Newton Park Beach Treasures

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Tuesday Walks Free, Fun, Fascinating

 “We’ve seen amazing things here before, and will again today,” exclaimed Gayle Crabtree-Pergoli enthusiastically as she began a Guided Nature Walk for 27 people at the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s Newton Park. Newton Park, near mid-island at 4650 Estero Boulevard, hosts the Guided Nature Walk each Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Gayle – friendly, smart, personable, engaging, smiling, and in her bare feet – has been a volunteer walk leader for roughly two years. “Barrier islands protect the mainland as a barrier of sand,” she says. “Since it is made of sand the island always changes. Interesting things wash up all the time, with treasures that change the beach every day. Now, get ready to find shells to show me so I can say ‘I have no idea what that is!’”

The group encountered a gastropod, and Gayle commented, “These snails are the fastest around, moving 2 to 3 miles-per-hour to avoid becoming a bird snack. They open like an angel, with a probe that sticks out to get fellow shells, while secreting a slimy goo.” We saw fighting conchs everywhere and Gayle explained. “They bury themselves in the sand to survive and avoid birds before making their way back into the Gulf. To help save them, place them back in the water gently; don’t chuck them in or they can suffer concussions from banging against their own shell.”

The kids love the live starfish!

Lauren, one of the children on the tour, showed Gayle a live starfish – “you can see his little suction cups moving!” Gayle explained, “When he wants a snack he sits on it because his stomach is in the middle of his body. He can drop a leg to a predator, then grow it back.” Lauren asked if it was OK to keep dead shells, and Gayle told her “yes but never live ones! When you take them home, soak them quick in a 50/50 bleach solution for days to get rid of their smell.”

9 Eyes & 400 Million Years

We found a perfect horseshoe crab shell right in front of us and Gayle commented, “This species is pretty much unchanged for over 400 million years, or over 6 times as long as when dinosaurs roamed the earth. They have blue copper-based blood, and are not related to crabs but to the scorpion, with a long tail but no barb at the end to hurt you. It can molt its shell up to 15 or 20 times, and has 9 eyes so that is very cool! Horseshoe crabs swim on their back but walk on their feet.”

Gayle encountered Calico scallops, and explained that when you cut the shells in half, all its parts inside are mathematically proportional and in perfect sequence – “nature is crazy!” Someone discovered a live sand dollar – “it is still alive because you can see all its little hairs move,” Gayle relates as she gently puts it in the water. She found a fiddler crab living inside a baby conch shell, eliciting ohhs & ahhs from the group: “the fiddler crab comes up on the beach and sees the empty shell and says ‘great – a new house for me!’”

“Shelling on Fort Myers Beach is great anytime, not just at low tide as most think.” She showed us tiny little Coquina shells all along the sand “that come in many colors including striped and plaid. They do a little shimmy to rebury themselves into the sand and that is so cool to see.”

Sea Pork or Oil

Gayle spotted some keyhole urchins, calling them “scrubbing bubbles! They scrub the sea floor in a circular fashion, eating algae and bacteria to keep the Gulf clean for us.” She points out sea pork, all coiled up and odd-looking that is frequently mistaken for a ball of oil, despite coming in many colors like red, orange, grey and sand besides black. “After the New Horizon spill, we did not have a single drop of oil, but people saw sea pork and told others not to visit Fort Myers Beach.”

On our walk, we found coral pieces, a sea clam shell, slipper shells “because if you were real little you could put your foot in it like a tiny slipper,” pen shells that can be up to a foot long and open on both sides to form a heart-shape, spider crab and worm shells, a ghost crab, and the horse conch that is Florida’s state shell. “All the creatures we see today grow their own shells,” offered Gayle. “They gather the Gulf water and extract calcium carbonate to build shells around themselves.”

The approximately one-hour free Guided Nature Walk is offered at 9 a.m. every Tuesday weather permitting. The walk is free with no reservations necessary, but parking is $2/hour. Wear sunscreen, appropriate clothing, shoes and a hat. Contact the Fort Myers Beach Cultural Resources Department at 239-765-0865 for additional information.

What amazing beach treasures will they find next week?

 

Gary Mooney