Beneath the shallow waters of Cedar Key, the grass is growing again, just as it is in your lawn. In the grass, there are creatures that creep and crawl, nibble and hunt ... just like in your lawn.
The great difference in this subsea lawn and your terrestrial lawn is the sheer teeming numbers of individuals and the amazing diversity of species.
By comparison, your bug ridden patch of suburban grass is a desert... even more so if you use pesticides ... but that's another rant.
The seagrass meadows of this big bend region are vast and near pristine due to our undeveloped coastline. The submerged seagrass meadows and their emergent cousins, the saltmarsh cordgrasses, form a vast hatchery - nursery system ... sort of a solar powered seafood replenishment factory ... and it does all this for free.
All we have to do in return is protect it.
In return we are guaranteed beauty, wildlife, life sustaining and delicious food, oxygen, and so much more.
... If we will just protect it.
Just don't do anything to ... (and here he bites his tongue) ... "mess" things up.
Of course, this spring, we did something to "mess" things up.
BP didn't do it.
Haliburton didn't do it.
The politicians didn't do it.
We did it.
We all need oil and we, as a tribe, will do whatever it takes to secure it.
Considering the vast amounts of it that we extract, transport, and use ... we usually do a pretty reasonable job of containing it.
But, not this spring.
This spring, a single event threatens destruction to natural systems over a vast swath. Even if the oil stopped pouring out of that broken pipe this very minute ... we would still be facing potentially devastating damage to our coastal ecosystems.
And, it's a damage that can linger for decades.
Each time we hauled our little trawl net aboard the boat and the seaweed tumbled out trembling with fish, crabs, snails, shrimp, seasquirts, starfish ... I imagined the same scene covered in oil.
In my little daydream, my students shrunk back in horror as the net emerged from a stinking brown sea covered in oil, it's contents dead or dying, the dolphins and seaturtles that usually swim by the boat instead floated nearby dead and bloated ...
You have to keep your daydreams short when you are on a boat with 14 kids, so luckily I only had to endure a few seconds of that nightmarish seascape.
I'm very aware it could still come true.
For now, the innocent go about their business in the seagrass meadows beneath the salty Gulf waters, unaware of our mistake looming offshore.
What follows is a brief sample of our finds yesterday. We sampled and released 99.9 % of what we caught. Only a few critters came home to our salt water tanks and they will be returned in a few weeks when school winds down.
Enjoy, but don't miss the obvious ... all the creatures you see in this post are either juveniles or in the act of reproducing.
Let's hope the nursery doesn't get poisoned.
A young needlefish.
A young stone crab.
A pretty healthy shrimp ... most were still about half this size.
A young, but feisty blue crab.
A tongue fish.
A very tiny, very stressed out puffer known as a striped burrfish.
A banded tulip snail and a clutch of tulip snail eggs.
A tiny grass shrimp in the act of procreation. The mass under her abodomen is a clutch of eggs.