Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reef Madness

Odometer - taking a rest
Trip Meter- getting dusty

We are just over the half way point in our stay here at Sunshine Key, and we have made an amazing discovery! We have been swimming and snorkeling off all sides of the island of Ohio Key, and some experiences have been better than others. I explained in an earlier post that the margins of the islands here are typically shallow- sometimes VERY shallow. We have been swimming off the east beaches which taper off more quickly into 4-5 foot deep water, but the tidal currents also make the water a bit more cloudy and harder to see. We decided to walk over to the north beach last week.

It stays shallow for hundreds of feet from the beach-I'm talking 12-18" of water. When we walked out in our wading shoes we immediately started to sink into the muck on the bottom. As soon as we could, we put on mask and snorkel and tried to swim. I say tried, because it was still so shallow we ended up pulling ourselves along with our hands. The weedy bottom and clouds of silt kicked up by our hands soon rendered us blind. After hundreds of feet we finally got to the dredged boat channel and even there the visibility was less than 3 feet. We swam into the boat marina and abandoned our exploration of this "beach".

There are mangroves on many of the margins of the island and if you have not seen mangrove thickets before they grow in very tight (impenetrable) stands that completely cover the beach to the low tide line.

The mangroves limit beach access on this (Gulf) side of the island, to one large north beach and to a couple good sized east beaches. Crossing under the highway bridges and walking to the Atlantic side of the island opens up more beach. Lots of seagrass to plow through.

 The beaches on Atlantic side tend to have firm sandy or rocky (limestone) bottoms and fair snorkeling depths at mid to high tide. Walking to the south end of the island the mangroves take over to the waterline.

  We can wade out around them because the water is only 24-30" deep.  Here is where we made the exciting discovery- there is a tiny island about 300 feet off the southern end of our Key that has a few sandy beaches and AWESOME snorkeling waters.

 We were able to wade with our gear out to the island and snorkel around in the beautifully clear waters. We found 6-7 conchs in about as many minutes. By late afternoon we had spotted over 3 dozen beautiful conchs- some the size of a football.

 Conch are endangered and the live ones must be left in place and only the empty shells can be harvested. We came away with 3 large and several smaller shells. The snorkeling was the best ever, due to the great visibility (10-15 feet) and the abundance of sea life.

Finding an empty shell becomes the goal, as live gastropods are the general rule here.

Even the "empty" ones are not entirely empty.

We felt kind of foolish when we discovered one of our "empty" shells had dropped off the picnic table and (we thought) rolled away. We replaced the shell on the table display, only to find it on the ground again the next morning. This time we discovered that a hermit crab had taken up residence, and was trying to get back to the ocean.
Our neighbors just laughed at us- they too had made the discovery- watching one of their shells scoot across their patio rug. We return them to the ocean when we make these discoveries.

Last week we took a trip to Big Pine Key to see the "Blue Hole".  This is the name given to a gravel pit made by the Flagler Railroad crews when they needed rock.  The pit filled in with rain water and made the largest fresh water lake in the lower Keys.  The lake is within the boundaries of the Key Deer Refuge so it was natural that it should become a refuge for all kinds of wildlife.

Including this red turtle and..

this American Alligator.

Continuing down the same road that took us to the Blue Hole we found a small subdivision of homes and being the nosey types we are we decided to take a look.  We spotted this all concrete home being built at waters edge.  We were especially impressed with the garage being elevated above the normal flood level- these folks weren't going to see their cars damaged either!
That's one sturdy house- all poured concrete and concrete block.  According to the Trulia website- the average home price for homes in Big Pine Key is $422,000.  That is down from $550,000 five years ago.  Consider that many homes are either on the ocean or have a canal in the back yard for water access, and the price seems a little more reasonable.  (and this is the KEYS after all!)  The home shown above is definately above that average costing well over a million.

We have made many friends here at Sunshine Key, and that is one of the most rewarding things about this lifestyle.  Our neighbors the Tevelonis' invited us over for chicken wings at happy hour- we ended up staying an talking until well after dark.  Jan and John Tevelonis have a very nice home on acreage in Pennsylvania, and tell us we are welcome to come stay anytime.  We also met the neighbors two down from us Claire and Jacques from Quebec.  Claire and Jacques have been coming to Sunshine Key every winter for 7 years.  They agree with Joan that we should go see the Dry Tortugas and say the hell with the budget.  Hmmm. $300 buys a lot of diesel...

Joan and I still wake up each day and pinch ourselves thinking that this has to be a dream- if it is -please don't ever wake us up.

With Love,

Jeff and Joan

1 comment:

  1. After a week with no 'Gator updates, I was worried you'd been hijacked to Cuba. Glad to hear that y'all are still in the U.S. and enjoying the retired lifestyle.

    Don't load up with too many shells or you'll bottom out your suspension!