Prickly pears

Cape Sable – Night One/Day Two, Feb 2016

25°07’06.31″N 81°04’48.28″W elev 1 ft
East Cape, Everglades National Park
Launch site: Flamingo Visitor Center,
40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
(239) 695-2945

Wilderness Trip Planner: A guide to camping in the coastal portions of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness

And on the 900th stroke, we arrived at East Cape. We were greeted by a family of campers in a motor boat that gave us first pick of a camp site out of deference to our muscle-powered wake, and a flock of Sanderlings.



By 4:45, we had set up our tent. As the day faded into night, we passed the time cooking, arranging seashells in the sand, chatting, sipping bourbon, and star-gazing. As the night wore on, the stars grew brighter and brighter, the rising and receding tide lapped against the shore twenty feet away, and giant wading birds stopped to sample insects outside our tent.


Gauthier woke up early to watch the sun rise.


Our friends the Sanderlings were up early as well, as were a flock of Terns. During low tide, the shallow bay reveals muddy tongues protruding from the shoreline that are completely hidden during high tide, like the one these Terns are on.



One characteristic that all of the beaches we stopped at had was washed up sea sponges. There are over two hundred sponge species in South Florida. The sponges in the photo below are vase sponges.


Sea sponges are a foundation species and a sign of a healthy ecosystem. In the photo below, a Sanderling inspects a Haliclona rubens.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a hard time making a case for the designation of the Everglades as a National Park. Folk saw holes in trees like the one below, assumed they were created by insects with really big teeth, and wanted nothing to do with it. Honestly, we wondered whether that hole, with its serrated edges, wasn’t created by giant, razor-sharp mandibles.


Holes in shells like those in the shells in the photo below provide clues as to how the shells died. Those tiny perforations were caused by sponges called Boring sponges. Boring sponges attach to shells for shelter, often smothering the host. The little holes are caused by the chemicals they use to attach themselves. Polychaete worms are the villains that cut grooves in oyster shells. And the little holes that are useful for turning shells into necklaces, those are caused by predatory sea snails and slugs.


Gauthier paddled to the southernmost beach on East Cape. The wind had picked up and was blowing from the east at a worrisome clip, so I chose not to accompany him and preserve my energy.


There he saw Gumbo limbos…


this sprawling Prickly pear cactus…


and this giant Horseshoe crab. This lovely lady was around two feet long from head to tail! She should scare me because horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders than they are to crabs, but seen from above she’s not very scary-looking. You have to respect a species that’s been around for more than 300 million years!


As we headed eastward towards East Clubhouse Beach where we were to spend night two, we paddled against the tide and a wind of around 18-20 mph (8-10 m/s). We used the tree below, which marks the southernmost tip of Florida, to gauge how far we’d traveled. It grew smaller very slowly.


Resources Consulted
Horseshoe Crab History
Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Writer & Conservationist
Restoring Florida Bay: Sponges the foundation for thriving ecosystem
Shell Wars (Shell Bioerosion)
South Florida Sponges: A Guide to Identification

Bear Cut Preserve

25°43’34.35″N 80°09’13.38″W elev 8 ft
Bear Cut Preserve, Crandon Park
Key Biscayne

We hike, jog and bike this short 3.5 mile (5.5 km) trail regularly. I’ve provided the latitude and longitude of the entrance we always use. Parking is free across the street in the Crandon Park Marina. Fifteen years ago, there was ne’er a person to be seen on the trail and the gay community found privacy on the beach. Recently the trail has become popular with bicyclists. The southern end of the beach is popular with kite boarders.

Nov 2012

Nov 2012

At the northern end of the beach is a very cool fossil reef. Before they banned swimming in this section of the beach, we snorkeled there and once as I was parting the sea grass, one single blade failed to move, and when I looked more closely at it, I discovered that it wasn’t a blade of grass at all, but a seahorse! It stayed still only long enough for my eyes to focus on it and then it disappeared. We’ve also seen sting rays and jelly fish.

Apr 2013

Sting ray, Apr 2013

Restricted section of beach where fossil reef is, Jan 2016

Restricted section of beach where fossil reef is; notice the beach erosion; Jan 2016

Although it’s suffered from invasive nickernuts, kudsu and, more recently, beach erosion, it’s still a beautiful trail. All kinds of birds hunt along the coastline and on the many sand bars: plovers and sanderlings, terns, herons, pelicans, cormorants. We’ve even seen yellow warblers in the trees along the trail.

Nicker nut control, Jan 2016

Nickernut control, Jan 2016

Apr 2013

Brown pelicans, Apr 2013

Sometimes you’ll see a metal variety of bird flying high overhead: commercial jets, sea planes, and once we saw a fighter jet darting back and forth across the sky. Cruise ships departing from the Port of Miami are also a frequent sighting.

Apr 2013

Apr 2013

Papaya trees, sea grapes, sable palmettos, coconut palms, mangroves, wild coffee bushes (psychotria nervosa, perhaps the most appropriate Latin name ever given to a plant), American beauty berry, black eyed susans, morning glories, and even a couple edible plants, like sea purslane and prickly pear grow along the trail.

Sea purslane, Apr 2013

Sea purslane, Apr 2013

Prickly pear, Apr 2013

Prickly pear flower, Apr 2013

Prickly pear, Jan 2016

Prickly pear, Jan 2016

Psychotria nervosa under the protective arm of a sea grape, Jan 2016

Psychotria nervosa nestled under the protective arm of a sea grape, Jan 2016

Sea grapes, Jan 2016

Jan 2016

Sable palmettos, Jan 2016

Jan 2016

Path leading to beach from Osprey trail, Jan 2016

Jan 2016

Apr 2013

Dogs are not permitted on the beach, but until recently it wasn’t patrolled, Apr 2013