Florida: Day two (Lovers Key)

Day two: Lovers Key (24/02/2019).

Temperature: 35°c.

Location: Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers FL.

Acknowledged species behaviours:

  • Feeding Bottlenose Dolphin.
  • Juvenile Gopher Tortoise locomotive behaviour (walking).
  • Manatee locomotive behaviour (swimming).
  • Foraging and vigilance behaviours in the Great Egret.
  • Black Racer Snake locomotive behaviour (slithering).

On the 24th February 2019, we arrived at Lovers Key at 9:20am.

Lovers Key is a popular local and tourist attraction in Florida, compromised of 3 individual barrier islands (islands that protect the main coastland). During a historical era the land was sold to the Floridian state, to enable it to become the renowned, species rich, state park it is today.

Historically, Black Island was originally the home of the Pirate – Black Augustus, who proceeded to transform the island into his home shortly after escaping from prison. Black Augustus was issued with a choice: He could either sell the land to the state, or he would be forced to go back to prison.

Agustus made the decision to sell the land to the state, since it is federally protected and therefore cannot house developments. And, of course, to avoid backtracking to prison. 

The attraction accommodates 712 acres and has a plentiful area of 2.881 km. And is a popular site for viewing abundances of wildlife, including: Manatees, bottlenose dolphins, marsh rabbits, aswell as being home to over 40 unique bird species. Including Rosetta Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) and Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). 

The 4 islands are:

  1. Lovers Key
  2. Inner Island
  3. Black Island
  4. Long Key

Figure 22: A map of Lovers Key as noted on the Lovers Key website, stating the three main components of the area as listed above: Lovers Key, Inner Island and Black Island. 

Up until the 1960’s, Lovers Key was only accessible by boat and remained as an obscure island where couples would head off to in order to spend some private, alone time together. Today, however, Lovers Key is regularly visited by thousands of people per year and is now easily accessible by foot and from different modes of transport. And a road to the gain access to the island was constructed in 1965.

‘For years Lovers Key was only accessible by boat and it was said that only lovers headed to the island to enjoy its remote and solitary beach. Today, it is one of four barrier islands that make up its state park’. (Florida State Parks)

In 1983, the island was acquired by the state and in 1996, it merges with adjacent Carl E. Johnson County Park to become Lovers Key Carl E. Johnson State Park.

Source: https://www.stateparks.com/lovers_key_state_park_in_florida.html

Figure 23: A stunning beach at Lovers Key, photographed prior to searching for micro plastics amongst the nearby mangroves.

Lovers Key is home to a wide diversity of stunning and magnificent species, including 3 distinct types of mangrove. However, in total there are around 80 different species of mangrove trees which vary in their size.

Mangrove: a tree or shrub which grows in tidal, chiefly tropical, coastal swamps , having numerous tangled roots that grow above ground and form dense thickets.

The distinct colours of mangrove are: Black, white and red.

Factually, mangroves can not tolerate frosty conditions which means even the smallest amount of it could completely wipe out a mangrove. And, due to global warming and it’s unforeseen consequences, there has been a significant increase in the amount of mangroves across the globe. However, mangroves have adapted to thrive in both salt and freshwater environments and can engulf oxygen through the use of their pneumatophores.

Pneumatophores: In mangroves, and other swamp plants, an aerial root specialised for gaseous exchange.

Aswell as obtaining a wide diversity, mangroves also assist ocean cradles – since fish spend time in mangroves, whilst also assisting areas from bad weather conditions (including hurricanes).

Mangroves are also composed of low wave action areas, which in hindsight issues protection from the waves, provides safety to wildlife in the form of nurseries exhibited and also helps with the storage of carbon.

📌 Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle)

Red mangroves consist of drop and prop roots, pointy, shiny leaves and are the species located closest to the water in comparison to the other types. One of their distinguishing properties is long propagules, which enable the species to give birth to live young.

📌 Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans)

Black mangroves contain special roots that stick out to resemble fingers, they are bendy and flexible and inhabit pointy leaves. Unlike red mangroves, black mangroves have teardrop shaped propagules and are covered in a rough, black bark which resembles Elephant skin.

📌 White mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa)

White mangroves are located at the furthest distance away from the water. Their tap roots are sharp and pointy, and their rounded leaves make them easily identifiable. White mangroves have the ability to secrete nectar and can maintain a symbiotic relationship with plants, including ants, which assist in protecting the tree.

We headed to the infamous bridge keen to spot manatees (Trichechus) following the success of other students in previous years. Binoculars at the ready, all remaining silent, it wasn’t long before we spotted a manatee in the far distance.

Heading around Lovers Key in groups, we had the privilege of encountering spectacular animals in their natural environment. Including bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops) within reaching distance, actively engaging in feeding behaviours and respectively pondering in the bubbles of small boats nearby.

Further information about the distinct types of Mangrove can be found via the following resource:

https://environment.bm/red-mangrove

A video of a feeding dolphin amongst the mangroves during our visit to Lovers Key. The dolphin swam within a close proximity of us and then proceeded to play curiously near the canoes heading in the opposite direction.

Figure 24: A bottlenose dolphin pictured feeding beneath the waters surrounded by mangroves during our blissful walk through Lovers Key. 

We also had a joyous experience of seeing a minuscule juvenile tortoise walking around freely (and relatively clumsily…) throughout the open spaced, clustered environment.

A video of a juvenile gopher tortoise spotted upon a vegetated, isolated area situated in Lovers Key.

After a venturesome walk around Lovers Key, we collectively made our way to the beach, with the majority of us opting to swim in the crystal, blue ocean whereas others preferred to relax on the picturesque, subdued soft sand.

Shortly after arriving back to Vester Marine Field Station, we walked to Barefoot Beach at 6pm in a cluster of 16 students with promises to witness a glorious sunset after a memorable day spent exploring Lovers Key.

Figure 25: The sunset appeared to be a stunning sight, with pastel pink colours to begin with, then transforming to an intense beam of orange setting pleasantly in the distance.

SPECIES OF THE DAY:

The species we spotted on the day of the 24th February 2019 include the following:

Figure 26: Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus). 

Bottlenose Dolphins are one of many species of dolphins found inhabiting Floridian temperate waters. The species are intelligent, curious and playful and are typically found diving amongst the bubbles of boats. 

Figure 27: Brown anole (Anolis sagrei).

Brown anoles are a invasive species in Florida, in conjunction to their counterpart – The green anole. 

Figure 28: Juvenile Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). 

Gopher Tortoises are a species found only in Southern Florida. The species have shovel like legs which assist them in digging holes to seek shelter in, and to lay eggs in. 

Figure 29: Adult Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). 

Gopher Tortoises have the ability to dig shelters for up to 360 other species, therefore making them a prime keystone species in Florida. 

Figure 31: Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).

Grey Herons are typically found in areas of America, Europe and Asia. They have a noticeably large wing span, ranging from up to 2 metres in width to assist them in locomotive flying behaviours. 

For further information on Lovers Key State Park, please visit the following source:

https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lovers-key-state-park

Reference list:

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