Last Wednesday I took you on a morning walk along one of our beautiful beaches and today I'm going to show you where I went when I left the beach.
Remember, you can click on any images to enlarge them.
I crossed Gulf Blvd. and entered the 9.3 acre Indian Rocks Beach Nature Preserve. The preserve was established in 2000 and a portion of the boardwalk was constructed with resources recovered by FDEP and NOAA after the 1993 Tampa Bay Oil Spill, in which three vessels collided at the entrance to the bay, leaking over 300,000 gallons of heavy oil and 33,000 gallons of jet fuel.
The IRB Preserve is part of the 400 square miles that make up Tampa Bay's estuary and the surrounding watershed covers an additional 2,200 square miles. An estuary, in case you don't know, is where the fresh water of creeks and rivers meets and mixes with the saltwater from the ocean. Mangrove trees grow throughout our estuary and they help to preserve our shorelines and act as a nursery to many fish, crustaceans and shellfish. Additionally they provide nesting areas for many of our birds. NOTE: Did you know that Tampa Bay has the most diverse colonial waterbird nesting colonies in all of North America?
After walking over part of the boardwalk, I turn to show you how beautiful our preserve is and how close to civilization we are. See the roof over the tops of the trees? We walked past that building last week as we strolled the shore. The trees you're looking at are mangroves and IRB Preserve is home to the three types that grow in Florida — Red, Black and White. Mangroves are tropical trees that have adapted to our coastal environment by producing roots and leaves that can process high salt concentrations that other plants cannot tolerate.
Red Mangroves are easy to spot because of their arching prop roots, which have caused them to be labeled the walking tree, because they appear to be walking on water. These roots supply air to the underground roots and add to the stability of the trees. Red Mangroves live closest to the water, followed by the Black Mangroves.
Black Mangroves are recognized by their finger-like projections, called pneumatophores, that surround the area around the base of their trunks. Pneumatophores grow vertically just above the water level and act as breathing tubes. I've heard these call dead man's fingers by local residents. Next up, on the highest and driest part of the tidal zone, are the White Mangroves.
The larger picture in this collage shows the leaves and propagules of the Red Mangrove. A propagule is the sprouted seed of this tree. This seedling will eventually drop from the mangrove and when it lands in the water it will either take root or float with the current and root somewhere else. Seedlings can float around and remain viable for up to a year before they find a suitable spot to take root. The bottom left photos show the leaves and propagules of the Black Mangrove. If you look closely you can see the salt that has been excreted by glands in the leaves. On the right are the leaves and fruit of the White Mangrove. The fruit contain a dark red seed that is also buoyant and can float to a new place to take root.
If you look closely in the roots of the Red Mangroves you'll see some of our oyster beds. Oysters are immobile shellfish that filter water as they feed. You will find them in areas of the bay that receive a steady inflow of fresh water.
Earlier I told you that mangroves act as a nursery to many of our critters and in this photo you can see all the little fishes feasting in this safe environment. Alerted to danger they can safely swim and get lost in the tangle of prop roots, away from larger fish and preying birds. Well…sometimes. Fish typically found in mangrove nurseries are snook, redfish, seatrout, black grouper, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, tarpon, black drum and more. You can also see another oyster bed in this photo.
At low tide, when the mud is exposed, the ground is alive with small crabs such as the Fiddler Crab. Fiddler crabs, which can be recognized by the single oversized claw of males, have to retreat into their mangrove mudflat burrows as high tide approaches. Those who don't make it become a meal to predators. (Credit: Image courtesy of Australian National University)
Another little critter that lives in mangroves is the Spiny Orb Weaver, doesn't it look like a crab? They look menacing in a photo like this, but they don't grow over a half an inch big and are harmless. I think they're cool…for a spider.
Something that doesn't belong is pictured here. These are not flowers, but rather tissues someone shortly before me tossed carelessly over the boardwalk and into the environment. Now, there are trash cans located on the boardwalk and back at the entrance, so my question is why? I also spotted plastic bottles, the outside wrapping from a case of beer and a candy wrapper. Some of these may have been tossed here or off a boat, or they could have been washed into the bay from a local beach. I don't understand and will never understand such actions. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, more than 85% of mangrove habitat areas in Florida have been lost since the 1940's. While mangroves can recover from the impact of a storm, it's up to man to stop their destructive ways. We have laws here to prevent residents from trimming mangroves so they can have a better view of our beautiful bay, a bay they obviously have no concern for. Chemicals used for garden and lawn care are washed into our bay with the rain, reeking havoc on this precious ecosystem, but still it continues. That's my soapbox statement for today. Let's continue walking.
Well, I've reached the end of the boardwalk. To the South you can see some of the homes that line our bay.
To the North is another view. Now, I took these photos one after the other and look at the difference in the sky. This photo looks black and white, but I think it looks peaceful, don't you agree? So, I think I'll sit here for awhile and enjoy the view before I join you at Susan's for more Outdoor Wednesday posts. Enjoy your day and remember — where ever you go, leave only footprints and take only pictures.
I love the beach and everything that goes with it! I love the waves lapping at my feet. I love the feel of the sand between my toes. I love the roar of the Pacific and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Let's talk about beaches around the world, bonfires, building sandcastles, swaying palm trees, flamingos, clambakes, sunrises and sunsets. If it's tropical, it fits this blog!