Friday, October 22, 2010

The Islands

Every trip we make to SW Florida, we always find time to visit Sanibel and Captiva Islands. These two islands are part of the barrier islands and lay just west of Fort Myers.  The toll to cross the causeway bridge is $6 but it takes you to a different way of life.  Life on these islands seems to slow down as many people ride bikes instead of driving and beach parking crops up around most corners.  Each time we visit the islands, our destination has always been the beaches of Captiva, which means driving until the road ends.  This past Tuesday, however, we found time to visit the J.N. "Ding" Darling Nature Preserve at Tarpon Bay and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum before finding the end of the road.
Bridge from Sanibel back to mainland.  Goodbye islands!
This week is Ding Darling Days at the Nature Preserve to honor the founders birthday.  ("Ding" was born in Norwood, Michigan in 1876!)  This means there were lots of free activities and discounts on tours.  Our first stop was the Sea Turtle talk.  Our guide showed us the upper shell of a loggerhead turtle.  Biologists estimate this shell was from a turtle that died of natural causes, weighed 250 pounds, and was 60 years old.  The age of a turtle is determined by the size of the sections on the shell.  The shell itself weighed about 15 pounds.
Learning about Sea Turtles
Hoping to see dolphins and manatees, we went on the 90-minute Nature and Sea Life Cruise.  Before boarding the boat we spent about a half hour at the touch tank.  We looked at and/or touched pink shrimp, hermit crabs, whelks, starfish, and other shells.  One little guy, a pistol shrimp, was especially interesting.  A pistol shrimp has one large claw but does not use it to pinch its prey.  Instead, the claw is snapped shut very quickly and forcefully, creating a shock wave which kills the pistol shrimp's supper.  Once pistol shrimp reach a certain size, they cannot be contained in an aquarium because the shock wave will break the glass.  Go figure!  We spent the next hour leisurely trolling through Tarpon Bay.  Apparently the dolphins and manatees were too tired from playing in the morning and were resting during our tour so we did not spot any, but we did see mangroves, pelicans, anhingas, cormorants, and osprey.
A horseshoe crab in the touch tank.  Horseshoe crabs are really arachnids, not crabs.
(The blue stuff is just reflection)
See all the pelicans hiding in the trees?  Do you know what the trees are called?
Our next stop was the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.  Again, this is something we have seen, and even went into the gift shop once, but never went through the museum.  It was a quick tour, about 30 minutes, but we learned things we did not know before.  Did you know that cowrie shells were used in Africa as money?  In 1850, you could buy a chicken for 50 cowries or a house for 4,000,000 cowries.  Did you know that a fighting conch does not fight with other shells, but fights to turn itself over when on its back.  We also saw beautiful Sailor’s Valentines.  These valentines were popular in the 19th century and were made by women in Caribbean ports for sailors to bring home as gifts to their wives.  The valentines were always octagonal; designs in the boxes were made of shells in geometric shapes or flowers and often had sentimental sayings in them.
Watching the fighting conches turn over.
A Sailor's Valentine
The final stop of the day was a dinner at our favorite beach restaurant -- at the end of the road.  Mucky Duck has been feeding people on Captiva Island for 35 years.  Arriving right at 5:00 we had our choice of seats and, of course, we sat at the window overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Fun food and fun times.
The Mucky Duck crew!
Trivia (all 1 point)
24.  True or False:  A mangrove is an animal.
25.  What is the upper shell of a sea turtle called?  a.  carapace  b.  exoskeleton  c.  scute

26.  Studies have shown that the temperature of sea turtle eggs determines the sex of the turtles.  If temperatures are cooler, which sex will develop?
26.  The Mucky Duck in Captiva was named for another Mucky Duck restaurant in which country?
Captiva Island beach at the Mucky Duck
(photo taken in April, 2009)

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