Thursday, January 10, 2008

Scooping Up the Bay

Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida
Alternative Homeschoolers
Naturalists: Cedar, Roman, Mick, Ryan, Isabella, Rose, Christian, Ricky, and their moms.

Biscayne Bay is a beautiful stretch of clear blue, shallow water. It hugs the southeast corner of Florida, separated by barrier islands and mangroves. Biscayne Bay is fed by the freshwater flow from the Everglades, creating an estuarine environment. The bay is naturally very shallow and alternates between sandy, almost barren stretches and grassy underwater meadows.

We met in the parking lot in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center. The class started in the nature center, exploring the touch tank, the books, shells, skeletons, and bones. We then moved out onto the beach with our buckets, shovels, and nets. The kids got right to the scooping, led by fearless and curious Therese. Cedar immediately found a giant Moon Jelly. Later we realized they were everywhere, alive and dead. We pulled up seaweed with Portuguese Man o' Wars and carefully placed them aside. We placed all of our finds (very gently) in buckets and clear containers for viewing. We replenished the water occasionally and left them in the shade for protection.

After the first finds, the kids were very excited and dedicated to their task. We went out to the grassy meadow and really found the treasures. We began scooping up loads of crabs and shrimps. We found hermit crabs, snails, many kinds of shrimp, and baby spider crabs (wearing their decorations of algae). Then Roman scooped up we thought was a needle fish, I looked at it later and realized it wasn't a needlefish. I thought it looked like a seahorse, but Therese said it was different than the seahorses they saw there before, I was very curious. After perusing my guidebook we decided it could possibly be a trumpet fish - but the tail was different. I looked it up online after returning home and am pretty sure it was a pipefish. It was super cool looking. I thought it was distressed in the container because it was upside down, but I read later that they suck up their food like a vacuum, so it was just doing its thing.

Rose and Isabella found some shrimps, the most fabulous we found were the brilliant green shrimp. They were beautiful, tiny and deep, deep green. My research was frustrating. I haven't figured out exactly who they are. They might be what we call the "green shrimp", but the site I found said it was from India and I couldn't find any information saying they were in Florida. I will keep looking.

We found a little puffer fish who blew up at us when we put it in the container. Someone scooped up a bunch of stuff with a beautiful lion fish hiding in the sargassum. We also saw lots of little slug like creatures stuck to the seaweed. Overall, the findings were abundant. Imagine all of the life that we couldn't see with our human eyes. Next time we will have to bring a microscope.

We set up all of the buckets in the shade on the table so that we could check everything out. The kids were so fascinated. It was very exciting for them. They were very respectful and loved releasing them when we were done. We thanked the animals and sent them back to their water wonderland.

Then it was playtime. I had planned games and activities, but the kids just wanted to swim and dig and run around. They had a blast. Rose, unfortunately was in the wake of a man o' war and felt its sting. I found it after, it was very small and its tentacles were an incredible deep blue. Rose was hurting badly on her arms. The lifeguard put vinegar on her rash and Dora shared her Burt's Bees salve, which helped a bit. Time is the only cure for the poison. Rose was very brave and now has an exciting story to share on her next visit.

The day was beautiful, a perfect "winter" Florida day - about 75 F, sunny, with a slight breeze. It really doesn't get much better.

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