When Ed and I recently visited Flamingo and rented a boat to explore White Water Bay, my goal had been to find the Shark River. I never found it…
I had wanted to see this river because although there are many Everglades’ rivers, the Shark is the most associated with Shark River Slough. Even though this slough, this river of grass, has been amputated by the Everglades Agricultural Area, Tamiami Trail, and eastern coastal development, getting waters into Shark River Slough and the Shark River still translates and is actually improving: “Sending Water South.”
So we took a flight…
Ponce de Leon Bay, where much of this water exits, is particularly breathtaking to see. The geometric shapes, shades of green, brown, and blue create a giant puzzle. It makes me want to put all the pieces back tother again.
It was so wonderful to finally find the Shark River! I wanted you to see it too! The primary goal remains, to send more water south; this we must envision…
-Everglades Rivers flowing southwest out of Shark River Slough 1-21-21, photos JTL&EL-Ponce de Leon Bay where Shark River exits into Florida Bay–The Shark River is the primary river you see coming into this area of Ponce de Leon Bay. White Water Bay is to the right. It all kind of blends together.
Shark River, red dot follow northeast; 2. Shark River Slough, large most far right area above shark river -seemingly brownish green – running into Shark River 3. Water Water Bay appears as a dark green depression southeast of and connected to the Shark River; 4. Shark River exits at Ponce de Leon Bay into Florida Bay. Florida Bay is in dire need of more fresh water.
My primary 2021 New Year’s resolution was to write more, however my angst over our country’s political, social unrest and the worsening Covid-19 epidemic has caused me to experience “writer’s block.” Nonetheless, today I will try to get going with my resolution.
On January 9th, 2021, my husband, Ed, looked at me, “I’ve got a few days off; do you want to stick around Stuart or do you want to go somewhere?”
“Hmmm? Let’s go as far away as one can go, Flamingo.” I replied.
“Flamingo?” Ed looked like he wasn’t quite sure…
“Yes, Flamingo, at the very southern tip of Florida.”
The following day, Ed and I packed up and drove from Stuart to Lake Okeechobee taking Highway 27 south until we arrived in Florida City, just south of Homestead. Next, we drove about an hour along the historic Ingram Highway. It was a beautiful drive – like going into Florida’s past with marl prairies, slash pines, and tremendous bird life.
About forty miles later, we finally arrived in Flamingo. Now a ghost town, Flamingo was once the home of the American Flamingo -thus the name. Although these spectacular long legged, pink birds were all killed for their spectacular feathers a over a century ago, today there have been reports of a few returning. Most of us are familiar with the story of Guy Bradley, the first Audubon warden hired to protect Everglades wading birds from poachers. This is his land.
Back in the early1900s when Bradley was trying to protect the birds, Flamingo, as all of South Florida, was thoughtlessly being sliced and diced with canals. Today, one can see this most pronounced at the Flamingo Welcome Center along the Flamingo, more modernly called the Buttonwood Canal. Here lies a “plug” between Florida Bay and the mosaic of fresher/fresh waters in and near Flamingo.
According to our ENP tour guide, Mr Nick, this “Flamingo” or “Buttonwood Canal” was dug by Henry Flagler in the early 1900s and later abandoned when Flagler realized the canal failed to drain the land – instead, due to the tides and topography of the area, bringing too much salt water from Florida Bay. A cement plug was later placed to ward off this saltwater intrusion.
I was pleased to see that a family of Ospreys had built their nest right on this plug in the midst of much human activity! The female osprey was hard at work, peeking over the side, protecting and incubating her eggs while the male intermittently delivered fish. The large birds appeared absolutely unaffected by people!
FLAMINGO or BUTTONWOOD CANAL -Salt water, Florida Bay side of plug-Below: brackish/fresher water on estuary/marsh side of plug leading to Coot Bay (Coots no longer come in droves as the water is still too salty.)-The cement plug cutting off salt water of Florida Bay from canal, note osprey nest! -Our ENP guide, NickThe first day Ed and I took a tour and Mr. Nick was our guide. The second day, we rented a Mako flats boat and followed the same path ourselves. We learned so much. It was incredible. While Ed looked for places to fish, I searched for the Shark River. The Shark River is one of many that extends out from Shark River Slough, the remaining ridge and slough, “river of grass,” of the Everglades. Some of its waters lead to Florida Bay. Taylor Slough, on the other hand, has shamelessly been cut off by development.
Flamingo Canal was full of wildlife: wading birds, manatees, and by far the most interesting, crocodiles, of which I had never seen. These southern waters of Florida are one of the only places on Earth where both Alligators and Crocodiles live together. This canal is so salty the crocs have the edge. Our tour led from Flamingo Canal, to Coot Bay, to yet another canal, and then into Whitewater Bay. This track is referred to as the “Wilderness Waterway.” (See map below.)
–American crocodile, an endangered species-The most prevalent wading bird by far was the tri-colored heron-There were many baby crocodiles along the Flamingo Canal warming in the sun. It was 37 degrees in the morning of our second day at ENP! -Because of the plug, manatees must enter the protection of the Flamingo Canal by swimming into the rivers entering Florida Bay that lead eventually into Whitewater Bay! A very long journey. 20 miles? -Our tour guide, Nick, called this tree along the Flamingo Canal the “perfect mangrove.” -Flamingo/Buttonwood Canal opening to Coot Bay-Entering Whitewater Bay on a cold day!It is very hard to explain how gigantic this area is! Over ten miles long and more than half that wide. Irregular in shape. It was truly “liquid land,” with mangrove forests everywhere and smaller even more beautiful mangrove islands dotting the horizon. One thing was for sure, it would be very easy to lose one’s sense of direction and get lost in Whitewater Bay. No thank you!
Ed and I spent hours tooling around but never made it to the Shark River as access is limited. Nonetheless, I got a much better idea of the lay of the land for sending water south. I am hoping Ed and I can one day return in a canoe.
I was happy to go as far away as one can go-FLAMINGO!-Learning about a Florida I did not know- Whitewater Bay islands of Flamingo -Ed practices casting-Islands within Whitewater Bay; all of Florida must once have looked this way!-Back on Land: A Walk down the Guy Bradley Trail-Ed watches a fisherman cast in Florida Bay-Moonvine once covered the southern rim of Lake O’s pond apple forest, now gone.-Ed poses with a giant Buttonwood tree-Morning Glory. Is there a more gorgeous flower?-Guy Bradley Trail and an end to a wonderful day!
Tales of the Southern Loop, Key West to Cape Sable, Part 6-Sunrise and setting moon, Key West
September 15, 2020
Before Ed and I left Key West, we were able to rid the trawler of the smell coming from the head’s sanitation system. It took three trips to West Marine, multiple pump-outs, flushing with extra water, enzyme cleaners, and most important, changing the vent filter. The whole situation made us much more careful and aware.
Excited to overcome yet another obstacle, Ed and I pulled away from a rooster crowing sunrise for what would be the most memorable leg of our trip, Key West to Cape Sable. This was unlike any other in that it was eight hours, alone, in wide Florida Bay for about 70 miles at 7 knots!
We saw pretty clouds, blue skies, turquoise-blue waters, bobbing seagulls, cormorants flying as fast as ducks, two pleasure crafts, one crab boat, and one shrimp trawler. But that was it, most of the time it was just Ed, me, and crab pots as far as the eye could see!
-Happy to be safe at seaAfter about an hour, the wind started picking up. I put on a life vest as the sea began to swell. I imagined that if I did fall in there would be no way to be rescued as I would quickly be carried off. My imagination started to roam. Staring out to the empty horizon, I started to think, about pirates…
-A shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico/Florida Bay off Key West“Ed what would happen if someone came up to the boat and asked us for all of our valuables.”
“It won’t happen.” Ed replied.
“How do you know?”I asked looking off into the wide distance.
“Because I’ve read. Pirates don’t frequent these waters, and if they did, they wouldn’t be attracted to a boat like ours.”
“Why do you say that? We’d be perfect. We can’t speed away.”
“Don’t worry so much Jacqui.”
“Why shouldn’t I?
“There’s nothing to worry about; plus I brought a gun.” Ed slowly replied.
“A gun!” I exclaimed. “If we’re not going to get approached by pirates, why did you bring a gun?”
“Just in case.”
“Holy —- Ed! That certainly doesn’t make me feel any better!”
I exhaled, trying to calm down.
During the course of our conversation the swells got steadily larger, up to 5 feet coming from our stern, and off to the side, our beam. Adrift was dancing in the motion!
“I didn’t know waves in Florida Bay could be so big. I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Jacqui, come on, it’s part of the Gulf of Mexico.” Ed peered through binoculars.“What are you looking for? Pirates?”
“No, just looking.” Ed replied.
“Ed, I’m not feeling so good. These waves. This is crazy.”
“Do you want me to turn around?” He asked, getting irritated.
“No.” I conceded. “Since we’ve been out here this long, we might as well go the whole way.”
The trawler hit hard against the ocean, fear got the best of me and I wondered if the boat might eventually break into pieces.
“Could this thing start coming apart? I inquired, holding my hand over my mouth. Metal creaked and the hull hit relentlessly. With each strike I daydreamed of balancing on a piece of the crushed hull in my bright yellow life vest of course surrounded by sharks.
“I don’t think so,” replied Ed.
“I’m going down; I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Holding on for dear life, I stumbled down the stairs from the upper helm to the stern.
“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “I don’t feel good at all.” I walked into the cabin and then into the head, sat down on the toilet, and suddenly projectile vomited. It was bright red as I had been drinking tropical punch Gatorade and raspberry yogurt. I stared in disbelief. I felt terrible. The exaggerated wave motion was even more pronounced in the cabin. I held on for dear life.
“This is unbelievable; this is no fun!” I got myself together, stumbled through the cabin hitting walls. With one arm always holding on to something, I grabbed a hand towel, wiped my face, and struggled up the stairs to the upper upper helm.
And there I saw him. Ed was in his element! Loving it! Like a cowboy on a wild mustang. I sat myself down, holding on to a metal post that was creeping like a Halloween set. I looked up: “Ed, “I puked.”
“I figured as much. Feel better? “
“Oh no! It’s happening again!”Adrift sunk deep into a wave then popped back up. I leaned over, and let go. Ruminants of tropical punch Gatorade and yogurt splattered everywhere. This was not good. I was embarrassed.
Ed softened. “Babe lay down; I’ll clean it up later. It will be less bouncy up here.” Ed and I had been through such exercises many times as I had thrown up in the plane over the years when flying over Lake Okeechobee to take pictures of harmful algae blooms.
I put my head down on the cushion but no matter how hard I tried, I could not rest. The seas tossed and slowed our progress.
I raised my head. “How much longer?”
” A couple hours….” I lay down again praying for it to be over.
As I lie in agony, I asked the same questing multiple times – about two hours apart: “How much longer?” Ed’s answer was always the same. “Two hours.” I eventually realized that if that were true, we would have already been there! This was the most extended motion sickness episode of the many I had had in my life. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Eventually, the waters started to calm down and our destination, Cape Sable, came into to focus before us. As always, as soon as I was on stable ground, I felt better. My spirts rose, we easily dropped anchor, and planned an excursion. Looking towards the untouched shoreline was incredible!
“This must be what Ponce de Leon felt like.” I said beaming.
“I wonder who will win that one?” Ed joked. “The Endangered Species Act is sacred for you environmentalists.”Like young kids, Ed and I explored a dying mangrove forest, endless shells, flora, and wildlife around Ingraham Lake. Just north-interior lie famous Whitewater Bay and Shark River Slough, all within dingy distance. A veritable eco-playground!
I found the sands most beautiful, crushed shells from millions of years all mixed together. This makes sense as Cape Sable is the southernmost point in the United States, all left to flow, flows here. Thankfully it lies protected within Everglades National Park. And thought humankind and Climate Shifts are rapidly changing its nature, Cape Sable remains absolutely stunning in its timeless and weathered beauty.
-Cape Sable, Everglades National Park-Taking the dingy to Cape Sable’s shore. Ed wondered why the water was so murky. “It’s an estuary!” Water coming from Shark River Slough into Florida Bay.-Adrift at her destination, Cape Sable-On the desolate beach, Cape Sable-Shells, and ancient Inidan midden remains-Dead and dying but strikingly beautiful mangroves like art from many hurricanes-Land snails -Many shells were pierced and attached to the weathered mangroves -On the other side of this marsh lies Lake IngrahamThe whole experience was otherworldly- as if Ed and I were the only people in the world! As the sun set we made dinner and drank wine – watching the stars appear one by one until the entire Milky Way shone above us like a glistening blanket. Just incredible! We sat in the upper helm and discussed philosophy like we were students of Plato or Galileo. I had no memory of my motion sickness earlier in the day…
A gentle breeze blew, Ed held me under the stars…
“I love you.” I said softly into to his ear…
And then I continued…
“but I might as well tell you right now, you’ll be sleeping with the gun, by the door, in the cabin tonight, just in case the pirates do arrive.” 🙂“Sea you next time! Cape Sable to Marco Island!” 🙂
Last Thursday, concerned citizens traveled to Tallahassee. Some were from the East Coast, some were from the West Coast, and some were from Florida’s Southern Tip. Those from the Southern Tip, like us from the Northern Estuaries, are experiencing a die off.
But their estuary is even larger and more famous; its name is Florida Bay. The sometimes confusing part of reading about all the present water issues is that Florida Bay’s die off is due to lack of fresh water, rather than too much such as ours. Nonetheless, as with everything in life, it’s all connected.
Florida Bay has been heavily impacted over the years not only because of the redirection of about *20 percent of its waters from Lake Okeechobee that used to flow south, but also due to the encroachment of development into the Everglades’ watershed near Homestead and north thereof. Years ago this development cut off water to Florida Bay especially through Taylor Slough, a shallow river. (See map below)
During a recent visit, my husband and I noted this area east of Everglades National Park experiencing a real estate boom of highway construction and the sell off of agricultural lands for residential development, so this encroachment issue will only increase over the coming years.
Shark River Slough, to the east, is much larger and also feeds the Bay. (See map below)
Although the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corp of Engineers have been “working hard” on the area of the Taylor Slough area of the state, it will not be enough to save the dying Bay that has lost up to 50,000 acres of seagrass recently according to Dr Davis of the Everglades Foundation and reports by local fishermen.
The photos shared in this post by Captain Daniel Andrews of Ft Meyers show the a section of the Bay on December 20th, 2016, at around 1500 feet south of Cape Sable. Cape Sable is west of Taylor Slough but still affected. The waters of the Bay have been decreased not only through Taylor Slough, but also Shark River Slew, of which Lake Okeechobee was once connected as documented by our Native Americans.
Captain Daniel said in an interview: ” The last major die off the Bay had was in 1987, and it resulted in a decade of algae blooms from all the nutrients that were released by the decaying grass. It took ten years for it to recover.”
Now this cycle is happening all over again, in sync with toxic blooms in the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries caused by too much water.