Thursday, May 24, 2007

Some Baby Pictures To Remind Us

These are just a sampling of the juvenile marine creatures that depend on the vast submerged prairies of seagrass that extend outward from our Big Bend region of Florida. My students netted these (and released them) on our recent field trip. It's only a minute sampling of the young creatures we saw that day.

The key word there is "YOUNG". The turtle grass, manatee grass, and shoal grass that coats the shallow bottom on this quiet coast is one vast nursery of sealife.

It's really quite incredible and so very productive.

The top picture is a full grown grass shrimp carrying her precious cargo of eggs beneath her abdomen.

My hand will provide the scale in these pics, so you can understand just how tiny these innocents are.

This young pipe fish, no bigger than a thread, is a seahorse cousin and is completely dependent on seagrasses for her entire life. She just can't survive anywhere else. Full grown, she will be all of 8 inches long. She's so dainty now ... just a wisp of a fish.

A young crab like the one above will spend it's youth in the deep grasses, hunting and trying to avoid ... well everything. Who doesn't like crab? Even if he moves out of the grass as an adult, he needs the sheltering blades to survive the very vulnerable early stages of his development.

To really understand how small this juvenile seatrout is, you have to realize that the crease in my finger (near her anal fin) is the joint crease at the distal phalange. She's so tiny that we can count the vertebrae in her transparent body. At this point in her life she needs the seagrass for shelter from predators and as a source of the tiny amphipods that she feeds upon.
Fully grown, she'll be a fearsome predator herself, hunting the seagrass prairie as a hawk might hunt a terrestrial grassland. No longer transparent, her disruptive pattern of spots will make her invisible to the shrimp and small fish that nervously hide among the blades.
Developers don't see this of course. They see dollars.
Shallow grassy water is just an obstacle to be dredged out of the way and they will not stop until this entire state is dredged, paved, and gated ...
...unless we stay vigilant and active. The terrain may be different where you live, but the need to speak on behalf of the innocents is no different.
Sometimes, baby pictures speak louder than words.
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pablo said...

Nice collection of pix with a bit of a natural history lesson affixed. And that bit of caution at the end.

Always a pleasure to visit this fine blog (except when you're up in that very long ladder -- now we talked about this!!!).

What grade are these kids you take on field trips? Still young enuf to see the wonder of it all?

Suze said...

I absolutely hate developers. There needs to be a tenth level of hell for these scum - nine is not enough. I used to feel the same way about car salesmen, but they're nothing compared to developers. I live in Southeast Florida and they have paved this place just about completely. It's all about money and greed.

Doug Taron said...

Wonderful baby pictures. They remind me of how much I miss living near the ocean. Your comments about the need for vigilance in the face of rampant development are so on target. Illinois is the #2 state in the nation for loss of native ecosystems (Iowa beats us, but we're really trying for #1). What's really depressing is that, having lost over 99% of our native ecosystems, we are still having trouble protecting the tiny fraction of 1% that remains. The developers really do want ALL of it, and that seems to mean every square cenitmeter.

Paintsmh said...

Wow. That is just so darn cool. It must be amazing to have the opportunity to find and see things like these!

roger said...

here in our corner of puget sound eelgrass is the cover for all sorts of aquatic life. the water is too cold for me to play in tho, so i only investigate at low tide. are you down off that ladder yet?

threecollie said...

That story about developing that preserve like that is so maddening I could feel my blood pressure rise with every word I read. How can you stand in paradise while people like that destroy it all around you? I am so sorry to read of it!
The critters are wonderful cool though and I thank you for sharing them!
I think I will link to this story too. More people need to read it and get mad!

Deb said...

When I opened my work email this morning the first thing I saw was a bunch of permit applications for removing aquatic vegetation in lakes. Then I came here and saw this post. I should print out copies of it and give to all the lakeshore property owners who think all those weeds are a major inconvenience, then wonder why the fishing is lousy.

Great post, FC.

robin andrea said...

Truly eloquent, fc.

Laura said...

Yes!! This post should be printed up and distributed far and wide.
I found myself staring at the juvenile trout pic for a moment, even though I have seen them before, primarily because it looked so futile all of a sudden.
But I just can't give up hope.
Excellent post, FC. excellent.

kathy a said...

those are terrific baby pictures!

we are lucky to have open space on the hillside behind us, which was preserved as a nature area some time back.

the last big privately-held parcel of land in my town is an open area adjascent to the nature area, and the subject of a local battle. for some reason, developers want to build luxury homes on the steep terrain -- maybe it has something to do with the views of san francisco bay.

a bunch of local residents are trying to get the city to refuse to allow development. the space includes 2 creeks, some natural springs, a variety of native plants and wildlife. one neighbor is a professor of environmental studies at the local big-deal university; another is a former mayor who is a spokesperson for the sierra club.

the developer has stopped pushing for now. i think the whole thing may be de-railed, not so much because of concerns for wildlife as because there are significant risks for landslides, and the site is basically on top of an active earthquake fault.

Alan said...

Developers don't see this of course. They see dollars.
Shallow grassy water is just an obstacle to be dredged out of the way and they will not stop until this entire state is dredged, paved, and gated ...
...unless we stay vigilant and active.

Have you ever read "A Flash of Green" by John D. McDonald? You'd find much of it to be familiar I think. Somethings haven't changed in decades.


Cathy said...

Exquisite pictures. Such interesting imagery. The human hand cradling life so small that fingerprints look like sand ripples.

Surely wisdom - sanity - will prevail.

rcwbiologist said...

Thanks for the lesson on seagrass habitat! Great pictures.

Peggy said...

Back at ya--"Great baby pictures"! And an all-around great post, as usual.

SophieMae said...

I'm watching my blood pressure, so I'm going to refrain - for now - from commenting about developers.

WAY love your pics! I've been wanting to go down to Mashes Sand... maybe better get there tomorrow morning, coz it's about to get real crowded for the next 3 months.

Hurricane Teen said...

There's a big controversy in St. Auggie about a developer's desire to put a BIG pier on Fish Island. I was thinking about this the entire time I read this post, and of course you brought on the developer question right at the end. You would think that destroying the habitat ON THE ISLAND is enough for them, but they're also bloodthirsty enough to destroy the estuary while they're at it. AGH! BTW, you ought to see the west side of Highway 13 between Switzerland and Orangedale. Total destruction.

Floridacracker said...

I promise to be careful in the trees.
As for the kids, they were wonderfully wowed even in this era of electronic whizbang.
It was very satisfying as always.

It's greed to the tenth power. It's especially sad in south FL. Imagine if there were no protected Everglades or Big Cy.

I never would have guessed those two states. Is it lost to farmland mostly?

It is! You just never know what you'll find out there.

Thanks. That's a good idea to link it. It's not just a Florida story, those seagrass beds are a national preserve ... not state. It affects us all.

I hear ya. You'd think with all the time and money Americans spend on grassy lawns that we'e be more tolerant of aquatic grasses.

Thank you much.

Thanks, I know YOU feel this pain as sharply as I do. I can't give up hope either, it's just not in me.

Kathy A,
Ya gotta love those active earthquake faults. I want one.
I hope this hillside remains wild.

"Travis McGee's still in Cedar Key,
that's what ol' John MacDonald said."
From "Incommunicado" by Jimmy Buffett.
I need to read that one.

I'd like to think so.

Glad you enjoyed it. It's not a piney woods, but still pretty cool :)

Ha! I hadn't thought of that, but I had been to your post last night and I wrote this post before breakfast today. Maybe it was subliminal!

Watch that blood pressure.
Where is Mashes Sand?

I wish you could have seen Fish Island, pre312 bridge when I was about your age. There was one dirt track in from A1A and with a 4WD you could take it all the way to the creek where the marina is now. My buds and I once canoed in and camped in what is now the marina basin. Nothing but woods and coquina ruins then.
Sigh ...

Laura said...

pssst, FC... If you have the chance, would you or one of your readers like to identify a set of bugs for a blog friend down on the east coast?

I thought maybe you might be familiar with the critters in the two pics she has up on the site today, or might be able to direct her to someone who can.

Floridacracker said...

I went and left my two cents worth.

Alan said...

"Travis McGee's still in Cedar Key, that's what ol' John MacDonald said."
From "Incommunicado" by Jimmy Buffett.
I need to read that one.

You're in for a surprise when you do.

Did you know there's a McDonald novel set in Gulf Hammock?


Floridacracker said...

Okay, I'm in.

R.Woodard said...

I lump developers with car salesmen,lawyers,greedy BUILDERS (yes,I have a vendetta against these),CEOs of companies who get millions of dollars in severance packages,high paid athletes and entertainment people who think they can do whatever they want,and last but not least-POLITICIANS!Sorry,I felt like venting!Great post though.

Floridacracker said...

Feel free to vent here.
Thanks for dropping by.