The Atlantic coast of Florida boast so many wonderful beaches it is hard put a finger on why I love Fort Lauderdale’s so much.
Official images of South Florida fights shy of the deep gold sands – always cleaner and whiter in the brochures – and of the moody Atlantic ocean -always bluer and greener on the posters. Yet visitors here know that the shores here are a little more likely to be directly effected by the Atlantic’s many moods. The Florida Current, the upstream source of the Atlantic gulf stream brings with it a biodiversity that is sometimes at odds with the need to sell the region as a tourist paradise.
It IS a paradise, but not necessarily one that we can see. For instance, the tangles of sargassum seaweed, scooped up each morning by the City Parks surf rakers, provides an eco-system that supports a wide range of marine wildlife. And some of the most fascinating of these creatures arrive, quietly along our shores. And in my experience our seasonal visiotrs now choose to holiday here to experience the true nature of our coastline and are not here simply to soak of the sun and litter the sands with Corona bottles. They seek out the turtle tours and the eco trips out in the everglades.
Here are five of my favorite marine visitors to our shores, as much an attraction as the fine restaurants and elegant hotels.
1. Sea Turtles.
Our beaches provide the historic nesting grounds for some of the oceans most protected species of seaturtle, including the Green (pictured above) the Loggerhead and the Leatherback. Under normal circumstances you will never see them, as they visit in the dark of night and lay their nests on the quietest patches of beach. I walk our beaches daily and have seen but two, including the one that you see here. During turtle season all you will see is their tracks up to a nest and down to the ocean. This, to me, is how it should be.
In each nest, buried deep in the sand, are eggs that will eventually hatch around ten weeks later, releasing a frenzy of hatchlings all scampering down to the ocean. Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest direction, so the artificial light of a big city like Fort Lauderdale can confuse the hatchlings, so its important to keep ambient light to a minimum during hatchling season.
2. The Sanderlings
Sanderlings are a delight to watch along our shores, where they busy themselves at the tideline for so much of the year. The ‘peeps’ are medium sized sandpipers busy feeding in the receding receding waves, picking up stranded invertebrates or probing for prey hidden in the wet sands. Remarkably they nest in high arctic islands in Canada, but spend most of their time fettling the sands for us.
3. Portuguese Man O’WAr
Quite possibly the most maligned and misunderstood visitor (after Nerds III fans looking for the Howard Johnson), the Man O’War is one of the most fascinating marine creatures. The Man O’War normally lives way out in deep ocean, blown around the ocean’s surface by means of an inflated sail it feeds by means of long and extremely potent stinging tentacles, which root the organism into the ocean and stretch deep beneath the surface. After a few days of strong easterly winds the weaker ones can get blown up onto the shore, partly because they have lost their stringy tentacles and are easily blown around.
For swimmers and beach goers they are a quite literally a menace. Understandably people do not want to chance being stung or put their children at risk for stings and stay away when they are around. Stings result in long red whip-like wealts and a physiological sensation.
Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, also feed on man-of wars so their presence isn’t all bad.
The By the wind sailor, or Velella Velella, are candy-wrapper sized mariners who are distant cousins of the Man O’War. They too are normally found way out in the ocean and form a part of the eco-system out in the pelagic zone. Their most obvious feature is their triangular sail which catches the wind and propels them across the surface of the ocean. Like the Man-O’War they too feed on soft marine plankton through tentacles, but there the comparison – and danger, since these little sea rafts are harmless to humans – ends.
5. The Purple Sea Snail
Another ocean-dwelling marvel is the Janthina, or Purple Sea Snail. This violet little gastropod is a remarkable creature in that it does not swim. The janthina lives on a deceptively strong foam-like raft and feeds on smaller creatures such as the Velella. It is said that they use their feet to agitate bubbles, which they bind together with mucus.
Of course there are other equally fascinating visitors (and residents) to Florida beaches. So many crabs, seabirds and mammals like raccoons. Give me a few more weeks and I’ll bring you another five!
All photographs taken on Fort Lauderdale Beach by Andy Royston / FtLauderdaleSun
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