Friday, April 24, 2009

Scooping Up The Bay, Part 2

Crandon Park - Biscayne Bay
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center
Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida

ECO - Every Child Outside Nature Explorers
April 13 and 16, 2009

In January of last year, I experienced the excitement and fun of exploring Biscayne Bay with nets. It was so much fun, and so rewarding, we just HAD to do it again. Check out last year's post:

I wasn't sure how different it might be due to the fact that we were there in January last year and April this year. If we were marine biologists - only studying this one area, we would be able to report some very specific changes.

The most obvious difference that I noticed was the lack of jellies (they used to be referred to as jellyfish). We saw all kinds of jellies last year - Moon Jellies, Comb Jellies, and quite a few Man-O-Wars. Now, scientifically, I think only the Moon Jellies are "TRUE" jellies, but hey, they are all in that same - floating, slimy, no-eyes family, so I'll call them all jellies. On Monday, when the tide was high, we found quite a few dead comb jellies - the clear slimy masses that are so much fun to play with, the kids just love oozing them through their fingers.

There were less fish to catch this year and hardly any shrimp. I was hoping to find bunches of the unidentified green shrimp again, but they were quite elusive, I only scooped up one - which amazed all who saw. I believe the green shrimp are invasives from Asia - maybe released from local fish tanks.

We did find one beautiful, frilly fish in our net. My first thought was "lion fish" because of the fancy frills. We put on our "Marine Biologist" hats and researched...we deduced that it wasn't a lion fish because they are red and much larger, and spiky. After perusing all my guide books on the beach, we couldn't find our frilly friend. Upon later investigation (at home), we narrowed it down to some type of scorpion fish, and guess who is related? The lion fish! The kids were so curious that when our young marine biologists - Lizzie and Amanda went to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and saw its look-alike in the tank the other day, they determined absolutely that it was a Plumed Scorpion Fish.

On Monday, the tide was high just before noon- just when we were there. It was very breezy and the water was quite stirred up. It made our adventure that much more exciting- searching blindly in the unknown, high water. Because the tide was moving in, the animals and plants were swirling in the current - creating a soup of sea grass, lots and lots of sponges, way too much garbage, an occasional crab or shrimp or fish, and infinite numbers of microscopic animals. We didn't even know we were catching so much with our nets until we put the sponges in our buckets and waited until the water settled. Once the water calmed, teeny tiny creatures burst forth into a frenzy of life - mini shrimps and fish and crabs, and who knows what else - swimming all around in the bucket. It is amazing and wonderful to think of all the tiny little worlds thriving and surviving all around us. The sponges also had little white bubbles tucked in the cracks and life waiting to hatch...?

The kids were thrilled and fascinated; on Monday, however, I lost their attention a bit faster - after the blind search many of them opted for the more immediate gratification of building sand castles and digging in the sand. The adults (and some of the kids) were much more determined and continued on.

On Thursday, the water was low, pristine, and absolutely crystal clear! What a difference! The shallower water was more accessible for the little ones, and they were able to just look down to see the bottom and what was living there. The lack of incoming tidal waters made for less exciting finds, however. It took more work and much more searching to find the critters. We found the most life in one giant and colorful sponge. The kids with masks and snorkels were exploring the world of the sea grass with different eyes than those of us above the surface, and they found sponges of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. After putting the large orange sponge in a bucket, I was scared and surprised by a large, and very ugly spider crab lurking in its folds. There were many crabs, in fact, living in this sponge - a world within a world, within a world.

Another surprise was the tiny pipe fish that showed itself once the water settled in one of the buckets.

I started this blog in the middle, now I'll go to the beginning...

Upon arriving we went to the fantastic Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Nature Center.
The staff showed us all the critters in the "touch" tank and the kids got to see a Green Moray eel up close, as well as many other fascinating plants and animals. On our way out, we found the skeleton of what I believe was an iguana. The kids got a kick out of holding it and having their pictures taken.

Before we got to our exploring IN the water, we explored a bit OUT of the water; we took a nice, leisurely nature walk through the hammock.

As we have learned before, a hammock is a high, dry and shady place - meaning tall trees and a bit higher ground. The higher ground we walked on was old sand dunes.
The trees that shaded us were mostly Gumbo Limbo, Live Oak, Strangler Fig, Cabbage Palm and Saw Palmetto. The underbrush was full of Wild Coffee, Sea Grape, Coco Plum and Poison Ivy. Along our route we were observant enough to spy a giant land hermit crab hiding in the fallen leaves of a Strangler Fig. He was very cooperative (had to keep him on a leaf to avoid pinching) and the kids got a great look at a native land inhabitant of the island.

After a fun game of "Camera" ( a wonderful nature appreciation activity where one child leads another child to something "beautiful", one child is the photographer, the other the camera, and they "take a picture of the beautiful thing they see), we headed out to the beach.

On the beach we participated in an activity which demonstrated how difficult it is to clean up an oil spill. Each team got a bowl of sea water, I poured colored olive oil in each bowl and the kids had to find the best way to clean it up - using cotton, paper, plant material, detergent, and sand. We learned how hard it is to get the oil out, and how fun it is to play in a gooey mess!!!

After exploring the bay's bounty for over an hour, the kids relaxed on the beach to eat and sit in the shade.

We ended the day a bit later with an energetic game of Sharks and Minnows - once on sand and once in the water.

Above us, the birds were on the prowl - a large school of mullet kept coming in near shore, frantically searching for an escape. One of the silvery fish had it's dorsal fin torn off - a bird may have tried to carry it off. An Osprey glided overhead, using its keen eyes to spy its dinner and grab it in its talons, pelicans flew by in a well-practiced professional "V", using each other to propel themselves forward, and gulls laughed and sang while diving at fish in the water.

The beach was breezy, cool, and meditative -
the swaying palms lulled some of the younger children into nap time after all the hard work playing and exploring.

Thinking back on our visits (which were two weeks ago already - I'm quite a bit behind in my blogging), I think of sparkly water, a lovely balmy breeze and wonderful, curious children and parents excited to be out in the beautiful world we live in. I have the best job in the world!

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