When I lived in Palm Beach County, Florida – So Fla to Floridians – we had such a variety of wonderful creatures surrounding us – as does all of Florida. I have a picture of me standing on a golf course with a crocodile behind me. Now, he or she wasn’t a very big guy as crocs go – maybe five-feet or so – but that thing was big enough that I was nervous and kept watching over my shoulder as my picture was being taken.
And the herons and the egrets and the little geckos – such a variety. I remember the huge bugs too. The cockroaches were huge, and I once had one get caught in my long hair. We sometimes called them Palmetto bugs instead of cockroaches, and I just had to know why they were called different things.
My boss, who was an attorney, explained the difference. If you were on the Chamber of Commerce and trying to put your city’s best foot forward, that buzzing, ugly, flying torpedo was a Palmetto bug. If you were just – well you and me – they were cockroaches.
One of my most memorable jaunts was to a place called the Hungry Tarpon Restaurant on Islamorada, a not so fancy establishment – classically known as a hole-in-the-wall with great food. But the most intriguing part of the experience was the deck out back. Entering the front, we thought we were just going to eat breakfast, but once inside, it became apparent that this place had much more to offer than just a good breakfast.
We were asked if we wanted to feed the tarpons out back. Mind you, I am a Hoosier, and, even though I had traveled, I really had very little concept of just what creatures lurked beyond my Indiana borders. What the heck was a tarpon? Why, said the waitress, it was a big fish. Um hm. Big isn’t quite the word for it. Big, ugly, and frightening is more like it.
So we bought a couple of small buckets of fish – I am not sure what kind they were – I just knew they were sacrificing themselves so that this tourist could see a tarpon get its fill. The deck was ordinary – long, slatted, and slippery. As I took my bucket out with me, the waitress was instructing me on how to “fling” my fish out into the water. I felt kind of bad – I am a vegetarian and I felt guilty about feeding these poor, hapless little critters to this monstrous thing that dwarfed them.
But not guilty enough that I didn’t want to experience a little slice of nature. The waitress instructed me on how to throw the fish out. This really isn’t a hard thing to do ordinarily, but this was no ordinary feat. For joining us on the deck were sea gulls – hungry seagulls. The waitress told me that I had to take the little fish and swing my arm back and then forward slowly and then let go. She also told me that the sea gulls were smart and might – just might – snag the fish.
Okay – how smart could a sea gull be? Well, pretty darn smart. I lost quite a few fish to the gulls initially. Man, they were smart, and they were fast. I finally got the hang of it and learned how to throw the fish out to the tarpons. Now look at the picture below. Look at those jaws. Look at them swimming around. That is just what it looked like as I was trying to feed them. I kept thinking how horrible it would be if you fell into that swarming mass of fishies.
My favorite creature of all in Florida was the Manatee. Manatees – also called sea cows – are slow. They have been decimated by speedboats captained by those who care little for life other than their own. They need and they seek warmth. In my area, the manatees hung out in groups at the Florida Electric Light and Power outlet at Riveria Beach, just south of where I lived.
I couldn’t resist so I went many times to the electric company’s outlet to see them. The company has provided a small overlook so that as the cows and their calves slowly moved around the inlet, tourists could see them. I was surprised to see that the manatees were accompanied by a friend – barracudas. But what a sight – manatees, slow and graceful, barely moving and floating with their babies in the warm water that was discharged into the inlet – side by side with barracudas.
And the turtles – Loggerheads – are in danger. Loggerheads were named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as whelks and conch. Violations of the Endangered Species Act have led to the possibility of extinction of loggerheads sea turtles.
Logger heads nest primarily in Florida. I never got to see a loggerhead, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. The federal agencies admit for the first time that the most significant man-made factor affecting conservation and recovery of the loggerhead is incidental capture in commercial and artisanal fisheries. Tens of thousands of loggerhead sea turtles are killed annually in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico by destructive fishing gear, including trawls, gillnets and longlines. Loggerheads also are captured and killed by commercial fisheries that use hook and line, seines, dredges and various types of pots and traps.
One by one. As the Lorax said, UNLESS. The manatees and the loggerheads are our co-companions on this little planet, and they need our help. The Obama Administration has said it will be more environmentally friendly. Make them keep to their promise.