Florida: Day one (Barefoot Beach)

Day one: Barefoot Beach Reserve (23/02/2019).

Temperature: 30°c.

Location: Barefoot Beach Reserve, Fort Myers FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Turkey Vulture vocalisation whilst sitting upon the raised nest.
  • Feeding Gopher Tortoise.
  • Resting Gopher Tortoise (situated under manmade object).
  • Foraging behaviour exhibited upon gulls peering for oceanic fish.

Figure 1: Myself, amongst other Zoology and Biotechnology Students, listening and simultaneously taking notes during an interesting, thought provoking talk from Volunteer, Jimmy Trulock.

Figure 2: An image of Barefoot Beach, formed of glorious, soft beaches, taken during a spectacular tour of the reserve from Jimmy as he gave an indication of the four components of the fascinating reserve.

On Saturday 23rd February, we left our accommodation (Vester Marine Field Station, located in Fort Myers) at 8:30am, lathered in high factor sun cream with our backpacks at the ready filled with notebooks, cameras, binoculars, swimwear and, of course, plenty of water.

Essential in the blazing heat.

We eagerly headed to the Barefoot Beach Reserve, a breathtakingly beautiful reserve developed in the 1900’s, which started with a mere 342 acres which later extended into the reserve. The drive was speedy, lasting approximately 10 minutes and situated closely to our stunning accommodation owned by Florida Golf Coast University, allowing us to promptly arrive at Barefoot Beach at 8:40am.

Barefoot Beach is made up of 5 separate zones, including:

  • Maritime Hammock
  • Estuary System
  • Coastal Strand
  • Foerdune
  • Upper Beach.

Presented in the order of shoreline closeness.

Figure 3: A sign spotted and photographed as we entered the reserve, welcoming us to Barefoot Beach.

We arrived at the reserve with the plans to meet Jimmy Trulock: an experienced volunteer at the reserve, and an ex-ranger at The (infamous) Everglades, for a scheduled talk in addition to an educational guide around.

Barefoot Beach also has an organisation named ‘Friends of Barefoot Beach Preserve’, which offer lectures, talks and a range of activities such as guided nature walks.

Jimmy informed us about the riveting history of the reserve, after confidently introducing himself and his wife, Martha – admirably referred to as “his bride”. It appeared that 186 acres of the reserve had been leased to the Floridian county approximately 50 years ago. And 200 acres had since then transformed into the infamous estuary and swamp, whilst a staggering 18,000 years ago the barrier island was created during an ice-age meltdown.

Barrier island: a long Island built up by the action of waves, currents and winds that protect the shore from the effects of the ocean.

Meanwhile during Jimmy’s talk, 2 vultures were nesting behind us on a suspended pole in which they had created their nest on.

We gained a further insight into species, upon peacefully strolling around the reserve and stopping on numerous occasions after delightfully stumbling across more compelling species. And, wonderfully, Jimmy informed us passionately that it’s against the law to damage certain species. Including the vegetation that holds sand bars together. And some species, such as the Tree Of Life, which grow bright purple berries throughout the warmer months, provide food, shelter and clothing to locals.

It was a marvellous experience to learn about species we hadn’t encountered previously either throughout Florida or in The UK, whilst also gaining a new understanding about the predominant resources they have the abilities to provide past and present.

It soon became apparent to us that Gopher Tortoises are often mistaken for being Turtle species and this makes concerned visitors take them back to the water in which they assume they inhabit. Unfortunately, Gopher tortoise lack the ability to swim, so this unintentionally causes more harm than intended.

The first Tortoise we witnessed during our visit to Barefoot Beach was a Female, who could easily be sexed as her shell was concave, which allows her to accommodate Males more effectively.

There are a series of warnings placed around the reserve to politely remind the public about the distinguishing differences between species (aquatic and terrestrial reptiles).

Figure 4: Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) 

The cabbage palm is a popular Floridian state tree, which is therefore protected. The heart of the cabbage palm tree is edible and can often be recognised on supermarket shelves. And, interestingly, a group originating from Spain arrived into Florida armed with metal, in order to harvest the heart of the tree, despite the fact this has detrimental impacts on the tree and its survival.

The species name derived from the tender, edible part of the bud which was commonly cut and said to resemble the taste and texture of cabbage.

Moreover, the cross hatching pattern which sits predominantly on the species is formed when the lower bonds drop from the tree and leave a base, named boots. Engrossingly, cowboys would use the cross hatches on the tree as a place to hang and dry their boots.

Figure 5: Florida state tree.

The Floridian state tree is also known as a palm, which is mysteriously a grass as opposed to a tree. Also referred to as a Monocod, when sprouted has a single leaf and creates fibres from newly open fawns. This species issues a range of functions, including forming the material required to make fish nets, ropes and cloths (all of which are durable).

Figure 6: White stopper tree.

The white stopper is one of several stopper trees native to Florida, consisting of deep green leaves. The tree was, unfortunately, damaged during a hurricane and gets its name from the white bark on the trunk. It is compromised of a noticeable white bark, which replicated the smell of a skunk (Mephitis mephitis). The species is rare as a result of forest clearing and due to the competition stemmed from invasive species.

Figure 7: Gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) 

The Gumbo Limbo gained its sublime name from indigenous (native) people, one of its main and most distinguishable features is the sticky and glue like sap. Moreover, the red peeling bark enables the species to be popularly known as the “tourist tree”, since it closely resembles an individual being burnt from the sun’s harmful rays.

The tree’s (easily identifiable) bark proposes many uses, mainly pharmaceutical, as it’s high in canon and helps to heal wounds.

Figure 8: Seven year Apple (Genipa clusiifolia) 

The seven year apple is a Southern Floridian species listed on the IUCN Endangered Species list, with it being placed in the red category. It contains sharp pointed petals, mildly toxic seeds and typically becomes rougher with age.

Further information on species (both plant and animal) can be reached using the following resource:

https://www.iucnredlist.org/

Figure 9: Prickly pear cactus (Opunita)

Prickly pear cacti are also known as tuna or nopal plants and have been used in Mexican-American cultures as a form of medicine, by helping to lower high blood and cholesterol levels as it contains both anti viral and anti inflammatory functions.

The species is often used for cattle feed and has a gel like substance in the leaves.

Figure 10: Native lantana (Lantana camara)

The Native lantana is a native Floridian species, which is sadly considered to be an endangered species. ‘Lantana can grow in a variety of areas, including forests, roadsides, pastures and citrus groves, thriving in shaded or sunny, dry or moist conditions (Dupperron-Bond, et al)’

The species can cause skin irritation if direct contact is made with it, but it can also be used in both sage and perfumes.

Figure 11: Necklace pod (Sophora tomentosa) 

The necklace pod is a unique flowering plant, gaining its name from the resemblance of a pearled necklace. This is because the blooms are located between the pods. This species attracts an array of animals, including: bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

The necklace pod is an edible species and can be used as a survival food, which was typically done in historian times.

Figure 12: Coastal ragweed.

The coastal ragweed is a flowering plant, with tendencies to grow moderately to fast, located in a collection of different countries, including The US. There have been noticeable declines in the numbers of coastal ragweed due to both coastal development and erosion.

The species is known to be an efficient soil stabiliser and can be used to treat conditions such as malaria (Plasmodium). 

Figure 13: Sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) 

The sea grape is a member of the buckwheat family. Dating back to prehistoric times, natives would scratch the leaves in order to mark their territory.

Jimmy informed us about the time his daughter’s partner (at the time) customised a love letter with the aids of the sea grape and a trusty scratching tool. And that it could act as a ‘community bulliten board’ due to its scratching properties. 

Figure 14: Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) 

The Brazilian pepper was imported from Brazil in the 1950’s. It grows a shiny red berry during the Christmas period, forms a Christmas bush and is known to be fast growing in contrast to other species.

Figure 15: Wild coffee (Psychotria) 

The wild coffee is a fast growing species which consists of berries similar to coffee beans. Which, when are ingested, can create a psychotic effect upon the individual.

‘The shrub itself has glossy green leaves marked with deep grooves, giving the foliage a beautiful texture’.

Source: South Florida Plant Guide.

https://www.south-florida-plant-guide.com/wild-coffee.html

Figure 16: Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) 

Poison ivy is a member of the cashew family and it displays 3 leaves. The species creates a powerful, burning rash if touched either purposely or unintentionally. Although the poison ivy is harmful to us humans, birds enjoy eating the berries grown on it, and tortoises have been found grazing on it contentedly.

Figure 17: Strangler fig.

The strangler fig species are typically common in Tropical forests throughout The World. They gain the name from the pattern of growth is displays upon host trees, as pictured below, which results in death amongst the host. ‘When the tree dies, a large upright strangler with a hallow core is left behind (1999)’

The stranger fig species produce figs which resemble small grapes, and the species is an epiphitic plant until the roots come down, but then it become a terrestrial plant when the roots relocate to the bottom.

  • Native plants: These are plants that exist in an area naturally and without any human intervention.
  • Exotic plants: Dissimilar to Native plants, exotic plants exist in an area due to human intervention.
  • Invasive exotics: Plant species that have detrimental impacts upon the Native plant population.

After a glorious morning venturing around the reserve, upon gaining more knowledge and embracing our inner Zoologists in the process, we had the opportunity of listening to another talk. Only this one was about sound.

Every day at the reserve, a different individual (from an intelligent range of naturalists and volunteers) present engaging talks about a vast selection of important topics, including climate change and the abundance of marine life inhabiting our oceanic ecosystems. Ranger Steven Torpy issued the talk of the day on Saturday, in front of a respectful audience, about the art of Soundscape Ecology.

Soundscape Ecology is the study of the acoustic relationships between living organisms, human and other, and their environment.

Sound isn’t the absence of something, but it is the presence of everything.

Question: If you wish to encounter a pleasant hearing experience, how can you turn sound down?

Steven conveyed information about both biophony and geophony, which are simply sounds of the natural world, including roaring thunderstorms and the crashing of waves. Some sounds can help to improve memory, and can act as an influencer towards the fight or flight response system, typically triggered when the body is faced with a potentially threatening situation.

  • Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are known to be “chatty”, and can amazingly produce high pitched noises in order to successfully communicate with one another.
  • Bats (Chiroptera) and dolphins have the ability to produce a high pitched noise, with it being so high, we as Humans lack the ability to hear it. Both species also have the ability to detect movements by means of echolocation. 

SPECIES LIST OF THE DAY:

Some of the species we observed at the reserve on the day of the 23rd February include:

Figure 18: Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Gopher tortoises are a long living species that can only be located in Southwest Florida. Since gopher tortoises share their burrows with a total of up to 350 other species, they are commonly referred to as ‘keystone species’.

Keystone species: A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its natural environment relative to its abundance.

Figure 18: Ant lion (Myrmeleontidae)

Ant lions belong to the insect family, compromised of approximately 2,000 species. They live in small pits in dry and fine soil.

Image credit: Zakariah Wait (Zoology Student, Bangor University).

Figure 19: Brown anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown anoles are a species of lizard with preference for open, vegetated sites native to Cuba and The Bahamas. They are known to feed on small arthropods, alongside their moulted skin and detached tails.

Figure 20: Brown anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown anoles belong to the phylum Chordata and can grow up to 21-cm in length.

 Figure 21: Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis)

The cuban tree frog is the largest tree frog species throughout South America and is also a carnivorous species, feeding on small insects, birds and snakes.

For further information on The Barefoot Beach Reserve, please visit the following source:

https://www.colliercountyfl.gov/your-government/divisions-f-r/parks-and-recreation/beaches-and-boats/barefoot-beach-preserve-county-park

For further information on the Friends of Barefoot Beach Preserve, please visit the following source:

https://www.friendsofbarefootbeach.org/history-of-the-friend

Reference list:

Duperron-Bond T, Ketterer-Guest E, Langeland K, MacDonald G & Sellers B. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. UF|IFAS University of Florida, institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Noteworthy Plants. (1999) Stranglers & Banyans: Amazing Figs Of The Tropical Rainforest.

South Florida Plant Guide. Your Guide To Florida Landscape Plants.

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