Dedicated 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
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
"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
Keri Hendry Weeg