Thursday, 13 May 2010

Maritime history and BioBlitz

Hi all

After Family Fun Fest was over, I spent some time exploring the park even more. One of my favorite days was going out to learn about some of the park's history on a boat tour with Ranger Gary. Since most of the park is covered by water, lots of the history has to do with islands, shipwrecks and lighthouses. I learned that people have been spending time in Biscayne National Park for 10,000 years, from native peoples, to pirates, shipwrecks, smugglers, millionaires, pineapple framers and presidents.

On the boat, I met Charles and Connie Morelly. They have lived in Parkland, Florida for 53 years! Even though Parkland is only about 1 1/2 hours away from Biscayne, this was their first time at the park, too.

We became fast friends, and they held me up so I could see over the tall railing on the boat.

Our destination was Boca Chita Key. Eighty years ago, Boca Chita was a hangout for the rich and famous. It was owned by a man named Mark Honeywell, who manufactured heating controls for the home. The Honeywell Corporation still exists today, making thermoststs, security systems, smoke alrms, etc. Mr Honeywell built the little lighthouse as a way to get his own captains into the island, but it never had a light in it! Charles and Connie didn't want to go up to the top of the lighthouse, but I made another friend named Tatum who did. What a great view!
We could see all the surrounding islands of the Northern Florida Keys, and we could see how close they were to Miami...the 12th largest city in Amerca. Most of Biscayne National Park's visitors come by boat, so keeping track of them, where they are going and any bad things that they may do can be a problem.

The National Park service (the peple in charge here) really have their hands full with boats hitting the bottom and destroying seagrass habitats, taking too many fish, or fish that are too small, illegal immigrants (glad I had my passport!), and a whole bunch of other issues.

When we came down from the lighthouse, Ranger Gary and Tatum took me to see something very interesting to an English girl like me. It was a cannon from a British warship called the HMS Fowey! The ship sank in the park in 1748, while escorting a Spanish ship to the colonial capital in Virginia. The ship hit the reef and got stuck, so the crew threw heavy objects overboard.

Do you know what the heaviest things on a warship are? Yes! Cannons! They were able to free the ship, but a short while later it got stuck again. The crew climbed aboard the Spanish ship and headed to Virginia, leaving the HMS Fowey resting in what is today the park. The area is closed to the public to help protect it, but did you know that that shipwreck is still part of Great Britain? Anyway, Ranger Gary and Tatum left me for a while, and I wanted to look into the end of the cannon. Unfortunatel;y I had a bit of a Winie the Pooh moment. Yes you guessed it, I got stuck. Gary and Tatum were not there to lift me up, so I jumped, and got my big bear head stuck in the end of the cannon!
Thank goodness they heard me calling and came to my rescue!

On the way back in, Ranger Gary told us about BioBlitz, a 24-hour count of everything that runs, walks, crawls, flys, swims or grows in Biscayne National Park! I thought that sounded great, so I decided to stick around for another month to take part. Boy am I glad I did! Over 1200 schoolkids and their teachers and families came out on April 30 to work with nearly 200 scientists looking for species.

They were in the woods, on land, wading in seagrass areas, snorkeling, using robots to search for new much going on. I asked if there were any other bears in the park, and I was surprised when Gary told me that one scientist had found a water bear!

Water bears aren't furry like me, but look rather like an 8-legged bear who ate way too much! They live in water, but since they are so tiny (smaller than a pinhead), they don't need much. Dr. Randy Miller found waterbears on the concrete from the boardwalks at the park's visitor center, and found a different type in the moist bark of a tree! They are so tiny and cute!

I got to participate in another fun event at BioBlitz called Biodiversity University. It was an opportunity for me to learn firsthand about how biologists do work in the field by observing, identifying and mapping what they see. A sweet volunteer named Carolyn gave me a transcript, and as I learned about each of these topics, I got a stamp on my transcript.

Then I got to go to lots of the booths from lots of partners of BioBlitz, and each of them had a small lesson for me. I learned about butterflies from the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (, got to look at some of Dr. Miller's waterbears, and identified fish with the great kids from Teens for Oceans ( It is so inspiring to see young people making a difference for our oceans! As I completed the small activities, I got a stamp for each of my elective courses, and I earned enough credits to receive a PhD!
All told, over 810 species were identified in 24-hours. Really, there were a lot more, but they just couldn't type fast enough putting the data in! It will be many months before the park knows everything that was found, but you can see lists of animals.  and plants

( ) found during the BioBlitz, and there are some other great blogs out there about it too!

I'm so glad I stayed for Biscayne's BioBlitz. Sadly, while I was here, a terrible oil spill happened far on the other side of Florida out in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm heading to Texas, which is a lot closer to the spill, so I'll let you know more when I get there.

So long Biscayne National Park...I learned a lot while visiting, and hope I can come visit again soon! Thank you Gary for looking after me so well and showing me all this great stuff.

Bye for now, Bella

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