Archive for the 'Mud Flats' Category
The tide had receded exposing the life-giving black muck and detritus. The sun already climbed three hours above the horizon and had heated the intracoastal on the west side of John D. MacArthur State Park. A tropical wave working up from the south planned to give those of us who gathered here a summer drenching. This was the final classroom session of the Florida Master Naturalist Program – Environmental Interpretation taught by Steve Bass and Kitty Philips and a little downpour wasn’t going to put a damper on our day. The occasional lightening, maybe. The rotten egg smell of sulfur gas wafted upward from each footprint as we walked across the flats to explore the different depressions.
I’ve always enjoyed discovering the life that forms around mangrove islands. Their salt-coated leaves that drop into the brackish water, decomposing into microscopic detritus, starting the food chain. Bits of algae attached themselves to the debris and are soon a meal for filter feeders, small fish, and bottom scavengers.
Often overlooked or mistaken for a sponge, tunicates are plentiful around the mud flats. Hard to believe this is an animal, that looks like a piece of …., you know. The tunicate siphons food down a central chamber, squeezes the water through its body and then back out another passageway scraping the algae off the decomposed matter. This species felt hard when pinched with the fingers. Out of the water it seemed to have a glossy finish and a slime coating. When placed back in its home, a dull sheen returned.
Snapping shrimp are often heard by divers and snorkelers as soon as their heads drop below the surface. A loud, clear snap can be heard yards away when their claws close rapidly. Often this background noise of the ocean sounds like an AM radio station during an electrical storm. To me, the sounds become relaxing and I try to hone in on the creatures. The shrimp’s large menacing claw has the power to bruise or crack a fingernail if carelessly held.
However, the guy that received the most attention was the state shell, a Florida Horse Conch. For some reason, he loved extending his orange foot onto the palms of every lady that held him. Then again, who doesn’t like to be held by the female sex? With his foot suctioned tight on their palms, he dragged his shell across their fingertips. Release his grip, shift forward, and start the process over, headed to their wrist following what palm readers call the success line.
About this time the gray skies hinted at the coming thunderstorm. A few drops here, a few drops there. But no one in the class was ready to leave. Our seine nets still stretched across the yellow, sand lined gulleys. We scooped more fish and bottom dwellers into our rectangular catch basins. Then the rain came down harder. By the time we hiked across the flats back to the crushed shell parking lot, our clothes were soaked. No one seemed to really care. Getting caught in a rain shower on a summer day in Florida is considered normal. Plus, it washes the salt off you.