Face Down in the Ocean!
Barton Bridge—Yesterday, we Wabash Men had yet another great learning experience in Florida. We left our humble lodgings at the Flamingo campground and drove down to Key Largo for a snorkeling excursion (see photo album here). Key Largo is one of the first islands in the long string of islands known as the Florida Keys. Having traveled to Florida many times and never snorkeled there, I was excited to have the chance to explore the waters and reefs surrounding this area.
Arriving at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, we were outfitted with snorkels, diving masks, and wetsuits. In the days leading up to the visit to Pennekamp, we were slightly apprehensive about the predicted weather conditions. But to our delight, the weather was only partly cloudy and subsequently, the conditions for snorkeling were perfect. The few clouds present provided short, but much enjoyed, breaks from the barrage of sunlight and heat that we Northerners are not accustomed to in March. I say enough about how beautiful it was yesterday.†
Enough about the weather though. During the thirty-minute boat ride to the offshore reef, I wondered what animals we were going to see in the water. Once in the water it was clear that we were going to have a great time and see much. The first area was a great span of sea grasses. This field of green was populated by a variety of sea life. Most notably were the schools of four-foot long barracuda and conch’s the size of basketballs. I had imagined that the conchs were going to be large, but these things were HUGE!!!†
Although the conchs were large, I knew they were nothing to be afraid of. They don’t have the biting capability of the barracudas. Being the field biologist that I try to be, I sought to follow a school of eight barracudas to monitor their behavior. This proved to be a fruitless endeavor as these perfectly streamlined hunters darted off with one quick flick of their tails. So I decided to observe a much more stationary organism—the large brain corals. The water surrounding these brain coral was teaming with life. Small fish of every color imaginable were darting in and around the nooks and crannies of the reef. Dr. Krohne spoke of a small channel that divided a large brain coral in half (reminiscent of the two halves of the human brain). He spoke of how comical it was to watch the groups of small fish be shot out of the channel and then sucked back in by the current formed by the waves overhead.†
Other members of our group were fortunate to see a small nurse shark (which is harmless) and another saw a fairly decent sized jellyfish. I, unfortunately, did not see a jellyfish or the nurse shark. But, it is hard to complain considering the vast array of other fish species that I saw: grouper, yellowtail, damselfish, enormous parrotfish (in photo above) and others I could not readily identify.
Time seemed to stand still while we were swimming in the water, but I was beckoned to return to the boat by its loud horn. Our hour and a half time limit for exploration flew by quickly. I had thought we were only in the water for maybe thirty to forty minutes. That age-old saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” still holds true when you’re facedown in the ocean!
After returning to dry land, we rinsed and returned our gear, washed the sea salt from our bodies and piled into our enormous 15-passenger van and headed to our second most anticipated destination of the day, the Mandalay restaurant. Over some cold drinks and appetizers of fried conch and clams we had extensive discussions of what we had seen in the water. At this point, one could not help but think “Isn’t life great?”†
We all had great meals, many consumed the very types of fish that they had just seen alive swimming in their natural habitats.†
The meal was topped off with hearty portions of delicious Key Lime Pie. For those of you who are not familiar with Key Limes, they are a smaller, more tart version of the limes we are used to in the north. They are fantastic to use in pies or simply as an addition to a cold Corona. Unfortunately, every day must come to an end, but we do not fret, because we know that the next day will take us to a new location and new adventures in Florida.
It’s getting late now, and I must retire for the night. Tomorrow we are driving to Sanibel Island, a well-loved vacation spot of my family for countless years. There we will be visiting the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to observe more birds in their natural habitat (See a photo album here). Hopefully, we will be able to see the Reddish Egret, a species of egret that I have never seen before, one that is quite well-known for it’s high-energy behavior.
Thanks to Wabash College and Professor Krohne for making this trip possible for myself and my fellow Wallies.
In photo: Bart on the boat to the reef; parrotfish on the coral in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (photo by Max Bader); the reddish egret Bart saw at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday.