Written by Josephine Thurmond, GTM Research Reserve Marineland Field Office Volunteer
The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (the GTM Research Reserve) is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach and has a field office in Marineland, Florida. The Reserve offers informative and engaging guided walks as part of its educational Docent Series. Tuesday April 4th, volunteer Ron Ceryak led a Marineland Guided Beach Walk on the ocean side of the River to Sea Preserve.
|Volunteer Ron Ceryak|
Photo Courtesy of
Diane Reed 2013
Ceryak soon transitioned to identifying a piece of Sargassum seaweed. This led to a group discussion about the Sargasso Sea. This “sea within a sea” is uniquely defined by a convergence of ocean currents (the Gulf Stream, North Atlantic, Canary, and North Atlantic Equatorial Currents) rather than terrestrial boundaries. It is located in an area of ocean known as the Northern Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. Baby turtles hatched on local shores often make their way to the Sargasso Sea where they will grow up sheltered by a massive island of floating seaweed, centered in the gyre, until they are ready to head for the open ocean.
It is common during these guided walks to encounter people from many different backgrounds. One may find former
|Gopher Tortoise, one of many|
inhabitants in the area
Photo Courtesy of Diane Reed 2013
Another fascinating aspect of this program is witnessing the ever-changing beach landscape. Ceryak pointed out that it is normal to see the beach drastically change from one guided walk to the next. This is largely due to powerful currents and weather patterns. Intense wave energy erodes the shoreline sands, while powerful longshore currents transport the sands in a southwesterly fashion. In fact, longshore currents are responsible for establishing much of Florida’s coastline, having transported and deposited sand and minerals worn away from the Appalachian Mountains. Weather conditions (such as hurricanes and Nor’easters) further affect the landscape of the beach. In essence, one could go on these walks often and encounter a new landscape each time.
|Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection|
The GTM Research Reserve’s Marineland Guided Beach, Trail, and Matanzas Inlet Walk program is a unique educational resource. The walks offer an opportunity to learn about the local environment, including habitat; why the habitat is the way it is; the animals it supports; the changes it endures; and how it relates to the human population. In all, a guided walk can provide an endless source of conversation for participants to take home.