SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 120



I stood on a wooden bridge overlooking a tidal river surrounded by mangrove hummock forest, the water was 6 feet deep and crystal clear as the tide was rapidly going out. I could see schools of fish in the clear water – a group of fish with bodies like long sticks. I could see little crabs crawling up the stilt-like legs of the mangroves in a quiet, pristine wilderness of the tropical United States.

My friend Hans and I had decided to take a trip to the Florida Keys using the frequent flyer miles he had accumulated as an employee of American Airlines. We’d seen the ads on the DC Metro and they had been effective. It seemed like a place extremely varied for its size. The posters showed people in artsy street scenes, snorkeling in shallow marine reserves and it piqued our curiosity.

The Florida Keys are the remnant of an ancient reef that existed 100 thousand years ago before the ice ages lowered the sea level and turned it into land. This archipelago – a chain of 1700 islands stretches 113 miles from Key Biscayne Bay to Key West and includes further islands not connected by land transportation. The whole area of these islands is only 137 square miles. If you do the math you see that many islands are less than a mile wide if that. Often, you’re driving on a road surrounded by only water.

I remember telling my friend as we stared into the water under the bridge that a person with a canoe could vanish into a similar wilderness and just live off fish. Of course the park service would not like such an idea but in another era this is exactly what Native Americans like the Seminole Indians had done to remain free. They had retreated into the Everglades which contain similar environments. But it is because these areas are effectively protected that this level of abundant nature still exists close to large human populations.

I recall walking on a nearby beach and seeing very little plastic, marine debris. Maybe I was just lucky and the ubiquitous plastic that is choking our oceans was lurking nearby. I didn’t see it. I do recall that whenever I looked in the water, I saw fish. One night we were driving up the Overseas Highway (US Rt. 1) and we stopped at a roadside restaurant housed in an open pavilion with a palm-thatched roof. At one point I had to go to the restroom located behind the building. It was on a marina and I stared down into the green water lit up by electric lights. There were a lot of fish including one the size of a dinner plate. The back of the wall was filled with paintings made by a local artist who works at the restaurant. The themes were of sea life and birds.

vacation on an

ancient reef.

A Journal Entry By Bill Boteler