The sunlight dances and shimmers on the water like it does on powdery snow. I sit at the console looking out at the horizon in the east, losing myself in thought. “Take us a little closer, Will,” my teammate Kara snaps me out of my daydream.
We’re about 200 yards off the east coast of Elliot Key in a 22 ft Boston Whaler named “Speedy.” All the boats at the park have names: Science 25, Laguna, Interp Whaler, etc. We’re on the ocean-side of Elliot Key every morning for at least a few hours to survey 8, sometimes 9 beaches for endangered sea turtle nesting activity. All the beaches have names, too: Petrol, Sawyer’s Cove, Palm, Tannehill, etc. Each beach has it’s own story and character. Barricaded by jagged rocks, strewn with trash, and overrun with mosquitoes, these beaches aren’t the white sandy beaches southern Floridians are used to.
Biscayne National Park is my new home (and workplace). It’s practically a dream come true. I’m living near my family, doing what I love to do, learning new things, and helping conserve and preserve my own backyard.
Biscayne National Park covers over 200 square miles, 95% of which are underwater. There are countless reefs and islands, as well as an awesome collection of 1940’s vacation homes that were built on stilts, aptly named “Stiltsville.” My friends and I have countless memories in and around the bay…especially around Stiltsville ;).
When my teammates and I aren’t surveying beaches, we’re surveying reefs. Snorkeling/free diving is a new thing for me and I’m beginning to love every minute of it. Sitting in the dive door, listening to the rhythmic crash of water on the boat, I take my time preparing to enter the water. Fins, mask, and snorkel are the essentials, then comes the extra equipment for surveying the reef: a 4 lb. weight attached to a measuring tape reel and my data sheet/clipboard. For a beginner free-diver, swimming with the extra data-collection equipment proved to be more challenging than I thought. It’s a bit tedious, but being in the water around the reefs is still as peaceful and enjoyable as ever.
As I swim along the surface, the only sound is my own breath. I focus on keeping it slow and steady as I make my way towards the reef. The sheer natural beauty of the reef is mesmerizing every time; the way the sunlight cascades down from the surface and flows along the ocean floor; the curious look from Angelfish and the intimidating stare from barracuda; the barrage of colorful coral and the incredible sound of silence while diving. All of these sights, sounds and feelings come together to create an incredible experience that provides a truly pure sense of connection with the ocean.
In light of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and the fact that it could very well reach the east coast in the coming months, I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I could easily be one of the last sets of eyes to see this amazing park in its natural state.
I encourage everyone to explore Florida’s and all of the East Coast’s amazing beaches & reefs before it’s too late (and also not to purchase BP gasoline!)!
HELP PROTECT OUR REEFS!!!
RECYCLE YOUR GARBAGE!!!!