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?