Sunday, February 10, 2008

Life's a Beach

Another week has zoomed past. We finished up our transects in Blue Heron Hammock on Marathon Key. Wahoo! Then we started on the next parcel just down the street... but it's only about 1/3 the size, so should go faster, right? We're also finishing up our sweeps on Tropical Key colony here on Big Pine Key, so it'll be interesting to see where we go next.

For entertainment, my wife and I went off exploring parts of Big Pine Key, like the salt marshes along Long Beach to the south of the island. We saw an osprey and lots of other shore birds. Areas of the mangrove woods were infested with Australian Pine and Periwinkles, so we pulled a few invasive plants and planted a few red mangrove propagules in their place. We also picked up lots of trash that had washed ashore, mostly plastic bottles. A scary 5 gal container of paint thinner was almost rusted through, so we brought that in before it contaminated the mudflats.

The next day, we went down to Crane Point Nature Center, which has an excellent museum, aquarium, nature trails, and the Wild Bird Rehab Center. It felt kinda funny to PAY money to walk through the hammocks, but it was great learning a few more plants. Their hammock also had infestations, including Brazilian Pepper and Seaside Mahoe. It seems I'm losing the ability to just look at a forest and enjoy it for the trees; now I tend to analyze and assess it - trying to determine what might be wrong or doesn't belong.

That led to a discussion that often plagues nature preserves, especially small ones like those on the Keys: What is the "right" ecosystem that belongs here and how should it be managed? Usually that question is answered by a form of crisis management: Key Deer Refuge was created to protect the nearly extinct deer (only 26 were left when the refuge was founded 50 years ago). Therefore, any habitat change good for the Key Deer is the correct management choice. But what about Crane Point, that does not exist as the last stand? How would that hammock transition "naturally" without human influence? Or, considering Indian middens are present there, should management recreate "pre-Columbian" human influence? Many of these topics are argued about, such as weather coconut palms or opossums should be considered aliens or naturalized components of the ecosystem. Another more timely management question could be: how should this ecosystem be managed with respect to long term climate changes?

Then again, I suppose I've always had trouble enjoying the "peace and serenity" of nature. For example, most folks find beaches very soothing places to visit. I can too, so long as I just look out to the sea and think Deep Thoughts ('I love the ocean... it's so damn... so damn wet'). But the beach is not a peaceful place. Each tide often strands gobs of living debris, from seaweed to seashells... in varying stages of dessication, dying, or decomposing. Here is an Upside-down Jellyfish, turned right-side up and drying in the hot sun, but still pulsing. There is a log of driftwood with mussels 'gasping' for water. Isopods hop among the sargassum eating what they can, as crabs chase them and sandpipers chase crabs. Over all lurk the seagulls, snatching what they can for a snack. Even from a geological perspective, beaches are where land is giving way to sea, with many barrier islands drifting over time like the treads of a tank - like on Mustang Island, Texas - inexorably leaving great oak trees to fall into the sea on one side, and smothering an oyster reef on the bay side.

But these grinding wheels exist in all of nature, and I suppose I celebrate them in my own funny ways. I like to build sandcastles at low tide and watch them wash away, or visit abandoned homesteads and see what has changed, like crossing this orphaned bridge to Wahoo key. (We had fun doing a few geocaches and created a few waymarks too).

Tomorrow is my Pack-Test for fire training. I hope I'm up to it! I keep telling myself, it's just like hiking with the Sierra Club, trying to make it back to the trailhead before the bus leaves!

1 comment:

Matt said...

Good report. Keep up the good work Tom. You are making a difference.