SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 124

Outside our hotel room on Islamorada Key, there was a canal. There was also a diner nearby and out in the back meals are served under a canopy next to the canal. People’s homes abut the canal just like in Venice and boats are as viable an option as cars. There I found a sign warning boaters to be careful and watch for Manatees. The West Indian Manatee, also an endangered species, frequents these canals despite the human presence and I was later told by a biologist that if I saw these signs, there were probably some close by.

Other endangered species exist on the Keys and one place that I tried to visit has 3 in one park. The Crocodile Lake Sanctuary on Key Largo is a home to the American Crocodile, The Key Largo Woodrat and the Schaus Swallow-tailed Butterfly. I asked my contact if there was someone in the park I could meet with. As it turned out, our trip was too short and we had to leave on a Monday from Miami. But just in case, I tried to swing by on Sunday afternoon to see if anyone might be there. In the parking lot there were signs with pictures of all these species and there was a small butterfly garden with something looking a lot like a Schaus Swallow-tail fluttering around.

Travelling up and down US Rt. 1 you see a great variety of scenery. In addition to the stretches of water on both sides there are some islands that are lined with stores, small businesses, marinas, boat dealerships and the like. There are also shops selling seashells and other tourist stuff. On other islands, there are huge, Spanish-style McMansions. But not far away you will also find trailer parks that have been landscaped to look like tropical gardens.

Then there are stretches with a lot of vegetation. Like the rest of Florida, species of plants (as well as animals) have been imported from the rest of the world. I think I saw every single kind of tropical plant I’ve ever seen in an office building growing wild. Some species are invasive and compete with the native plants. The Australian Pine is such a species. It crowds out the native plants with its thick pine straw.

Key West is unique in the among the Florida Keys. It’s the most urban and populated of the islands. It’s where our plane landed and where we began our trip. One of the first things I remember was hearing roosters crowing outside the airport. In the old part of town, which is the western half, you see chickens walking on the streets. They long ago escaped from captivity.

Key West is very artsy. The streets of the old town have many galleries and, like the rest of the island, the art work often gets its inspiration from ocean life and there are whole galleries just specializing in that genre. The night we were in Key West we were also running late and a lot of things were closed. We wanted to see Hemingway’s house but it was closed. It’s a big two story brick house behind a brick wall.

The streets of Key West are full of restaurants, bars, galleries and museums. The architecture is cool. There are a lot of little houses with tin roofs and wooden front porches from the 1800s. The yards are full of tropical plants. There were orchids growing on the sides on trees in people’s yards.

We went to a restaurant overlooking the sea that is near the Southernmost point of the United States. While sitting at the table under a porch I saw seabirds everywhere. At one point an Osprey Eagle landed in a palm tree nearby. We both ate seafood. We had conch fritters and I ordered a fish of the day in coconut curry sauce. Watching people wading at the peer, I tried to estimate how high we were about sea level. I guessed we were two to three meters.

There is much concern that in the coming century, due to climate change, sea levels are locked into a rise that may submerge much of the Florida Keys. Not only would this mean having to abandoned these areas at great economic loss, but it would also represent a loss of a place where nature remains abundant in the presence of civilization and dense population.