Finding Snow on The Beach

Biodiversity is an intriguing concept. The interdependency of animals from the same ecosystem is an epitome of harmonious living. There is predator and there is prey, but both populations rely on one another to progress and procreate successfully. The animal world flows through a food chain, taking only what will be restored. Humans on the other hand follow a different path.

Last Week, I was able to go explore South Lido Beach with my Biodiversity class.It was a cold day but a beautiful day. The wind was overwhelming and the water resembled silk. The sun illuminated the crevices of the forest, and allowed escape from the crippling cold. I felt nostalgic as we walked through the trails with a child-like curiosity and explored the environment around us. The first “creature’ I found was long from the bottom and abruptly square-like on the top. It sat in the sand directly below me, gleaming in the sunlight. It was a tiny bright green shovel. I looked around, but there were no miniature gardeners in sight. Therefore, the only conclusion was that it had been abandoned, and it’s new purpose would be to abrupt the ecosystem of South Lido Beach. Thus, began my excursion.

As we walked along the coast we saw an array of birds, each aesthetically unique. They calmly treaded the shallow waters, exuding grace and beauty. I watched the Snowy Egret walk with a balletic gait. The bird’s rhythmic movement was impervious to the intense winds. The Egret and it’s head stayed closely rested in it’s shoulders. The creature seemed almost angelic as the sun shone above it’s head.

The Snowy Egret often breed along coastlines. Their habitats range from mudflats and marshes to ponds and swamps. These birds are known to be slightly hostile within their own species as they often cannot recognize one another after having left the nest. Even when attempting to mate, the bird must perform an elaborate greeting ritual to avoid being attacked as an intruder. The Snowy Egrets are buoyant due to their steady fast wings. Their diet includes crustaceans, insects and fish. The Egrets often choose more urbanized nesting locations due to the lack of predators. Moreover, Snowy Egrets have an innate recognition and avoidance to poisonous snakes. These traits amplify the significance of encountering such a wonderful species on a simple excursion. It was a small miracle, like finding snow on the beach.

imageCopyright © Fraser Brooks

http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/48/overview/Snowy_Egret.aspx

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South Lido vs. Lake Michigan

Last week was my first time visiting Lido. Although it was windy and chilly, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it would be like in good weather. The first thing I noticed was the differences between Lido and the beach I grew up on in Indiana, Washington Park beach on Lake Michigan. First of all, the sand in Washington Park is tan and deep. Your feet sink way past your ankles when you try and walk in it. And in the places I went, you had to literally climb over a huge sand dune to even be able to see the water.

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Lido’s sand is white and soft and compact. Everything is flat and easier to see. Also, of course, there are beautiful shells to be found off the ocean, where as the only kind of shell you’d find at Washington Park looked like this:

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Lido beach has an amazing ecosystem, full of a wide range of animals and plants. Washington Park had dune grass, and maybe some single trees way off into the distance. You never really saw any animal life apart from seagulls (although I think someone found a small alligator in the dunes once, but it was a pet that someone had abandoned).

Lake Michigan will always have a special place in my heart because I spent so many summers there growing up, but Lido beach is clearly a more magical place full of different lives living in unity. I saw a variety of interesting birds (not a single seagull, though):

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(now that I look at all these pictures side by side, they look like the same bird in the same pose with a different background)

Stuff you didn’t want to step on

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and stuff you really REALLY didn’t want to step on

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(the craziest thing that anyone fished for as far as I knew of in Lake Michigan was Catfish)

All in all, it was a very enlightening experience and I hope to go back soon and explore the ecosystem more.

BP Oil Spill and Hurricanes

NOAA-Hurricane

I learned many things from the Sylvia Earle Documentary, but one topic that piqued my interest the most was when the BP oil spill on the gulf was mentioned. As this topic was discussed briefly in the documentary, I found myself recalling memories of my dad complaining at the dinner table about the oil spill and all the extra work he had acquired because of it. My father is the branch chief of the Hurricane Specialists Unit at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. When the oil spill happened, I heard all about how it affected not just marine life, but our lives as well.

One of the biggest issues concerning oil spills and hurricanes was how they would interact with each other if they should happen to cross paths. Would the oil spill help or hurt the hurricane? What would a hurricane do to the oil spill in the gulf? Could the hurricane facilitate the oil’s journey to shore? These questions crossed my mind, and I asked my dad what he thought of them. He referred me to a document he prepared for the NOAA website on how the oil spill would interact with hurricanes.

As to whether the oil would help or hurt the development of a hurricane, in theory, if the oil layer was thick enough, the evaporation that is necessary for tropical storms and hurricanes to form could be suppressed, however in this case, most of the oil layer was fairly thin and spread out, even leaving open patches. This still would allow for evaporation and possibly, a storm.

Because of this, the next concern someone would think of is, if hurricanes can still form, what would a possible hurricane do to the oil? Well, the high winds may distribute the oil over a wider area, which would further complicate clean up. Storm surges may even carry the oil to the coastline. Taking note of the fact that variables of a storm are constantly changing, (so nothing is completely concrete), a hurricane passing east of the spill could drive the oil to the coast (because of the counter clockwise spin).

I always like it when I am able to make connections from past knowledge to new material that I learn about. It makes the learning process much more interesting.

My father’s paper: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/hurricanes_oil_factsheet.pdf

South Lido Beach and the Roseate Spoonbill

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Though it was freezing and I decided to be extremely smart and be the only one wearing flip-flops, the field trip to South Lido Beach Park was super nice! There were many animals that we saw last class. I was really surprised at the sharks that people caught. They were small, but I wasn’t expecting any sharks to be in the water at all. The blue heron was really beautiful and then the wind blew and messed up its feathers. The raccoons that came out at the end were a nice finishing touch. Out of all of these animals, the ones that most caught my attention was the Roseate Spoonbill. At first glance, I thought it was a deformed flamingo because of the bill.

The Roseate Spoonbill has pretty pink feathers that intensify as they grow older and were hunted to the brink of extinction in the past for ladies’ hats, fans, and screens. It’s odd that they were hunted for this reason because the feathers of the Roseate Spoonbill would fade rapidly. I remember that we talked about the possibilities of why the bird has pink feathers and what possible advantages would their color serve the bird and so far, I’ve found out that there isn’t a big advantage environmentally as they stand out a lot. They don’t seem to have an advantage and it doesn’t seem to be for mating either because both the female and the male have the same plumage. Juvenile Roseate Spoonbills are white to pale pink. The Roseate Spoonbill is believed to be pink due to the algae eaten by the crustaceans that they eat. A similar bird that shows this example is the Flamingo. Flamingos are born grey and acquire their pink feathers from a natural pink dye in their diet of shrimp and algae. The bird’s predators include jaguars, pumas, and alligators. The Roseate Spoonbill’s biggest predators, however, are humans. Even though they have rebuilt their population after being endangered due to decades of protection, they are still experiencing habitat loss to this day. This is mainly because of water pollution as they live in mangrove swamps, tidal ponds, saltwater lagoons and other places with brackish water. They create nests in trees and it takes a full 3 years for Roseate Spoonbills to mature and mate.

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Walk along South Lido Beach

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Last week’s Biodiversity of the earth Field trip to South Lido Beach was quite lovely, despite the cold windy weather. When I first started to walk along the beach, I was struck by how much nicer Lido Beach was in contrast to Miami Beach. It was calmer, quieter, and not to mention much cleaner. The water was very clear, which was nice to see. The smell of the sea felt very familiar to me; it was very nice to experience it again. I also wondered how different it must be for people here that were just experiencing the beach and ocean for the first time. It was also interesting to see the other members of our little walking party exclaim over birds (especially the blue heron) that I was already familiar with. I almost felt guilty that I took the sighting of these animals for granted because I see them so often, where other people appreciate their presence more. It was an eye opening experience for me.

I started to really pay attention when we got to the mangroves, because this was an area that I had experience in. I’ve taken countless fieldtrips to the everglades, east coast beaches, and airboat rides, so seeing mangroves is really nothing new for me. But it was nice to see them and remember the different types. I remember first learning about the different types of mangroves when I was in 6th grade on an overnight nature camp trip with my school somewhere near Tampa. While we were there, we went to the coast and we went with a guide and learned about different kinds of marine life and plants. I remember finding it particularly interesting that there are different kinds of mangroves. Red Mangroves are found closest to the shore, white mangroves are found furthest from the shore, and black mangroves are found in between the two. I found black mangroves most interesting because they are able to excrete the salt from the salt water they use and crystalize it on their leaves.

I also remember learning about sea purslane while I was there, some of which I saw while we were walking along the mangroves. The leaves are edible, and they tastes, unsurprisingly, like saltwater. The fieldtrip was very nice and nostalgic for me. I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

Exploring the Mangrove Tunnels

I’ve never heard of Mangrove tunnels until I moved to Florida. I was researching adventurous things to do in Sarasota, Florida and one of the very first things that popped up on Google was, take a Kayak trip through the Mangrove tunnels. I looked at my screen with confusion and began to type into google images Mangrove tunnels. I for one think nature is beautiful but I also find it sometimes to be a little scary and sometimes it makes me feel itchy. When I was observing these photos of the tunnels online my first thought was, “people actually kayak through there?” My second thought was, “I wonder how many reptiles and amphibians live in these tunnels?” and my last thought was imagining myself on this kayak tour and frantically freaking out because I’ve either fell in the water or some creature is trying to enter my kayak. Regardless of my fearfulness I still find these tunnels uniquely fascinating and surprisingly beautiful.

My Biodiversity class recently had a field trip where we were able to see parts of the Mangrove tunnels. The tunnels are just like the pictures, they almost seem mystical as if they belonged in some sort of fairy tale or Brothers Grimm movie. I knew right away that I wanted to research these tunnels and learn more about them and maybe it might further persuade me to take a tour of them. The everglades contains the largest Mangrove forest in North America. There are various of different species that live in these tunnels. The water is a mix of fresh water and salt water. Surprisingly enough when you research Mangrove tunnels into Google you are left with hardly any information. There is more information regarding the tours through the mangroves rather than actual information of the importance of the mangrove, what species lives in the mangroves, and so on. The lack of research I found was disappointing, but I will continue to search for information or maybe not maybe ill just go on a tour and find out everything I need to know through observing the mangroves in person.

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South Lido Park

I love south lido and in the past 4 years that i have been living in sarasota i have been frequently visiting south lido. I love the nature walks as well as the beach and the hidden mangroves in and at the end of the beach itself where it breaks up into small tunnels. We found the outer shell of a sea urchin on the walk itself. I have actually grown up in an area of the indian ocean where there are thousands of urchins along the ocean floor.

Urchin’s roam the floors of the ocean, and although painful if stepped on, they are the preffered food for multiple animals and fish as well as a delacassy in many parts of the world including the greek islands. I would guess that the shell we came across was broken by a predator. Sea urchins have interesting anatomy as there outer body is known as an aboral surface. The spines help protect it from predators trying to break through to the meat inside. the base that they constantly rest on is their mouth where they feed off bacteria on the ocean floor.

When they die their shells harden to these beautiful calcified shells that show where the spines once were. On the beach i collected one and as you can see in the picture the center is missing which is where their soft spot is.

Photo by Irene rofail

Photo by Irene rofail

National geographic

National Geographic

Intruding on their habitat

Even though South Lido is very closed to and surrounded by urban areas I was very surprised by how much wildlife is there around. It’s also sad to see tho how we are destroying plants and animals around us, intruding in their habitat but I found it very interesting how it didn’t seem to bother their breeding. I grew up in a family very close to nature so we went hiking a lot when I was younger, and one of the first things my dad taught me was to observe nature instead of touching it. So for example if when we would sit down for a lunch in the middle of hiking we’d make sure it’s an area that doesn’t have any animals breeding. Here, in a much more urban environment we can BBQ right next to the strip of land that seabirds and turtles nest in, creating a completely different relationship between the animals and the people. It was also very good to see the mangroves and the tunnels of water towards the back of the beach, to see that these places are still untouched. All in all I think this is a very good example of having an environment as a fun weekend place for people to go to the beach, but also as a functioning breeding environment for the animals there.

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Lido Key Adventures

Amber Nicole Smith

This past week we took a class field trip (or adventure) out to South Lido key, where we wondered around the key checking out the ecosystem there. While we were passing through the beach, where many people come to fish because of the strong current in this area, we passed a family who had caught some small sharks. Not only showing their skill in fishing, but their little boy way having a lot of fun lining them up in the sand. For someone who has visited this beach many times I happened to find this pretty hilarious. Though the sharks were already dead and no longer struggling the father wasn’t too okay with his son leaving the fish out in the sand because (I’m assuming) it is no good for keeping them fresh. Thats some good dinner.

Out on Lido I got to see a couple of different organisms I hadn’t found out there before, like the washed up sea urchins. Which I never knew were hallow on the inside! Something I had never thought about! This makes a great home for some organisms like Razorfishies! Grazing sea urchins keep seaweed growth in check. An excessive seaweed ‘bloom’ can deplete oxygen, smother life forms and upset the ecological balance. Yet these little prickly organisms are loving the large kelp forests of our earth and are being too good at their job, taking down gigantic kelp leaves! There are scientists whom are hired to dive deep in these shark fested area’s to smash and kill the sea urchins to keep the Kelp forests alive for small organisms hiding from what is larger than them in the food chain.

Nevertheless, I have learned new things visiting a landmark that I tend to visit frequently and I hope to go back to adventure through the mangroves very soon!