Thursday, December 15, 2011

Looking for Christmas Gift Ideas? Adopt a Sea Turtle Nest!

The GTM Research Reserve Marine Turtle Program has boasted
nesting counts in the 2010 and 2011seasons that were unusually high. From 1989 to 2009 the average number of nests was around 72. This year there were 187 documented marine turtle nests, the second highest nesting season on record for the GTM Research Reserve, after the previous 2010 season when there were 261 nests.

Of the total nests documented this season, 175 were loggerhead (Caretta caretta), five were Atlantic green (Chelonia mydas), and seven were leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles.

In addition to simply monitoring the nests, Scott Eastman, Reserve Biologist is studying such variables as temporal and spatial patterns in nesting, strandings, and in-water use of habitats which he tracks via satellite.

Volunteers working under the GTM Research Reserve permit, monitor nests and record data throughout the season, working in pairs and arriving on duty to patrol the beaches by 5:00 a.m. daily. The volunteers are credited for their dedication to the program. It is crucial to the goal of gaining a better understanding of marine turtle populations.

Many of the same volunteers return to duty year after year, doing their part to help these great turtles continue to populate the world’s oceans. As volunteer George DeMarino recently told a Jacksonville News Tribune reporter, “Sea turtles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and now they need our help to survive.”

In addition to its help with volunteers, the marine turtle program depends heavily on donations from individuals who support the work of the reserve. Visit our GTM Research Reserve Volunteer page for more information on how you can help support this wonderful program! 

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Can't-miss December events - starting now!

The year may be winding down, but Nature keeps her own time even when the days grow shorter. In December we welcome some of our favorite visitors as North Atlantic right whales travel to warmer southern waters for their calving season. Right whale aerial surveys begin this week on December 1, weather permitting, under the leadership of Tom Pitchford and his team. If you should happen to spot a Right Whale, be sure to call the FWC number (1.888.979.4253). There are less than 500 of these majestic animals on the whole planet. Your observation and report will help support their continued survival. Learn more at the GTM Research Reserve's Environmental Education Center (EEC), where you can see a right whale replica and learn about the St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra-based observation of these amazing mammals.

Other big news: The State of The Reserve takes place this coming Friday, December 2, from 1 until 6 pm ET. You'll enjoy an afternoon of presentations highlighting this past year's accomplishments in research, stewarship and education, followed by a locally-provided wine and appetizer reception and poster session. Register online by Tuesday, Nov. 29, or call The Reserve at 904.823.4500 for info.

While you're at the EEC, stop by The Nature Store. Benefitting The Friends of the Reserve, the Nature Store is delighted to offer a 25% holiday discount to members of The Friends through December 30, 2011. Your membership in the Friends (and proceeds from the sales of The Nature Store) help ensure educational activities, preservation and stewardship.

On December 11 and 18, from 8 until 11 am ET, Craig O'Neal, GTM volunteer and master naturalist, and Joe Hunt, whose photos are often featured in the Jacksonville Times-Union, will offer a photo safari through the Reserve's richly varied natural environs. Designed for advanced beginner and intermediate photographers, Craig and Joe will share details about the techniques they use to capture nature at its best, including camera settings, composition, macro- and landscape photography, HDP imagery and more. Cost for the event is $69 per person, with a portion of proceeds benefitting the Friends of the Reserve (there's also a $3 parking fee). Register and pre-pay for this event online, and visit for more info.

Finally, if you're reading this, please share it. Your voice is one of the best and most powerful tools we have for increasing awareness of this pristine, beautiful resource in our local community. So be the voice of the whales, the turtles, the sea grasses, the water. Post a link. And thanks for being the voice.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Annual peregrine falcon count...and frigatebirds!

For the past 14 years, an annual count has taken place in the environs of The GMT Reserve. We've been counting raptors; specifically, we've been counting peregrine falcons. Organizing volunteer Diane explained yesterday that the peregrines are quite unmistakable in flight. Their rapid ascents and dives are breathtaking, and unlike even the visually-similar raptors also abundant at The Reserve, including ospreys and eagles. With a brisk easterly wind lifting them, they seemed to swirl in the air all around visitors to The Reserve this weekend. In fact, their movement, once identified, truly IS unmistakable, and also quite difficult to capture on camera. Unless, of course, you're as expert with your camera as Craig O'Neal, whose photos are generously shared in this post.

We're delighted to report numbers almost as breathtaking as the flight patterns themselves. On Saturday, the count was more than 360 individual birds. On Sunday, at last report, the numbers were well over 300, as well, meaning that the count is trending to be the highest ever recorded, in a count that dates back to 1997. And we're not done yet: the count goes on for another 3 days. If you're interested, you can find the team, perched as high as they can get, at the top of the GTM NERR North Beach Parking Lot tower. And if you're really fortunate, you'll see what the team saw yesterday (and Craig's photo shows): a pair of frigatebirds, sometimes seen in southwestern Florida but extremely rarely sighted in our local waters.
Get out there!

All photos in this post (C) Craig O'Neal. All rights reserved. Stealing is bad for your karma.

OceanWise: A word of thanks to our community partners and sponsors

You probably know we're counting down to OceanWise (6 reservation-making days left!), a delightful evening of delicious, sustainable seafood, wine and beer - including some local brew!, a silent auction, friends, conversation and more...all coming together to benefit a local treasure: The GTM Research Reserve. And as excited as we are about the support of the community, the anchors of dedication provided by our volunteers, the fun of the silent auction and the palate-pleasing offerings of favorite local restaurants and their chefs de cuisine, the truth is that none of this would be possible without our sponsors.

We all know that business isn't *quite* business-as-usual these days. Many businesses are still finding their feet in the current economic climate, looking cautiously at their every expenditure, often making difficult decisions about how to allocate precious resources. So the businesses that have chosen to support OceanWise and its direct beneficiary, The GTM Reserve, have made a real commitment to the people of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville; they’ve take deliberate action to benefit those of us who live in northeastern Florida and the many visitors who help underpin our local economy.

This commitment is worthy of a brief pause of acknowledgement and thanks. Thank you, OceanWise sponsors:

Wells Fargo

Cap’s on the Water
Vystar Credit Union
Serenata Beach Club

Publix Supermarkets
Bank of America

Mane de Leon Salon
TC Delivers
Marriott at Sawgrass

Lofgren Rich RE/MAX Team
Wingate Insurance Group
APEX Color
Green F1 Properties

Please join us in thanking them by thinking of them as you make those same decisions about allocating YOUR precious resources, both business and personal.

And PLEASE don't miss OceanWise, where these names will be joined by many, many more donors, volunteers, silent auction contributors and by a diverse, fun party of people who share a vision of The GTM Reserve, a gift of pristine natural beauty for generations to follow ours.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Countdown to OceanWise, and a word of thanks

It's time to plan for OceanWise! This Saturday evening is rainy and windblown, a lovely one for staying in, maybe catching the game on TV with friends and family, catching up on email or reading - maybe even getting away with a nap. It's also a chance to think about what you might be doing NEXT Saturday, when the weather will surely have changed and may even offer a crisp hint of autumn. NEXT Saturday, October 15, we'll be hosting OceanWise at the GTM NERR Environmental Education Center and THAT means we'll be hosting some of the BEST seafood in town (with an eye to sustainability), wine and locally brewed beer, friends and conversation...and a silent auction with some truly remarkable offerings. This is all made possible by a stunning list of sponsors including our local chefs and their respective restaurants (Aunt Kate's, Caps on the Water, The Kingfish Grill, Aqua Grill, The Reef, The Manatee Cafe and many more; you KNOW you love this food!) to local and regional businesses.

The silent auction promises to be really intriguing this year. Seranata Beach Club has donated a membership valued at $8,000.00, for which bidding will begin at $1500. There are works of art, including original pieces of various media. One local artisan told us the handmade jewelry item she's donated is the best piece she's ever made. There are gift certificates to a range of local and regional businesses, and many excellent bargains to be had. Get full details AND buy your tickets online. To those of you who've already got yours in hand, many thanks, and we can't wait to see you!

There are 3 critical legs supporting The Reserve: its employees, who work for the State of Florida; its volunteers, who are its heart and soul, and the Friends organization: OceanWise benefits The Friends of the GTM Reserve. The Friends organization, like similar "Friends" groups across the country associated with local National Estuarine Research Reserves, provides financial support and takes a long-range fiduciary view, helping The Reserve meet evolving objectives. The GTM NERR is richly blessed with an active, diverse volunteer base; these dedicated people comprise the Se Turtle Patrol, organize bird counts, help with adminstrative and data management, lead and coordinate educational activities, and much, much more. The NERR's staff includes scientists, reseachers, educators, communicators and more - many of them wearing more than one hat out of pure dedication. And likewise The Friends, which makes every effort to recruit community members with a range of talents to help serve needs of education, research and stewardship. Last evening all three groups united to celebrate the accomplishments and gifts of the volunteers, whose combined donated hours this past year exceeded a value of $100,000: there are no words to express what a gift this collective effort is to our community. Well, maybe these very humble ones: Thank you.

So here we are, all looking in the same direction, all with the same objectives, all hoping you might pitch in and help us. Join us for a lovely evening and help ensure the preservation of this amazing local treasure. Your kids with thank you. Your grandkids will thank you. And so will the kids and grandkids of people you don't even know. And you'll be the one enjoying that delicious, sustainable seafood, next Saturday night.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

OceanWise! Have you heard this yet?

OceanWise! You've heard about this, right? Mark your calendar: Saturday, October 15, begining at 6 pm.
If you don't have your tickets, visit (PayPal: easy as pie!), or call us at 904.823.4500 for information.

2011 marks the second year of this amazing event, and you're invited. The Friends of GTM NERR are delighted to throw open the doors of the Environmental Education Center, welcome you in your cocktail attire, and serve you sustainable - and delictable! - seafood offerings from local chefs, wine and even locally brewed beer. The evening includes a silent aution with some truly amazing items and is made possible by a roster of corporate and personal sponsors. The silent auction alone is reason enough to attend; one of the items is a membership at Serenata Beach Club valued at $8000; bidding begins at $1500. And that's just the beginning.

OceanWise benefits The Friends of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. You can skip this part if you know about us already, but in case you don't, here's the scoop. What used to be Guana State Park became, a number of years ago, part of the NERR system. A partnership between NOAA and coastal states, this system is all about studying and preserving estuarine eco-systems. Estuaries? These are the places where the rivers meet the sea: rich, diverse waters where fresh- and saltwater come together and unique nurseries for an incredible range of species are created. These are places of invaluable import to these species, to humankind and to our planet at large. They are big, critically important pieces of our shared environmental heritage and responsibility, and they need Friends to survive. Fortunate to have a NERR in our own backyard, The Friends of GTM NERR are all about helping ensure funding to bridge gaps that may exist. And we need you to help us.

Local chefs and their kitchens believe in this cause, and bring their culinary skills to bear for its benefit...and ours (okay, yes. We *are* excited; this is yummy stuff). Here are some of the local restaurants and businesses providing the sustainable seafood and tasty beverages with which to wash them down.
Aqua Grill
Aunt Kate's
Cap's On the Water
Whole Foods
The Manatee Cafe
The Reef
Raintree Restaurant
Augustine Grille
Bold City Brewery
The Bistro Culinary Outfitters
Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant

I know, right?

And it would be unfair not to mention those businesses, local and national, who have also lent their support. Some have provided monetary support; some have provided items for our silent auction, and some have done both (and then some!) A partial list of these businesses includes
Wells Fargo
VyStar Credit Union
Serenata Beach Club
Publix Supermarkets
Mane de Leon Salon
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
Bank of America
TC Delivers
Lofgren Rich ReMax Real Estate Team
Apex Color
Wingate Insurance Group, Inc.

The silent auction will include, in addition to the Serenata Beach membership, a wide range of gift certificates, art work incuding hand-crafted works from local artisans and so much more...intriguing, beautiful and valuable items continue to arrive every day. This event was sold out last year and we think the same thing will happen this year, so please book your tickets now, if you don't have them yet. Please join us in celebrating this jewel of northeastern Florida. We have a spot for you right here next to us, and a chilled glass with your name on it. Get your ticket. See you at OceanWise!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small things? BIG Impact! Coastal Cleanup & Estuarine Day

How to make a big impact? How to make my small difference? How to be part of change?? For me it was those Publix shopping bags. You know: remembering to take them with you, choosing to use them rather than plastic bags...a relatively easy planet-friendly thing you can do, but something requiring a little forethought.

The GOOD NEWS? There are some great *GREEN* things you can do that don't require planning or commitment beyond this or next weekend. If you're taking the fam to the beach this weekend anyway, why not get in on the good vibrations??

International Coastal Cleanup Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) - All you have to do is show up at the GMT NER Reserve's Education Center, willing to help clean up. Collect garbage, pay attention. Your data will be collected and the whole wide world will benefit from your helping hands. For more info, see us online or call 904.823.4500.

National Estuaries Day (Saturday, Sept. 24) - Filled with family fun including a treasure hunt, this is a helping hand everyone can feel great about! Get into the spirit with our pirate theme and hunt while you learn more about the Reserve and all it has to offer. All you have to do to get in on action is BE THERE. There's a $5 charge per car, and these proceeds go to support the work of the NERR. More info? 904.823.4500 or DM me. Can't wait to see you out there!

And please don't forget OceanWise! Coming up October 15, this is the signature annual fundraising event for the Friends of the GTM Reserve. More info? DM us, or call 904.823.4500. Or just stay tuned - more info coming online as the event gets closer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reminders: You can make a difference this week. Really.

Just a reminder: it's a busy week! Next week brings National Estuarine Day, but one small step at a time, right?

9/15 (7-8 pm): Fossils on Florida's Beaches
Presented by Jake Fitzroy, GTM NERR's interpretative ranger, this is a GREAT chance to find out about collecting fossils on the beach. (Did you know those shark teeth you've been collecting are hundreds of thousands - maybe even millions - of year old?) You're even invited to bring that bucket of stuff you've been collecting - Jake will help you identify it. Don't miss it - I've been and it's FUN. Location: Nocatee Welcome Center. It's free but please RSVP to Rachel Robertson at 904.924.6858.

9/17 (8 am - 11 am): International Coastal Cleanup Day
Since 1986 over 6 MILLION volunteers in 127 countries have taken part in this event, removing trash and recording invaluable data. Check in at the GTM NERR Education Center OR our Marineland location between 8 and 9 am. More info is at, or 904.823.4500. So, can you make a difference? You can. Yep. Really.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

International Coastal Cleanup Day

How great is this?
I already wrote to you guys about International Coastal Cleanup Day, so all I have to do is remind you that it's Saturday, September 17. At GMT NERR, we'll be signing you up at the Guana River Road AND Marineland locations between 9 and 11 that morning. And all the details are here.

I figure all you really need me for on this one is to remind you of the date. Because who doesn't want to help clean up our beloved beach? This holiday weekend, we took a long walk that ended in an armload of recyclable trash, left near the north walkover in a neat heap, as though with the assumption someone would pick it up. Someone did, of course, but if I hadn't, that someone might have been a sea turtle, a fish, a snake or marsh rabbit....well, you get the idea. But September 17 gives you a chance to walk down the beach, pick up the unwanted AND RECORD DATA about it. You can make a difference. I sure hope to see you out there.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Coming attractions (calendar edition)

For your convenience, here's a list of upcoming events you can mark on your calendar. Details on each will be available in dedicated blog posts.

9/15 (7-8 pm): Fossils on Florida's Beaches
Presented by Jake Fitzroy, GTM NERR's interpretative ranger, this is a GREAT chance to find out about collecting fossils on the beach. (Did you know those shark teeth you've been collecting are hundreds of thousands - maybe even millions - of year old?) You're even invited to bring that bucket of stuff you've been collecting - Jake will help you identify it. Don't miss it - I've been and it's FUN. Location: Nocatee Welcome Center. It's free but please RSVP to Rachel Robertson at 904.924.6858.

9/17 (8 am - 11 am): International Coastal Cleanup Day
Since 1986 over 6 MILLION volunteers in 127 countries have taken part in this event, removing trash and recording invaluable data. Check in at the GTM NERR Education Center OR our Marineland location between 8 and 9 am. More info is at, or 904.823.4500.

9/24 (10 am - 3 pm): National Estuaries Day
This event has a TON of activities associated with it, including live music, a presentation by H.A.W.K.E., with live birds of prey, guided kayak trips, and an archaeological bike tour. It's going to be great fun for the whole family. There's a $5 fee per carload, which supports the educational, research and stewardship activities @GTM NERR. More info to come in a blog post here, or you can check, or call 904.823.4500.

10/15 (6 pm - I don't actually know): OceanWise
This is the major fundraising event hosted by Friends of the GTM Reserve, dedicated to funding the wide range of research undertaken at the reserve by local and visiting scientists, educational opportunities provided to local teachers and kids, and the stewardship of this magical place, which is so dear to so many of us. In its second year, OceanWise promises to exceed the high bar that was set last year. The event begins with a cocktail hour featuring beer, wine and appetizers and continues to entrees prepared by leading chefs at local restaurants who share our passion for sustainable seafood, and will include a silent auction (BIG fun, and great stuff!) We have some AMAZING sponsors to thank, too, but will include in the blog post, because we believe you want to know what local businesses go above and beyond in support of local non-profits and treasures, like the Reserve. Tickets are available online (; follow the "OceanWise" path) and are limited to 200 attendees, so get them while you can. Drinks, great food, friends old and new...We can't wait to see you there!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dear, dear followers...

...where are you?

Blogs work like this: Bloggers write stuff, and then YOU, the all-important follower, WRITE BACK. You tell the blogger how wrong he or she is, or how heartily you agree. You stamp your feet. You make noise. If you're exceedingly generous - and as I know each of you, I happen to know that you are - you share your perspective, your thoughts, and above all, the power of your unique voice.

Without these voices we are doomed to that most dreadful of all social media fates: virtual silence. Please use your powerful voices to help our small voice resonate. It's like using cloth shopping bags, or choosing to drive less. It's like turning off lights when you don't need them, or buying local produce. It seems such a small thing, but the ripples of your voice will carry on and on. Let us hear from you. It really does mean the world to us.

Sand castle day

Today's simple walk on the beach at the GTM NERR* was unexpectedly transformed into sand castle day, with various works of beach art under construction or on display, each punctuating our walk with the spontaneity of sand as a primary construction material. The wind was huffed a bit out of the southeast, offering no hints about any weather coming from the Lesser Antilles. In fairness, it must be said that those hints might have been there, but if so, they were too subtle for our modest meteorology. From our view, the southeast wind just meant lots of sand in the water, and a high tide that pushed in a bit more than perhaps the moon might have pulled on its own. This first picture is of a castle under construction, with its retaining wall and moat being carefully built in the early afternoon just past the high tide. "I've never actually built a sand castle before," one of the engineers told us, "we're just trying to entertain them." This was with a toss of the head toward the children who were clearly heading up the Design and Construction departments. "They" seemed abundantly entertained.

This entry was very nicely done and had a certain beguiling charm and individualism. Its authors were modest about their talents, and philosophical about the future of their construction, joking about the inevitable tragic end awaiting all sand castles, including their own.

A few short yards south on the beach led us to this professional-looking design and execution, clearly constructed with the aid of some of the modern high-tech sand-castle-building tools of the trade. It was no less charming or fun to look at, for all that, though it seemed to have been abandoned by its builders. They were splashing and laughing in the warm water, undisturbed by the thought of the certain destruction that will come with the next high tide.

Reflecting the experience of living in The Walled City, as St. Augustine was once called, this entry, whose construction team had, sadly enough, departed the scene by the time of our observation, was built with safeguards against weather and water. The moat allows waves to surround the building and then flow back toward the sea, and the building includes small tunnel in support of the concept.

The final outcome of that very first project is shown in this photo, where you can see the architectural flourishes and touches in the form of carefully selected shells. As the first sand construction to greet us, and the one to bid us farewell, we had a special fondness for it, but we leave the real thinking to you.

Where are your sand castle photos? Have you taken your kids to the beach for a construction project or a kite fly or a swim or just a lazy afternoon? If you have, you know we want to hear about it. Even if you don't feel like sharing it, we hope you enjoyed it thoroughly. And we gently remind you that it's never too late. Get out there.

*Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. I know, I know: it's a mouthful, all right. But it's a treasure, and as our friends @pontevedrahomes have reminded us (and we paraphrase, here): It's the land none of us can buy, and all of us own.

Photo credits: Angela Christensen (c) 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

International Coastal Cleanup - and you can help!

Here it is! A chance to make a positive impact on a treasured resource that does NOT involve making a donation.

The GTM Research Reserve will participate in an International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, September 17th from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. The International Coastal Cleanup is the world’s oldest and largest volunteer effort to clean up our marine environment. This event will contribute data to an international effort.

Each year, volunteers remove and record data on the trash and debris collected from their local beaches, rivers, lakes and streams as well as along shorelines and underwater. Since 1986, over 6 million volunteers in 127 countries have participated in this global event involving every major body of water on the planet! We need your help! If you are interested in helping to clean up our local beaches and contributing data to this international effort, come out to the GTM Research Reserve. CHECK IN IS FROM 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. (clean up ends at 11:00 a.m.) at the Research Reserve’s Environmental Education Center, located at 505 Guana River Road Ponte Vedra Beach, FL OR at our Marineland office, located at 9741 Ocean Shore Blvd. Marineland, FL. Call (904) 823-4500 or visit for more information.

Diana Eissing and Angie Christensen contributed to this post.
Photo credit: Angela Christensen (c) 2011

Ever wondered about the geology of sand?

You're invited to a brown bag lunch and learn session covering the topic "Subsurface and Shoreline Geology: The History and Mystery of Shorelines".

For anyone who has ever wondered, “What is all this stuff beneath my feet on the beach? Where did it come from and how did it get there?,” Reserve volunteer and retired hydrologist Ron Ceryak will give a presentation which will take the audience on a trip through time and under the sea to learn about the history and mystery of shorelines. Drawing upon 32 years as a hydrological engineer with the Suwannee River Water Management District, Ceryak has prepared a lecture to interest anyone who has ever walked along the beach and wondered about the vast mysteries of sea and shore through time. The FREE presentation will take place Friday, September 2nd from noon to 1:00 p.m. at the South Ponte Vedra Beach Civic Association located at 2724 South Ponte Vedra Blvd. Please call 904-823-4500 for more information or to make reservations.

Diana Eissing and Angie Christensen contributed to this post.
Photo credit: Angela Christensen (c) 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's a NERR?

What, indeed, is a NERR? It's an odd-sounding acronym for something that's uncommon if not downright rare, and quite wonderful to have as part of your community. A NERR is a National Estuarine Research Reserve, a place set aside for the pursuit of knowledge about these delicate ecosystems and their denizens. Flora, fauna, and the all-important habitat itself. If you live in northeast Florida, especially St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra or Jacksonville, you have a NERR in your own backyard. And you may not even know it. You may spend a day at the beach at crowded Mickler's Landing, not realizing that just 3 miles south is a pristine, undeveloped beach, uncrowded, with room to spare. It's knowledgeably overseen by expert staff, carefully kept safe by dedicated DEP officers and SJC Sheriff's deputies, and patrolled by committed volunteers who help ensure the well-being of inhabitants like nesting sea turtles. You can put $3 in the box, or you can buy an annual pass for about $60.

Formerly Guana River State Park, the area known today as Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR is right out there, waiting for you. The top photo is what it looked like this evening. The other photos are of a beautiful bright red piece of natural coral sponge that washed up, broken from its mooring, perhaps by the remnants of TS Emily. This was tonight's gift of the Great Mother Ocean; virtually every visit yields something as magical. And these are your treasures, too. Go out, and see for yourself.

Coming soon: details about Oceanwise, the annual fundraising event hosted by the Friends of the GTM Reserve organization. This event involves a silent auction, so don't be surprised if you hear me asking for donations. Although the Reserve is a unique partnership between the federal and state governments, there's never enough money to support research helping populations like sea turtles and North Atlantic Right whales, to bring teachers and students to sea science in action, to maintain parking lots and get the idea. But you believe in all these things, so maybe you won't mind too much when I knock on the door. Oceanwise. What wisdom could be better?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Education Center Construction update - event cancelled

As you may know, the GTM NERR Environmental Education Center is undergoing some construction. While this is great for all of us in the long run, now and then we have to adjust course a bit to accommodate the change. We've had to cancel a planned brown bag lunch that was scheduled for Friday, August 5. Stay tuned for details about a new date, and as always you can call the Education Center for information at 904.823.4500. Details about the event are below. In the meantime, be sure to get out to the Reserve for the sun, the wildlife, the surf, the trails...well, you know what we mean. Don't forget to find us on Facebook
and follow us on Twitter @GTMReserve.

BROWN BAG LUNCH LECTURE AT THE GTM RESEARCH RESERVE-CANCELLED --Natural Aesthetics: Conservation Outreach through Visual Art-- The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve) will host its August brown bag lunch lecture at noon on Friday, August 5th at the GTM Research Reserve Environmental Education Center (EEC). Our presenter will be International Artist David Montgomery whose work is inspired by nature. He focuses in on the smallest details to display seemingly common elements of nature in an entirely new way, revealing its intimate detail and beauty. His animations have been recognized internationally at film festivals, projected onto buildings, used for music videos and live shows, and featured in a planetarium. Most recently his work has been on display locally at the Cummer Museum and is currently on display at MOSH in Jacksonville. Underlying all of his process is a deeply embedded passion for natural world, and especially the amazing flora and fauna found in our own backyards of NE Florida. He will discuss his inspirations, process, discoveries, and hope that his work can influence others to protect and conserve the environment.

Photo credit: Angela Christensen
Artist unknown but much appreciated

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Beach art today, Beach Walk coming up

Senator Bill Nelson tweeted yesterday about the high temps in other regions of the U.S., and said he'd never have expected to hear people talking about coming to Florida in the summer to cool off. And the temperatures in places like Philly and South Dakota touch triple digits, it was in the 90s at the beaches of St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra today, moderated by a strong breeze from the southeast. Plenty of people were out, and some of them were touched by the muse, as you can see in the photos. And the sea turtles would seem to be undisturbed by the heat, as we noted "N96" - the 96th nest in the northern section of the Reserve.
Anecdotal forecasts expect local sea turtle nesting to fall somewhere between levels set last year and the year before, and we're all paying close attention: volunteers and vistors, biologists and interested observers. Walking the beaches and noting the comings and goings of sea turtles - without actually *seeing* sea turtles - is one of the delights shared by beachcombers everywhere. Locally, we have the opportunity to learn (and maybe DO) more.

GTM offers Beach Walks to everyone. Come on out, learn more about your local natural resources and be part of the loose but dedicated community working to protect those resources.
GUANA BEACH WALK--Discover the importance of the beach habitats. The GTM Research Reserve will host a beach walk from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 30th at the Guana South Beach lot location. Join GTM Research Reserve Volunteers Rick and Roz Edwards for this “Beaches 101” experience; an informative and fun walk and learn about the sand, the importance of the dunes, and the animals that call the beach their home. Reservations are required. Please call (904) 823-4500 to reserve your spot. Meet at the Guana South Beach parking lot approximately two miles north of the Environmental Education Center which is located at 505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach. Be sure to dress for the weather and bring water. Regular parking fees apply, $3.00 per vehicle, annual GTM pass holders FREE.

Learning more is good for all of us. A close look at this photo shows the unmistakable path of a sea turtle, bound by geographic fidelity to lay her eggs close to place of her own birth. If the whole beach were visible, you would also see that she came up, went down, and did not nest. The moon? The tide? Too much light? Who knows?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elementary School Teacher Workshop - "Teaching on the Estuary"

A quick note of thanks to our friends at @Neds Kitchen for their #FF (Friday Follows) of @GTMReserve on Twitter. If you haven't eaten there yet,
treat yourself to a great meal at Ned's Southside Kitchen. If you have, of course, you sure don't need us to remind you.

MPORTANT Calendar Note
There are a year's worth of wonderful events at the GTM Education Center, but some of the most special are those related to kids and teachers. Here's a great opportunity tailored specifically for elementary school teachers, so be sure to pass this along to the teachers you know.
--Teaching on the Estuary--

PONTE VEDRA BEACH-The GTM Research Reserve is offering a FREE Teacher Workshop for Elementary School Teachers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on August 9th. This workshop is for teachers who would like to bring school groups to the GTM Research Reserve for a field trip or teachers who would like to gain more knowledge and materials to lead estuarine and marine based hands on activities in the classroom. This training is REQUIRED for all elementary teachers of non Second or Fourth Grade levels who are interested in a field trip experience to the GTM Research Reserve. Each instructor will have the opportunity to choose a hands on activity to use in their classroom. All materials & curriculum will be provided! The workshop will be held at the reserve’s Environmental Education Center located at 505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach FL 32082. Registration is required. Please RSVP to by July 29th. Space is limited. For further information please call (904) 823-4500. This event will take place on 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.August 9, 2011 at:
GTM Research Reserve Environmental Education Center
505 Guana River Road
Ponte Vedra Beach FL 32082
(904) 823-4500

A full calendar of events is always available at Friends of the GTM Reserve. There's somethin for everybody. See you at the beach!

Top: Morning glory, GTM North Lot near Sea Turtle nest N83
Center: Gopher tortoise crossing the walkover path, GMT North Lot

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blog followers: eyes only!

Dear Friends Who Have Been Kind Enough to Follow the GMT Research Reserve's Blog,

There's something you can do to help. And guess what? You'll love this part: it won't cost you any money. That's not to say you can't donate, of course, since you already know you can, and you already know we'll gently remind you of those opportunities now and again. But in this case, what you can do is simply share this link with your own personal circles of friends. If you know people who value the breathtaking blessing of the natural resource that is the GTM MERR, please share this link with them. And please let them know they can follow us on Twitter @GTMReserve. Because the more we grow the circle of awareness, the more we can do together to preserve what we have and expand opportunities for research to preserve what we have yet to even understand.

See? It's free, it's easy, and it's something you can do to touch the future.

Happy Fourth, and thank you so much for your kind support.

A new moon at The Reserve: bringing out the turtle in all of us

A new moon is a time for new beginnings. This is a fine thing when one is recuperating from a technological perfect storm and renewing one's communications with the rest of the world, and so the GTM blog begins anew today.

The new beginning was kicked off perfectly by a brown bag lunch and learn session with Scott Eastman, The Reserve's biologist with specific expertise in sea turtles. Scott's presentation focused chiefly on green turtles, and the question of whether or not they have an established presence in local estuarine waters. He shared an up-close-and-personal look at the process of data collection, observation and scientific process around the topic so even the kids in the room could understand. And some of the detail was quite close to home for those of us who live in St. Augustine, as one factor in his research was the presence of several green turtles who surprised everyone by turning up thriving and healthy in a pond near the Mission of Nombre de Dios, just a short walk from downtown St. Augustine. The audience ranged from experienced volunteer sea turtle patrol members to little kids to those who've seen photos of Dori, the green turtle who's been the subject of much of this research, in the St. Augustine Record or at Regardless of background or age, we were all fascinated. Great job, Scott! And it was no surprise to learn that one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of this research and all it might reveal to us about our own local green turtle populations is funding. There are issues of permitting to ensure protection of endangered and threatened species, and the team has the expertise to work through those challenges. No team, however expert, can work without the funds. If this is a place you can lend a hand, let us know or step on over to the Friends of the GTM Reserve, where a disciplined non-profit board can lend a reliable hand.

A new moon also means some astronomically dramatic high and low tides, so a walk on the beach was called for after Scott's talk. It was perfectly beautiful, the blue sky's bank of clouds held back over the St. Johns by light east winds. The walk was punctuated by an unexpected guest who'd been the subject of some conversation at the Brown Bag session. Last weekend, members of the Sea Turtle Patrol were asked by a beachgoer to check on the welfare of a turtle who'd been spotted in the dunes, not far from the boardwalk at the North Lot. When they investigated, they found no lost or injured sea turtle; in fact, they found no turtle at all. When we talked about it with them, we laughed because we've often seen a large gopher tortoise, a land turtle, foraging and sunning in this area. And as we left the beach today, who should quite literally cross our path at the foot of the boardwalk but this local denizen?
The perspective isn't great in the photo, and you can't see how quickly she's moving (but she is MOVING, believe me!) but she is easily half-again the size of a dinner plate. Lots of photos were taken before she disappeared into the grasses on the north side of the walk over. And with that, The Reserve kicked off another great weekend - and new beginning - for those who were able to enjoy it. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend, and don't miss the chance to boat, kayak, surf, trail-walk or simply soak up the sun. See you at The Reserve!

Monday, May 16, 2011

GTM weekend

So Saturday I tweeted enthusiastically about getting to the beach for a walk (or a wave, or a paddle, or whatever) just about 2 hours before this rather dramatic thunderstorm brewed up around us - yikes! But it was a beautiful walk in the north section of the GTM beach. Did anyone get out to the planned beach walk at the South walkover? It sounded like a great outing for new fans and old hands alike - if you were there (or just have thoughts about GTM NMERR events) please email and let us know. We'll try to share thoughts and insights using this forum. (You can email, and you can also contact us at our Friends of the Reserve site.)

The first sea turtle nest of the season has been noted, umm, more or less: I noted we'd seen N2. Some of you have probably seen N1 - and we want to know about it if you have. The dedicated biologists who work at the Reserve and the equally dedicated volunteers will have made detailed notes about it, and we'll be working to provide that info to everyone as the season unfolds. But for now, informal info and updates are welcome...keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

Finally, in the face of the changing weather this weekend I was torn between watching the eternally optimistic surfers and grabbing my dear old person to head for shelter off the beach. Before we left, though, on an astronomically low tide, in one of the clear, gorgeous tide pools, this sand dollar reflected the perfect light. Enjoy.

Oh, and...let us hear from you!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

First sea turtle nest sighting - N 2

With the arrival of May each year everyone who lives at, visits or loves the beaches of northeast Florida is reminded of the return of sea turtles to our shores. It's the beginning of the season during which turtles return over and over again to the areas from which they entered the water as hatchlings, this time to lay their own eggs. People who live at the beaches must be careful about lighting at nighttime, when turtles come ashore to dig nests and lay eggs, and hatchlings try to navigate from sand to sea. Those of us who visit the beaches must be thoughtful about how we change things by our presence: when we dig metal detector and fishing pole holes and sand castle moats, we're creating potential death traps for baby sea turtles. When we leave behind the even the most innocent-seeming garbage we may be leaving booby traps from which baby turtles and other wildlife can't escape. The good news? We get to watch the progress of the season, and take a small part in the successful efforts to preserve these amazing animals.

In 2010, the beaches of GMT MERR hosted more sea turtle nests than ever before in the recorded history of the organization. Is there a correlation between the amazing numbers of nesting turtles and the BP oil spill? Biologists think not, because turtles come home to nest, so to speak. As an observer, I credit Mother Nature and applaud the support She got from the biologists and other staff members at GMT MERR and especially the volunteers whose vigilant care helps ensure the success of these delicately balanced species.

Haven't seen it for yourself? Come on out! You can park in any of the three lots along A1A, walk across the road and enjoy a stroll on a pristine beach. Keep your eyes peeled for markers like the ones shown in the photo. Sometimes you can see the remaining imprint left in the sand by the body of a sea turtle. Now and then you might encounter one of those volunteers and have a chance to chat briefly about the work they do. And even if you don't, you'll have had a bracing walk along one of the most beautiful and best-protected beaches in the southeastern U.S. Don't forget the sunscreen. You'll want to stay awhile.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Turtle nesting season, 2011

There is SO much interesting stuff happening at the GTM Reserve this month, including a nature walk down at the GTM Center at Marineland. For those of us who came of age in northeast Florida, the very word "Marineland" evokes the Florida of the 1950s and '60s: dolphins jumping through hoops, movies being filmed (remember "The Creature from the Black Lagoon"??), a bar we'll always remember for its design and the manager, Norton Baskin, husband of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In later years the facility became more and more closely associated with world-class research through the Whitney Labs and GTM proudly takes its part in the legacy of research, learning and preservation. So much to talk about, so much to share.

Most timely? It's May! This means the sea turtle nesting season is officially underway. Many of you will remember 2010 as the most stellar year since we started recordkeeping for sheer numbers of sea turtle nests in the GTM Reserve. There were more than TWICE the average number of nests last year, so we're all watching with extra interest as this season gets underway. We'll try to keep you posted here, and in the meantime all your efforts are much appreciated. Remember that lights on the beach at night disorient turtles and may prevent successful nesting. Holes you dig on the beach, if not filled in before you leave, may be deadly to baby turtles heading out to sea. Pick up garbage and take it with you when you leave. And not just your own. Things wash up. Things like fishing line and old balloons are also potentially deadly to wildlife. Every cleanup effort is meaningful and micro-cleanup is perfectly painless.

Other volunteer opportunities are often available, so visit the Education Center, email ( or call 904.823.4500 if you can help.

Updates coming soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wait! Still spring, after all

Apparently that dose of summer we had was nature's foreshadowing of the plot: we relax, bask in the warmth of the mid-70s sunshine, step into the water, open all our windows and maybe even wrap ourselves in sweaters in the evenings. And then one day BOOM! - we have to turn on the A/C. But foreshadowing means it's not real, at least not yet. Take the afternoon off. Go fishing, go surfing, or just take your kids out, and make a small but perfect memory.

Watch the waves for porpoises, and keep an eye on the dunes for gopher turtles. Don't miss the red knots and other sae birds, busily raising new families. Wait for the turtles, who will be nesting soon. Mostly, just let yourself breathe, and remember how lucky we are to have this simple site of peace and surf and wildlife and sunshine, right here in our own backyard.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Summer at the Reserve...already?

At about 90 degrees on the beach this afternoon, it sure FELT like summer, though some of those crisp blue April days may still be ahead of us. The surf was relatively flat today but the ever-optimistic surfers waited for the occasional gift the ocean and wind might combine to deliver...and there were a few.

On Friday afternoon, we watched a big gopher tortoise sunning herself (himself?) just to the north of the North Lot walkover. Today, Sunday, we watched an unusually large crowd of beachgoers and perhaps even a few porpoises, catching waves with the surfers. The North Atlantic Right Whale season is coming to an end and the Reserve prepares for the nesting season of several amazing kinds of sea turtles, who generally begin to arrive in May.
As we all get ready for the turtle season, visitors are reminded to fill in any holes they dig. We make sand castles and walls of sand and dig into the coquina for shark teeth and metal, and it's FUN. But the holes we leave behind may not be evenly filled in by the changing tides, and when they're not they may become obstacles or even death traps for turtles, especially babies, on their hard-wired, hazardous and determined trip from sand to sea. Something to keep in mind.

Couple of other things:
GTM Resarch Reserve and Anastastia Mosquito Control are conducting an interactive program about Florida mosquitos: life cycles, habitats, diseases and methods of control and protection, on April 30, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Reserve's Education Center. For more info, contact the Reserve at 904.823.4500.

And one more note about Turtle Season: an opportunity to make a real difference for these precious local denizens: GTM Research Reserve is having a beach clean-up as a welcome home party. This is also scheduled for April 30 from 8 - 11 am, and registration is requested. For more info, please call the Reserve's Environmental Education Center at 904.823.4500.

Ready, everybody?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

GTM Research Reserve: Day 1 of a whole new way to welcome visitors

You may have always thought of this place as "Guana", especially if you grew up in St. Augustine or Ponte Vedra. You may have wondered about it, as you passed through, driving up or down the coast on A1A. In fairness, you may not have considered it at all. But because some of us believe it's one of the rare gifts of beauty in what is admittedly a generally beautiful state, it seemed worthy of its own blog and regular communications for those of you who want to learn more.

Coming soon are Facebook pages and a Twitter account, which will be great fun and will, we hope, open whole new doors of communication. We'll be featuring news from the Friends of GTML Reserve newsletter, updates on activities, and discussions with dedicated volunteers. As some of you know, March is the quiet month between the time the North Atlantic Right Whales leave our waters, where they have given birth to their calves in the quiet winter, and the time the sea turtles begin to return to our beaches to lay their eggs.

We'll be learning, sharing and growing here, with a focus on the intriguing estuarine ecosystem we hold delicately balanced in our backyards. We'd love to know what YOU want to know. Are you wondering what the heck that fossilized bone-looking thing you found on the beach might be? Interested in learning about all the flora and fauna at home in The Reserve? Want to learn more about pre- and post-Columbian peoples and their presence and influence here? We'll have all that and so much more. There's so much going on here, from photo tours to fossil identification classes to archaeological discoveries of pre-Columbian artifacts, to simple observation of a breathtaking array of species as diverse as tiny beach mice and delicate sea oats, and North Atlantic Right Whales and the few extant varieties of sea turtles nesting in the shelter of the dunes.

Please share questions and comments with us. You can do this by following the blog (which has space for this dialogue) or you can email us directly at If you post questions or comments to the blog, we'll try to get to those within 24 hours. Please follow the blog for regular updates or follow us on Twitter @GTMReserve.  So: welcome! Share your stories, your photos, your questions and insights. It's a fine day for a walk at Guana Tolomato Matanzas Marine Estuarine Research Reserve. You can call us The Reserve. :)

--posted by Angela Christensen