. for example.

Discover Sea Grass in Submerged habitats

The letters stand for Folks Interested In Submerged Habitats. Who can resist an acronym like that? I couldn’t and signed up for a free Saturday morning F.I.S.H. wade in the mud of Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve, 1.7 miles of shoreline at Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center in Englewood (south of Sarasota).

dragging a net through sea grass at Lemon Bay Park
dragging a net at Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve in Englewood. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

With a blue sky and an outgoing tide, we unfolded a long net. One person took each end then walked slowly along the mangrove edge.

While we dragged the shoreline, eagles that live at Lemon Bay were diving into the water and coming up with fish. Sometimes manatees and dolphins are seen here too.

Every drag is different. Every trip is an adventure – what plants and animals will be found today?

There is no right or wrong, just seeing what is out there that day at that time.

“The holy grail is finding a sea horse or puffer fish,” said Chuck Idelberger. “They are real crowd pleasers.”

On this morning we bring the net ashore. Small silvery things flop on the mud and are quickly put into a bucket – baby snook, tiny pipefish, grass shrimp also called possum shrimp as it has a pouch full of eggs.

Plants go in another bucket. Parks Naturalists Kenya Leonard holds up a blade of turtle grass.

“A blade of turtle grass is its own ecosystem, “she said. “There is a whole lot of vegetation feeding on it.

The shoreline mangroves and sea grasses have small crabs and small fish that not only hide out here but also feed on the detritus, the decaying matter from mangroves and grasses.

When all the catch has been talked about, back it goes into the bay to live another day.

Trawl the Sea Grass to find Sea Life

Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center is located at 570 Bay Park Blvd., Englewood. F.I.S.H. walks take place monthly along with other environmental activities. To know more call Sarasota Parks and Recreation at (941) 861-5000 or email: parksonline@scgov.net

sea grass exploration, Punta Gorda Nature Center
Sea grass exploration by FOWA members at Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, Punta Gorda. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

At the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, Inc. in Punta Gorda there are wading sea grass adventures that are free and open to the public. In addition there are area estuary pontoon boat journeys that sometimes collect samples of sea life for viewing. See their schedule for times or call the Alligator Creek Location for CHEC at 10941 Burnt Shore Road, Punta Gorda, (941) 575-5435.

 

*  Suggestions for taking a wading tour: Wear a hat, put on sunscreen, sunglasses are good, short pants so as not to get too wet. DO NOT do what I did and wear Crocs, the mud just sucked them off my feet. Real wading shoes are needed.

rodney sifts through sea grass looking for critters
Intruder alert! FOWA member Rodney Smith finds something that doesn’t belong in the sea grass – its going in the recycle bin. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

 

UPCOMING

I will be here as an illustrator – making cards based on my book Mary Margaret Manatee and yes, I’ll have books for sale too. This is going to be fun!

3rd Annual Sarasota Book Fair

Saturday, October 25, 2014

10am—3pm

Come out and support your local independent authors! Writers from the Florida Writers Association, Peace River Writers, Authors Connection, Gulf Coast Writers and the ABC Books 4 Children & Adults writing groups will be attending.Books for all ages and genres will be for sale.

Entrance is free. Writers and illustrators are waiting to meet you and talk about their craft.

Special demonstrations by illustrators and artists. Organized with the help of ABCBook4Children, Inc.

www.abcbooks4children.com

707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236

941-365-2032

www.artsarasota.org

 

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Wading trip – Get Wet and Wild in Punta Gorda

Wading trip – Get Wet and Wild in Punta Gorda

What’ in a wading trip? Get wet, get happy, learn new things. Are we fourth graders on a field trip? Heck no.

We are adults at the annual Florida Outdoor Writers Association Conference held last week in Punta Gorda – yes, we are fully-grown, allegedly responsible people who have elected to go on a wading trip.

I kid you not – they gave us plastic buckets. My plastic beach bucket is a swirly pink and white with a shovel attached. It is charming. I feel four-years old again and ready for the beach. Other pails are purple or yellow. We got them as gifts from the Charlotte Harbor Visitor’s Bureau to take with us on a wading trip.

Giggling, we pick up our buckets and head for the water’s edge.

Wading trip is a sea grass adventure up to your kneecaps

We are at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. The park faces Charlotte Harbor and is somewhat of a miracle. It was slated to be condos. Instead it is saved for the public to appreciate the tidal zones and marshes, a piece of authentic Florida.

Gingerly, we wade into Charlotte Harbor. Most of us are wearing crocs or sneakers because the sandy bottom has oyster shells that can rip open bare feet. The tide is out. Some of us are dragging what looks like a butterfly net on long pole along the bottom, scooping up algae, shrimp, a hermit crab in a periwinkle shell. It is something different with every scoop.

Monica Dorken (center) explains finds from the bottom of Charlotte Harbor to FOWA members. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias
Monica Dorken (center) explains finds from the bottom of Charlotte Harbor to FOWA members Sandy Huff (left) and Karen Smith (right). Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Monica Dorken, our guide from the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center, wears a weather-beaten hat. We knew immediately she had to be our guide even before seeing her nametag. An old hat is required guide attire.

The brave ones in the group wade out deeper. Water is up to their waists, then practically to their shoulder! Those of us with cameras hang back; reluctant to get inn over our knees, worried about dropping the camera.

Monica tells us about all the fourth graders she’s taken on these field trips, and I’m thinking, why should kids have all the fun? Why indeed. Let’s get wet and wild.

Wading trips a great way to learn new things about Florida
She brings out a cool viewer – put in some salt water and anything you’ve found, look through the viewer and a shrimp becomes gigantic.

Monica Dorken shows a cool viewer for seeing things up close.
Monica Dorken shows a cool viewer for seeing things up close.

The Center does these trips for free and sometimes schedules them for adults. Check their calendar.

In another lifetime I wanted to be a marine biologist and study the inter tidal zone. But life has a way of happening when you are making other plans. It feels great to be back in the intertidal zone. So much action here – the food web at work, with meals changing with the tides.

On this day, I’m amazed, once again, at how everything is connected. What runs off our lawns into the bays and oceans affects life there. Monica brings some really cool magnifying viewers. Put in some seawater and look inside. A small shrimp become gigantic.

Even trash has an effect on the environment. FOWA member Rodney Smith finds a green glass bottle in the water and shakes it to see if any small crabs are living inside.

FOWA member Rodney Smith checks to see if any sealife lives inside this discarded bottle
FOWA member Rodney Smith checks to see if any sealife lives inside this discarded bottle

A yellow-crowned night heron lands on a mangrove limb. Writer/author Sandra Friend captures the moment on camera. Her husband, cartoonist Rob Smith, sits on a tree limb, sketching nearby mangroves.

Before we got wet, Margo gave a talk on all the things we might see before we got wet on our wading trip. We handle a whelk egg case and starfish. It is not our day to find these things in the water. But no matter. We leave soaked and satisfied. When is the next field trip? I’m ready. I’ve got my plastic bucket.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is a member of FOWA and the author of 50 Great Walks in Florida, February, 2008, University Press of Florida. ©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved.

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