Monday, March 21, 2011

St. Joseph's Peninsula State Park

I'm not sure where to begin.
You can tell by the sheer volume of photos in this post that I wasn't sure what to put in and what to leave out ... this place, St. Joseph's Peninsula State Park, and the adjacent waters are just spectacular.

(photo by Mrs. FC ... she got a camera for her birthday)

We did go kayaking on the bay the next day, but this post is about the joys of just wading and critter watching in the crystal waters of St. Joe Bay. The peninsula partially encloses the bay in a thin sandy embrace. That barely there strip of sand coupled with a lack of large rivers or stream diluting the bay waters make St. Joe Bay a uniquely beautiful place.

The bay is very shallow and therefore, perfectly suited for wading.
All you need to enjoy this bay is a pair of bare feet.

The darker areas are seagrass beds. The bay bottom is a mix of seagrass meadows and sandy bottoms.

If you go, and you must go, plan on doing the Sanibel Stoop a lot.
The bay bottom is just full of sea creatures ... which is why this post is just so darn long.
I couldn't help myself.

Let us begin, shall we?

This tulip snail is alive ... just camera shy. He retracted into his shell when I picked him up.

This tulip snail holds a hermit crab and not the original snail. The surface is being colonized by slipper shells.

Here is the current owner of the tulip snail shell.
He has the grouchy look of a crab who is probably "discovered" weekly and held up for pictures by happy waders.

There are a lot of live sea urchins munching their way through the seagrass meadows. They will be in another bay post.
THIS bit of beaded beauty is the test of the urchin, minus the animal and its spiny covering.
The neat critter on top of the test is a chiton.
I get wet in salt water quite often and chitons are not a common sight in my book.
That made finding this one extra special.

Here is the reason you can not book a motel or cabin reservation from July to early September along the bay. Florida's bay scallop season runs from July to September and it is very popular. Visitors snorkel or simply wade the shallows, picking up the delicious goodies.
Somehow, this lucky scallop survived last season and made it in to the new year.
I hope it spawned ... a lot.

Good ol' Class Asteroidea.
Thank you oh long ago starfish class namer.
You made remembering this one really easy.
This looks like a Forbes Common Star.
These guys eat scallops too, but this one needs to grow a bit.

This brittle star has prehensile arms that are more like tentacles than the less wiggly arms of "regular" starfish.
You can call them seastars if you like ... it is very trendy to do so, but I prefer starfish.

Above is one of our most beautiful clams, the Sunray Venus. This species is a hot aquaculture research animal and may be the next big thing in clam aquaculture.
According to my friends at Harbor Branch, the shell turns pink when they are steamed.
That opens up a whole new marketing niche ... "Enjoy pink clams ", etc.
The aquaculture hurdle to be leaped is the more fragile shell of the Sunray Venus. Clam harvesting, grading, and shipping is not for the fragile shelled.

Pen Shells are edible too. This one had already been consumed by something in the bay.
When they are alive, the pointy end of the pen shell is deep in the sandy bottom and only the very top is above the seafloor.
I like having empty pen shells in my saltwater tanks at school, because they provide neat habitat for blennies and the like.

This is not a live horseshoe crab. It may have died or it may just be a molted exoskeleton cast off by a growing member of Class Merostomata. We did not find any live ones while wading in the park waters, but there were plenty of live ones on our kayaking trip the next day.

I find it really hard to leave shallow clear water full of marine life, but breakfast was a Zone Dark Chocolate AlmondProtein Bar and some fruit, so around 1:30 pm, we headed out of the park to find lunch.
I say 1:30, but what time it was depended on how I held my cell phone. St. Joe Peninsula is so close to the central time zone line that my phone would sometimes pick up a tower to the west and I would gain an hour.
We had a remarkable hamburger at a joint called Coneheads right outside the park entrance.
I'll post it on Pure Florida Food later.

(photo by Mrs. FC)
Look at that smallpox vaccination scar ... that dates me doesn't it?

After the most excellent burger, we headed back into the park and went to the beach side to catch some late afternoon rays.
The deeper ocean water was much chillier than the bay shallows and the breeze had a nip to it, so I just did the lazy beach sloth thing and flopped down on the sand.
Yes, I wimped out.

(photo by Mrs. FC)
At the end of the day, I hated to leave, but we had caught a rumor of an amazing pizza place in downtown Port St. Joe and I wanted to check it out. I dragged my feet on the way back to the truck, ... not wanting to leave such a magical place.

St. Joseph's Peninsula State Park has it all ... if all to you means beautiful beaches, crystal clear bay waters teeming with very approachable marine critters, biking, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, camping, and fishing.
We tested the kayakanicity of St. Joe Bay the very next day.
I'll tell you about that next.


Deb said...

Cool stuff! I remember having a seashell ID book as a kid, although I didn't ever see 99% of the shells in it. This post makes me remember that book! And I prefer "starfish"' too. Looking forward to more stories and photos!

Sayre said...

I've never been to St. Joe's Bay. When we Tallahasseeans "go to the beach", we usually mean St. George Island - or for those who can't afford that much gas, Alligator Point or Mashes Sand. All have much to recommend them, but they don't have that bay water going on like St. Joe! Might have to venture further a field next time.

curlgurl said...

What a lovely spot - thanks for sharing the views. We had snow again here in Ct, so the beach views were really welcome. We get a lot of horseshoe crab shells here, and you can easily tell if they are molted: those have a clean break along the curved front edge, where the critter crawled out, and went off to harden his new shell.

Cathy S. said...

Hmm. I see a trip in my future. Where did you stay?

Prem said...

As an aside, there is a small octopus that is found frequently at St. Joe that likes to use expired scallop shells as a home (my dad, a marine biologist at FAMU, would often show me these on family trips to St. Joe when I was a kid). Just look for scallop shells that are held mostly closed but don't have scallops in them. If you're lucky, a miniature octopus will spill out when you open up the shell.

Anonymous said...

The biggest sting ray I ever saw in the wild was on St. Joe's Penisula. It was in the summer and the water was rough and foamy. I was about waist deep and saw something wiggle like a snake. It was about 3 ft. long, it was the sting rays tail, it's wing span was unbelievable. I made way for shore. Saw some large shells and it is nice and quiet out there too. Loved it. Tammy in Al.

LauraHinNJ said...

I've heard lots of wonderful things about Port St. Joe; it's on my list of Florida places to visit one day soon... thanks for the beautiful preview!

threecollie said...

Thank you! We often talk about the wonders of your region while we work here in the frozen north.

Thunder said...

Looks like a beautiful spot for a vacation!

Julie Zickefoose said...

What a gift you've given us, FC! I wanna go! I wanna go! I wanna go!
And I love the idea of spending hours just picking things up out of the clear water and looking at them. I can imagine Phoebe and Liam doing just that.
Love that glorious tall ship photo in the last post, too.

Dani said...

Looks like it was a great date day with the Mrs.

robin andrea said...

Fantastic! An amazing display of sea life. What a great place, and you had such a nice outing with the lovely Mrs FC, who takes great pics.

Anonymous said...

But you didn't do Coneheads right... you're supposed to get one of their GIANT yummy ice cream cones, too!
(Stacey in chilly MA, whose mama lives right there on the Bay about 2 miles before the park entrance, and who can't wait for our Spring Break trip down there in 2 weeks!!)

Dani said...

Where's Bear?

tai haku said...

Hey FC; the Datil and Coontie seeds arrived today; thanks so much. Hope the Minorcans go well for you.

That bay looks very, very nurse sharkey to me!

MamaHen said...

What a beautiful place!! and I have just been recently wondering where might be a beautiful, out of the way place in Florida for a couple to enjoy a, uh, commemorative, private vacation.

Miz S said...

I may be visiting St Joe's in the very near future. For realz, man.

Unknown said...

A beach NOT overrun with spring breakers? You are so lucky! Down here in Tampa we hide until May, then return to the beach when the northerners have gone home. You lucked out! What a beautiful beach! Thank you for sharing.

Kathy said...

Hey, I've eaten at Coneheads on our way to the park before! :) It was a September trip and we got EATEN ALIVE by flies at the end of the day.

Sandcastle Momma said...

When I was a kid my family went to PSJ EVERY year for a week. It's the most amazing Bay I've ever seen. Back then Black's Island was empty with the exception of some old picnic tables and we spent hours exploring the island. The marine life you can see in that one area is mindblowing.
Just don't step on the sea urchins - I've done it and the pain is right up there with getting jabbed by a catfish.

R.Powers said...

Thanks for all the great comments!
Looks like we have some Conehead fans out there!
Nothing like good chow after a day on the water.

This really is one of the brightest gems in a state with an abundance of gems.

Bear and Junior had a sleepover while we were gone Dani.

Dani said...

The boys do need their time together. But had Bear been with you, he could have protected you from the big scary crabby.

R.Powers said...

He would have been hilarious in that shallow water.

Crackerboy said...

I'm especially fond of chitons and their relatives the sowbugs. There's something satisfying about knowing that they predate mammals as a whole, and us big-brained apes by eons. That they will most likely be here long after we're gone is sort of comforting, too. I feel the same way about horsetails, horseshoe crabs and gators. Nothing succeeds like success, and I only wish that we were as adept at succeeding as they are.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if the sea urchins in St. Joe Bay are edible? We saw so many when we went scalloping earlier this year and I have recently seen on TV where people have been eating them in other locations. Thanks so much for your post! We actually stayed on St. George Island, but we will probably try for somewhere closer to St. Joe next year. Thanks again, Jennifer.

Unknown said...

Does anyone local know how much it is to rent a kayak, at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park?