What’s on the Beach Today?

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Guided Beach Walks Now Twice Weekly

In our uncertain COVID-19 world, the Town of Fort Myers Beach offers a twice-weekly free outdoor nature program that is different every single time! To discover the natural side of Fort Myers Beach, head to mid-island Newton Beach Park at 9 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday morning and attend the Guided Beach Walk, weather permitting. Know upfront that everyone MUST bring their own face mask and WEAR IT!

Guided Beach Walks have a simple premise – the groups walk roughly a half-mile down the beach and back, discussing whatever you find that particular morning, so no two are ever the same, with the wind and waves dictating what is on the beach that morning. On Thursday, June 25, our guide was the smart and effervescent Katy Beth Culp, Mound House Educator.

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Katy Beth Culp, wearing her required face mask, shows off a Red Mangrove propagule. Photo by Gary Mooney.

No sooner did we step off the small seawall when we discovered our first natural treasure; the highest of that morning’s four beach wracklines, with Red Drift algae elements. “While the first impression of the wrackline for many people is they don’t like it, as it can be unsightly, it is full of essential beach nutrients,” Katy Beth related. “It has plenty of food for birds and other varieties of beach life and helps form dunes that protect the beach from storm damage. There tends to be multiple wracklines on the beach every day because they show you not only the high and low tide marks, but the furthest one up usually comes from the most recent storm, while the one closest to the water often mirrors the shape of the beach. Don’t worry; the wracklines are not toxic or unhealthy at all, though in large quantities, they can smell really bad!”

Katy Beth showed us a Red Mangrove propagule that she called “a Mangrove starter kit! While technically a ‘seed,’ it is much more complicated than that. They are fully mature plants in their own right that drop off the parent tree, then can bob up-&-down in the water for over a year, until finding something on-shore to attach to and grow.” Just a few steps later, we discovered a perfectly-formed ghost crab hole. “That is so cool,” Katy Beth enthused! “That is nice and fresh, and if you look closely, you can see the ghost crab tracks marching off toward the Gulf!” We saw small Blue crab shells “that they cast off when they molt, so don’t worry; these shells mean they did not die but they grew.” Other shells have perfect holes at the top, and those do not have such happy outcomes. “While these holes look like someone actually drilled them to use for jewelry, this really means that another predator did that to eat the critter inside. If you find a shell with a porous look, with lots of tiny holes on it, those come from a boring sponge.”

Jingle Shells & Turtle Nests

She picked up an excellent example of a Jingle shell, known as well as “a mermaid’s toenail” that a mollusk snail lived in at one time. “When you get several of these together inside your closed fists and shake them, they sound just like ‘Jingle Bells’ or money in your pocket!” Another exciting sight we saw were six different sea turtle nests all within the Newton Beach Park vicinity. Turtle Time volunteers mark these off with caution tape and signage so that people will stay away and not interrupt the nesting and egg maturation process. Katy Beth reminded all beachgoers to stay well away from marked turtle nests and keep pets away also.

Other Guided Beach Walk finds can include parchment worm tubes; Calico crabs; Sea Pork that can be green, grey, pink or white; Florida fighting conch shells; giant Heart cockle; several different types of Pen shells; thousands of snail shells all over the beach; Blood Ark shells that the Calusa Indians used to weigh down their fishing nets; and shipworms that get their name from sticking to the hulls of wooden ships, then eating the wood.

Katy Beth is outgoing, fun, intelligent and bubbly – even wearing a mask, you can still practically see the beam of her smile! “On Guided Beach Walks, I get excited when people on the programs get excited about what we find, and usually every single thing we find excites someone! The more knowledge you have about nature and the clues she provides, the more it helps you to interpret every other aspect of life. Pay close attention as you walk the beach or you will miss so many essentials, because if you overlook them, you cannot appreciate them!”

Uncommon Friends

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Jingle shells, so named because if you hold several in your hand and shake them they sound like jingle bells. Photo by Sandy Sandness.

Newton Beach Park is the site of the former 1953 Seven Seas Cottage of Jim and Ellie Newton. Jim (1905-1999) gained notoriety through his book, “Uncommon Friends,” detailing his personal relationships with key 20th Century figures such as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Charles Lindbergh and Dr. Alexis Carrel. Due to its significant history, Fort Myers Beach secured it in 2003 and it became the first Town-owned public park in 2010. In addition to the Seven Seas Cottage and beach frontage, it has two tiki huts, paid parking, nature and educational programs, recreational opportunities, and historic and environmental signage, among other amenities.

The free Guided Beach Walk at Newton Beach Park, located mid-island at 4650 Estero Boulevard, is offered every Tuesday and Thursday year-round, weather permitting, at 9 a.m. Meet at the thatched hut closest to the beach. Right now face mask wearing is mandatory. In addition to your face mask, bring sunscreen, shoes that can get wet, water, sunglasses and a hat if necessary. While the walk is free, parking is $3-per-hour, with one hour being enough. No reservations necessary; for details call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.