Day 7-Feb. 7, 2018
When Matt and I awoke, we were welcomed by a beautiful sunrise over flat, calm water and the sounds of dolphins breaching as they hunted nearby. We decided to stay an extra day to fish and explore the area. After our breakfast, we quickly hopped in our dinghy to explore the countless tributaries that meandered off the river. Everywhere, ancient Mangroves towered over us, their roots extending out like long tentacles, slowly engulfing the area.
Known as “walking trees,” Red Mangroves are a common sight along Florida's many waterways as they are a hearty plant that is capable, unlike most plants, of thriving in brackish and even salty water. Their long roots act as supports for these trees, since they often grow in muck, and aid in gas exchange. Red Mangroves also have a unique feature known as “drop roots.” These roots actually extend from their branches downward into the water, adding extra support for growth. Some other unique adaptations that Red Mangroves have developed are lenticels; these are microscopic pores that grow on their roots; and the use of reverse osmosis in water distribution. Lenticels are necessary for allowing Red Mangroves to continue to take in air and carbon dioxide molecules, despite being in an aquatic environment. Lenticels are small enough to block the influx of water molecules while letting in the gas molecules. Red Mangroves also use reverse osmosis to allow in water molecules, while excluding salt. Any excess salt that is let in, is stored in a sacrificial leaf and disposed when the leaf falls. This is the main reason they are capable of growing in salty conditions. We also saw some huge, dead Black Mangroves along the shores as well. These mangroves do far better further inland and can handle higher concentrations of salt, as they are able to excrete salt through their leaves.
Mangroves are a necessity to the Florida ecosystem as they protect land from hurricanes and the effects of erosion, and act as a home to countless species of birds, reptiles, mammals and a myriad of fish. This makes them the prime places to view much of Florida's amazing wildlife. In our case, Matt and I saw numerous birds, including Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, a Kingfisher and even a Limpkin flying through the trees. We heard countless others, but were unable to identify them. Along the roots of the trees, we spotted countless Mangrove Crabs, Fiddler Crabs and even a giant land crab we were unable to identify crawling along the roots and up the trunks of the trees. While seeing these animals is always wondrous, simply being in this peaceful place is a joy.
It is an indescribable feeling, the wonder one feels, to sit quietly in a dinghy, slowly paddling through these tributaries. The tall mangroves reaching across to one another above your head, with the sun flashing through the leaves and branches. All around you, the sound of small crabs scuttling among the massive roots and the sudden flutter of wings as birds fly ahead of your boat, are only broken by the soft lapping of your paddle as it hits the water. It sounds simple, and yet it is so complicated to describe, the feeling you have when you are in such a remote place. One that holds no familiarity to you or anything you have known, doesn't in any way belong to you or your kind, and yet it welcomes you so warmly. I hope that anyone reading this knows this feeling and can understand my challenge in describing it.
After searching through as many canals as we could, which was not nearly enough, we returned to the boat for lunch and to prepare for some fishing. Matt went off to catch some bait and returned with many small crabs, usually a favorite of Red Drum. As evening arrived, we headed out in the dinghy to a nearby tributary, in hopes of catching some fish near the mangroves. Sadly, while we had been lucky in not having to wrestle with any bugs throughout the trip, today proved to be our first exceptions as clouds of no-see-ums began to swarm us, making fishing all but impossible. We sped back to the boat and decided to try our luck from our deck. Thankfully, it was the right decision. Matt set about casting for bait fish, as I threw out the line. Around us Tarpon toyed with our emotions, breaking above the water for a brief peak, reminding us of the plethora of fish that were all around us. Within the first hour, I caught my first little shark in Shark River. It was a Black Tip Shark of about 3 feet in length and put up an awesome fight! Not thirty minutes after, I caught yet another Black Tip, this one a about 3.5 feet in length and much fatter than the other one. Matt was kind enough to do the dirty work of removing the hook and releasing them back into the water. He was sadly not as lucky, as he caught a beautiful Sail cat, but failed to catch anything else. When food is plentiful, fish are picky!
After watching the sunset over the mangroves, Matt and I headed in for the night and settled in. Over a simple dinner of creamy soup and lychees we discussed tomorrow's journey, which would end up being our most difficult sail yet.