Guardians Of Our Serendipity
By Anne McKay Garris
A mother Black Skimmer guards her baby from the heat.
Photo By: Tom Isgar
Serendipity is a word with many meanings, one of which is "joyful and unexpected surprise". It can easily be attributed to the features of our community, which cause visitors and residents alike to exclaim, "Oh, goodness, look at that", such as the day I stood and stared with awe at a school of five white pelicans, gliding over the deep green of the Gulf of Mexico.
On Thursday evening, three men whose life work is to guard such scenes as that and make sure they continue, were speakers at a gathering, presented at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Island Estates, in the comfortable new theater. Most of the audience enjoying an introductory movie about rescued sea turtles on the oval screen was not aware that they were sitting in a building, which spent its earlier years as a sewage treatment plant, and the theater is built in the sturdy walls of a large cement tank.
First on the program was Joe Malo, Director of Education at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). Mr. Malo talked about the recent rescue of sea turtles affected by the unusually cold weather. He described how important it is to protect the nests of turtles along Pinellas County Beaches, and how animals left unattended and lighting in the wrong places are detrimental to the survival of the baby turtles as they leave the nest and head for the water and relative safety from predators. Because the turtles follow the light of the moon and the light coming off the water, they can be mislead away from the water by artificial lights along the beachfront.
Mr. Malo explained what the CMA does to help the survival of the turtles by marking the nests and placing "cages" over them, then checking them regularly so that workers can be on hand to make sure the babies get safely to the water when they hatch. Little can be done, of course, about wild animals getting into the turtle nests, but pet owners can make sure that their pets do not disturb the nests.
Mr. Dan Larremore, Department of Environmental Protection Specialist, was the next speaker, providing both excellent pictures, as the one above, and helpful information about shore birds nesting in Pinellas County. He pointed out that most shore birds net in small indentures in the sand, often on the open beach. Whereas other birds sit on the eggs to keep them warm, shore birds sit on their nests to protect their eggs and nestlings from the direct heat of the sun. One dog, even on a leash, near the nesting birds, can frighten a whole colony from their nests long enough for babies to expire from the heat, according to Mr. Larremore.
Mr. Larremore told of the success in protecting nests by cordoning off sections of Beach on 3 Rooker Bar during nesting season. Some of the species that are making a comeback because of the efforts of the DEP in Pinellas County are the Black Skimmers, the Caspian Tern, and the American Oyster Catcher. Mr. Larremore spoke with appreciation of the help the local Audubon Society and other volunteers have given the department in this effort.
Mr. Larremore urges the public to be aware of areas of nesting birds and stay well away from them. "One boat, landing on the beach where birds are nesting, can cause incredible damage, let alone an unleashed dog", he says.
Mr. Andy Squires, Assistant Director of the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management, spoke about the successes and challenges of keeping Pinellas County beaches re-nourished. Pointing out that our beaches are all on barrier islands, which naturally move sand around, shaping and reshaping the islands. Now that we have "nailed them down" with buildings, the moving of sand is a problem. With all of the islands below Clearwater Beach needing re-nourishment approximately every four years, it gets expensive to keep moving the sand back on to them. "The actual transportation of the sand is the most expensive part", according to Mr. Squires, so they are always seeking sand sources closer to home, plus other ways or rebuilding the beach.
One rebuilding device that seems to be successful is the placing of T-groins along the waterfront to hold the sand in place. Mr. Squires showed slides of a successful project, begun in 2004. This device; however, is frowned upon by some people using the surf, so its future use in doubt.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium provides free programs each month that are similar to this one. Next month's program, scheduled for February 18, at 6:00 p.m., is "All About Sharks"; including information about our local sharks and general information about this fascinating creature.
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