Florida’s vast, vulnerable beaches

I should have started my last post about Florida bugs with a confession: I could have avoided the whole thing by sticking to the paths …

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… instead of bushwhacking through the mangroves.

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Well, no matter. We’ve put the bugs behind us and have finally made it to the beach!

During our trip to Florida last November Esteban and I stayed across the street from the ocean, where once again I was struck by the power and immensity of the sea.

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Florida from 10,000 feet: mostly sand and water.

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I got up before dawn every morning to watch the sunrise. And although the light and the weather were a little bit different each day …

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… each new day drew the same cast of characters. I never got anything more than a scowl from the lady who carted off mounds of sodden seaweed in her tattered plastic bags, nor a single word out of the surfer I dubbed “Methuselah.”

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But by sitting still, I did gain the trust of some wildlife. One morning a seagull approached me, probably looking for handouts — but took flight when I extended my hand. The image of its sudden departure is a fail, but I still love the sunlight streaming through its feathers.

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Another day I watched a heron fishing along the shore. He looked awkward, stomping through the waves on his skinny stilt-legs, but he was a formidable hunter: He caught three fish in the 10 minutes I watched him.

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Even more comical were the sandpipers that sprinted along the foam’s edge with the manic intensity of tiny meth addicts. But when they stood still for a moment they suddenly seemed frail to me, and vulnerable.

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In fact, the more time I spent on the beach the less vast the ocean appeared — and the more vulnerable. One day Esteban and I spotted a crowd in the distance. “Let’s check it out,” I said. “Are you sure?” he asked. “It could be something grisly …”

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To the contrary, it was a sea-turtle release. I imagined how confused and thrilled the animal must have been to be back in the briny expanse, but fretted about the dangers it would once again face in the open water.

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One morning the beach was littered with shells. It was beautiful at first glance and I relished the crunchy carpet of carapaces.

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But my glee faded somewhat when I considered that every one of these shells represented a life.

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One shell in particular caught my eye — both because it was still mossy, and intact. I picked it up, thinking I’d found a real treasure, only to realize the shell’s architect was still inside. Its eyes poked out, like a snail’s antennae, as it surveyed me in return. I tossed it back into the ocean as gently as I could.

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This poor crab wasn’t as lucky, though.

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A couple of mornings, the beach was littered with Portuguese man o’wars. Some were still alive, their gelatinous bodies heaving as they suffocated on the sand. I briefly considered trying to return them to the water, but then remembered that the tentacles can be up to a foot long — and that their poison can sometimes be fatal. I felt terrible for the little creatures as I left them to die.

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During my morning walks I also noticed other types of litter, such as these branch bits that mimicked minimalist little bonsai trees.

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But even on the worst day, nature’s litter paled in comparison to the sheer volume of human trash I saw. Isn’t it ironic that we could kill something so vast as an ocean with tiny, careless acts?

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Here are 10 ways you can help protect the ocean, even if you’re 1,000 miles from the nearest beach.

Thank you — as always — for reading.


    • That’s a great question, Jim. It seems to be an innate drive, doesn’t it? There’s something magical about the ocean I can’t even put into words …

  1. Sunrise is so beautiful. I loved all of your observations and I have had many of the same as I have walked along the shore. I look forward to going back in a few weeks!

    • Aren’t sunrises wonderful? They help you start the day with a more meditative and positive mindset simply through their observation. So glad (and a teensy bit jealous) you get to go back to the beach in a few weeks. 🙂 Enjoy your time there! And thank you so much for stopping by …

  2. Great photos, Heide. You have to keep your eyes open and everything might happens. Just ‘see’ what happen to the shell’s architect 🙂
    Enjoyed your story!!

  3. What beautiful pictures! I absolutely adore the ocean (and this post) there is something so incredible and strong about beaches and oceans and how much like life they are constantly changing. Hope you have a great week! ❤

    • You’ve said it beautifully: Beaches are a wonderful metaphor for life’s transience and changeability, aren’t they? Thank you so much for your kind words; you’ve made my day. xx

  4. Lovely photos and you really took the time to become part of the location. Your detailed observations add to my appreciation of the photos and the environment. Thanks for taking us along.

    • “Fun” is a wonderful understatement, Terry. It was a marvelous week! And I agree with you on the man o’war: I find their color and iridescence beautiful, too — though I might feel quite differently if I’d actually been stung by one.

    • I love beaches too, of any sort. There’s something magical about places where land meets water, isn’t there? Thank you for your kind comment!

  5. Such gorgeous photos! I actually prefer sunrise to sunset in the look and feel of the light. Impressed you got up to watch it every morning! And I actually loved the photo of the gull flying away; pretty neat shot, body sharply in focus, half in/half out of a very clear photo. All were so great, but two more mentions: loved the heron swallowing the fish! What timing! And the small eye watching you from the shell – I’ve never seen like that before. Thank you so much for the “trip,” the beauty, the humor, and the education =)

    • You sure know how to make a gal’s day. Thank you for all your kind words, Lara! I’m with you in preferring sunrises — if only because sunsets make me melancholic (especially near the ocean). Also, sunrises are often more solitary and therefore easier to contemplate undisturbed. As for the heron: Well, I took so many shots of that bird in rapid succession that I could probably splice them into a movie! That’s my big secret behind capturing the “decisive moment,” ha ha. That little eye poking out of the shell still haunts me a bit, though … poor little creature! I hope it survived its “beaching,” both literal and figurative. Thank you again for stopping by, and for making my day with your kind comment.

      • Yes “) sunrise has a promising energy to it; probably why I prefer to sunsets! And I felt a little haunted by the shellfishes eye, too. Nature is not sentimental, we know. But it’s good to feel the beauty and love it inspires. Thank you for all the shared beauty!

    • I hope the good memories of growing up in Florida outweigh the homesickness … it’s such a beautiful place, isn’t it? Thank you so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment.

    • I hope you have the opportunity someday soon, Dakotah — it’s such a beautiful part of the country, and so different from any other too. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    • When I’m on vacation it’s *entirely* about having way too much free time, Xpat! 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, as always.

  6. Beautiful photos, H. Like you, I often feel the need to rescue things. I’ll scoop worms out of the gutter after a rain and return them to the earth. As a people, we do so much damage to the planet that I think even the smallest of gestures are worth it. You have a good heart. I’m glad you were able to escape the cold of Minnesota for a time. I haven’t been to Florida for nearly twenty years but I do remember it fondly.

    • What a kind soul YOU are to scoop worms out of the gutter and return them to the soil! Both the worms and Mother Earth thank you for that, I’m sure. As you so wisely say: Even the smallest positive gestures are worth the effort. Bless you for being out there, making the world a better place …

  7. The mangroves would be an exceedingly bad place to lose a contact lens…… third only behind a snowbank and the restroom of a 76 gas station featuring an empty soap dispenser.

    I really enjoyed these images, Heide. I’ve been conflicted for years about whether or not I’ll ever have a chance to visit Florida via free agency. It’s hard to know how it would come about. I had not-a-bad chance a few years ago when the boys’ mother was in Orlando for a business conference but all of the warning signs pointed to a no-go. My first time has got to be coastal and closer to the Keys. I liked coming along with you on this photo tour….

    • OMG. HAHAHAHHAAA! I can’t overstate how much I *loved* your rating system for “exceedingly bad places to lose a contact lens.” The image of the gas-station bathroom will have me cringing for the rest of the day, I’m sure.

      As for visiting the land of beaches and mangroves … I’m glad Orlando wasn’t your first impression of the Sunshine State. It’s fun for the kiddos (and convention-attending adults), but you’re spot-on in holding out for the Florida Keys. Or maybe Captiva Island! If you have a chance to visit either of those, jump on it like a wolf spider. 🙂

  8. Beautiful! I love the beach, especially at sunrise and sunset. Maybe it’s the magic of the sea… or maybe it’s the fishing… HA! Your pics make we want to shoot more! Love it!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Julie — and especially for saying that my photos make you want to shoot more. What a lovely compliment! And yes … yes, maybe I love the ocean also because of all those fish. 😉

    • You have absolutely MADE MY DAY with your kind comment. Thank you so much.

      PS: Your home is spectacularly beautiful; it’s one of my favorite places on Earth.

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