This morning we walked across the road to Keys Marine Lab for our chartered snorkeling trip to the reef (so we could be on one boat together). We left the dock around 9:45 for a full day on the water. We started with a snorkeling visit to Coffin Patch Reef, so named because a ship was said to run aground on the reef releasing its load of coffins into the water! The reef is about 6-7 miles offshore from the Keys and harbors a diversity of soft corals, large fish, sea turtles, sharks, and rays – all of which were spotted by one or more of the students.
We ate our lunch on grassy key where we could rest and wade in the water. The afternoon was spent exploring a hardbottom site filled with massive loggerhead and vase sponges, key habitat for spiny lobster hunched beneath them seeking cover from fish. Caleb and Will found a bat fish, an unusual looking bottom dweller (pictured below).
By 3:30 we were back at the center. After showering cook groups moved into full swing, while several students joined Dave on a grocery run. However, the highlight for many was a visit by a manatee at the dock. It stayed at the dock for some time allowing students to get within reaching distance. However, since the manatee are protected it is illegal to touch them or venture too close with your boat. This realization (earlier in the course) prompted Aspen to write the following poem protesting the reality that she could not touch a manatee, if given the opportunity. Enjoy!
Hug Me – by Aspen Schmidt
Swimming in the Zane Grey Creek bend,
Eating every plant in sight,
You’re big and round, our blubberous friend,
Slowly drifting along the Bight.
Watching the Sargassum fluitans disappear,
The Mangrove Monster arrives at the dock.
And we wonder what is near,
I highly doubt it’s a peacock.
I feel so enslaved by the law,
as I watch you pass me by.
This is my final straw.
Harassment is a lie.
Come to me, my water cow,
Swim right up to my arms stretched wide.
Let’s forget this harassment thing now.
Hug me. I want to embrace your leathery hide.