When you go to the beach do you really take a look close look at what is below and around you? I found myself doing exactly that recently, encouraged by Wendy who leads the Shell and Beach Walks Tour at Madeira Beach, Florida.
The tour is advertised to be about shells, sea turtles, and birds. However, I found it to be about looking closer at the beach environment and surroundings and awareness.
The tour started at one of the local businesses. Finding the first wildlife turned out to be just a few steps away. Perched on top of one of the buildings were a dozen sea birds, including wood storks and gulls. Had the guide not pointed it out, we all would not have looked up or noticed this small group of birds congregated on the roof top just a few feet from our heads.
We headed along the boardwalk and stopped at another spot where a variety of birds were perched on pylons or floating on the gulf water. There were brown pelicans, laughing gulls, herring gulls, ring-billed gulls, blue heron, and several more birds. Wendy talked about how to identify the bird varieties of the same family. Many times the difference can be seen in the color of the beaks and/or legs, just have to look a little closer.
As we were watching birds a couple of dolphins swam through John’s Pass channel, surely looking for its fish dinner, much like the birds. But to notice the dolphins taking their quick breath of air, one has to be aware and watch the water line to see them.
We stopped for a discussion on shells. We learned the sea animals make their shells mostly out of calcium carbonate, which is the same materials as pearls. There are two main types of shells: gastropods (single shell, like where a snail would live) and bivalves (hinged shells). The empty shells you find on the beach are shells in which the animal has died or no longer is living in it. Be careful of the shells you find on the beach to ensure they are empty, there could be an an animal living inside.
We continued along to the beach stopping before heading across the wooden boardwalk. I thought we were stopping for a little shade, but she pointed out the sea grapes hanging from the limbs. I had always heard of sea grapes but had never noticed a sea grape tree. Being aware had popped up again. This made me wonder how much more I had missed along the way to the beach, especially when I was in a hurry to see the crashing waves and have my feet in the sand?
Once arriving at the beach, we took our shoes off and walked in the sand and surf. We looked for and collected shells as Wendy shared information on the discoveries. She explained the mollusk who once lived in the shell, where they animal lived, whether along the surf or several miles out to sea. She even let us in on how those small perfectly round holes, which look a drilled area, appear on some shells.
She informed us about sea turtles from their nesting practices to their extremely long migratory path. Did you know that many adult loggerheads who were born on the Florida west central coast migrate all the way to Africa?
The tour was wrapped with a conversation on conservation and the impacts of plastics and other human made influences. She spoke of enjoying the beach, while being cognizant of the impacts and importance of minimizing or eliminating the impact before departing. Small things such as removing all garbage and filling in the sand holes you dug can make a difference. It’s awareness. Remember the time that piece of trash fell from your overpacked bag, or you inadvertently left behind a piece of trash or the napkin blew away before you could retrieve it. Now is the perfect time to make up for that by picking up several pieces of trash you find from others who may have unintentionally dropped trash.
The tour officially ended a few minutes before sunset. I stayed to watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico, turning the blue sky to an orange glow. It was the perfect time to reflect and be aware of all the animal and plant activity along the beach. Also, the importance of being aware in order to conserve this fragile environment, not only for our enjoyment for generations to come, but to preserve the best living conditions for those animals, plants and organisms which reside along the coastal areas.
Until next time…..Find your venture.