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6 days ago, 07/24/2014 at 3:26pm

Seine NettingDedicated to Learning About Nature

On a beautiful, sunny Saturday we decided to accompany students from Lee County Extension's Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP), instructors Bryan Fluech and Joy Hazel from Lee County Extension Services and Good Time Charters co-owner Captain Cristina Denegre and her staff on a field trip to learn about the wonders of our back bay onboard Good Time Charters' comfortable pontoon boat.

After setting out from Snook Bight Marina, the trip began with a cruise by Bird Island, where Denegre shared her extensive knowledge of local birds, explaining that there are several mangrove islands in the back bay used as nesting sites for everything from brown pelicans to roseate spoonbills.

"We have a lot of diversity in our back bay, and this attracts many different species of birds, mammals and fish,” she said. "Right now there are 17 islands here that are used as nesting sites, and all the birds are federally protected.”

Denegre continued to point out things about the back bay -which is the first designated aquatic preserve in the state - as we headed towards our destination at Big Carlos Pass, and Fluech explained why allowing props to scar the sea grass beds is so devastating.

"It's similar to physical damage to coral reefs - people think, 'oh, it was just me so it's not that bad' but when there are thousands of 'just me's' it is,” he said. "And props don't just cut the blade, they rip the whole system up by the root, creating an open channel where it's difficult to get the grass to grow back.”

At Big Carlos Pass, Captain Joe Griffin expertly beached the boat and the students used seine nets and dip nets to catch critters in the nearly crystal clear water. Showing how the back bay serves as a nursery for many species, Joy and Bryan identified baby pompano, pink shrimp, spade fish, mojarra (commonly called shiners) and even a Southern sting ray. A special treat was when Cristina's husband, Captain Mike, pulled alongside and showed us a baby pufferfish he'd caught.

On the way back to Snook Bight, Bryan explained to us that this was the first of three field trips for the FMNP students, who will also be kayaking to Rookery Bay and making a trip to a barrier island, thanks to the generosity of local sponsors like Good Time Charters who donate their boats and services.

"This program was created by the University of Florida with the idea of having a well-rounded citizenry where everyone understands the importance of how we are all affected by what happens in nature,” he said. "Our role is to be 'honest brokers of science' so that people can make informed decisions. We connect them to the world around them.”

Our group on Saturday represented a cross section of folks, from retirees to charter boat captains to college students. All of Good Time Charter's staff have been through the program, as have Cristina and Mike. Upon completion of the program's three modules (Freshwater Wetlands, Coastal Systems and Upland Habitats) participants become certified Florida Master Naturalists and are registered in the Florida Master Naturalist's data base. In addition to Lee County Extension office, the programs are also offered by the Ostego Bay Foundation on San Carlos Island and the Randell Research Center on Pine Island.

"There are presentations, videos and field trips that highlight what we have locally so that people have a better understanding,” Bryan told us.

For more information on the program, visit www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu. For more information about Good Time Charters, whose experienced and enthusiastic captains offer everything from eco-tours to stand up paddleboarding, visit www.goodtimecharter.com.


Keri Hendry Weeg