Tuesday, June 23, 2015

30 Days in June: Day 22, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarian Research Reserve

GTM Beach
What do you do when your friend texts you at 9:30pm and asks if you want to go to the beach in the morning? If you're me, and you are trying to get in all the Florida nature experiences and time with friends that you can before you move, you say "heck yeah"! So my friend Grace and I loaded all our gear into the car (it takes an amazing amount of stuff to just sit on the beach for an afternoon) and drove off for the Atlantic coast.

Pelican on Azure Seas
Grace had a favorite beach in mind, at Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarian Research Reserve (GTM for short). Quite a mouthful. I visited the reserve only once before when I was taking the Coastal unit of the Florida Master Naturalist course. The name is so long and complicated that I can never remember it and have to Google it every time. But it's a really great place! GTM Research Reserve is a protected area of 73,000 acres of coastal habitat south of Jacksonville. There is an education center and nature trails and miles of undeveloped beaches and natural dunes. It was blazing hot by the time we got there and so we decided not to walk any of the nature trails and to just enjoy the beautiful beach.

We sat in the shade of the umbrella and ate a delicious lunch while we watched Terns, Gulls and Pelicans diving and fishing. Terns are such graceful flyers and divers. It's wonderful to watch them hover and flap before they tuck their wings and zoom down to snatch a fish. Periodically we could see Dolphins surfacing in the distance. The water closer to shore was brown and murky from the sand stirred up in the surf. Further back it was a deep azure, reflecting the clear sky. Sea breeze and the sounds of sea birds completed the picture of perfection.

Laughing Gull

Lucky Royal Tern with Fish



A fisherman set up just down the beach from us and within the first 5 minutes he had caught something. To our surprise it was a baby shark! We watched him carefully unhook it and throw it back. Then the other line tugged and he reeled in another shark! We ran over to get a closer look and he unhooked it and handed it to Grace to hold and throw back. Both were Black Tipped Sharks. It was a beautiful little thing. The profile looks funny because of the way Grace had to hold its head so it couldn't bite her. She tossed it in the water and we watched it make its way out past the surf.

Black Tip Shark

Hooked, but Released
Back in our comfy chairs, we watched our neighbor catch 5 or 6 more little sharks and throw them back. They just couldn't resist the raw bait fish. More amazing, though, were the full sized sharks that we saw breaching and splashing, in the very area where we had just been wading and swimming! Apparently it was shark week. Kind of scary and sobering until you realize that there are always sharks in the water and that you are statistically much more likely to be killed by car crashes or the flu or food contamination than by sharks. Sharks, on the other hand, should be very worried about humans. We kill an estimated 100 million sharks every year. So, think about that when you are scared to get into the water!

Fishing Boat
We had a great day and came home sunburned and sandy. I am only sorry that I learned about this beach just before we are moving away, but we have added it as a good place to visit when we come back in the future. I'm so thankful for my free schedule right now that gives me the chance to act on impulse invitations, and especially thankful for the friends who invite me!

Saw several new birds but they don't count because they were out of the county. 26 natural areas visited.