Categories
Environment

What Not to Collect on Anna Maria Island: Live Sand Dollars

Illegally collected live Sand Dollars discarded on beach
Illegally collected live Sand Dollars discarded on beach

Sand dollars are not even beautiful when they are alive. Their whiteness comes only after the outer layer of skin and small spines has disappeared. It is the endoskeleton that is beautiful. I’m sure trying to clean a live sand dollar is not worth the smelly effort. It makes no sense to kill these creatures.

This member of the sea urchin family has the five sections of a sea urchin, but a flattened form. The very small spines allow it to move along the sandy bottom of the sea, and to burrow in. They also move food into the mouth. They eat mostly crustacean larvae, algae, diatoms and detritus.

A few years ago, scientists discovered something remarkable about sand dollars. They reproduce sexually, through external fertilization. However, their larvae have the ability to clone themselves and are likely to do this when threatened by a predator. The outcome is twice the number of larvae, with each one half the size. In some ways this is advantageous from a survival point of view.

Aside from general ethical reasons not to kill living creatures unnecessarily, there are laws in Manatee County, backed by the state of Florida, in relation to taking live shells. First of all, one must have a recreational salt water fishing license. And then only two of any particular species may be taken alive. There are some exceptions, such as oysters, several kinds of clams and coquinas, which may be taken in larger numbers.

Categories
Environment

The Sounds of Anna Maria Island

After living here for ten years, I’ve come to recognize certain sounds that are common on Anna Maria Island, but might not be easily recognized by a visitor.

For those who live in canal-front homes, the sound of a boatlift in operation becomes familiar. Yet it is a haunting and penetrating sound at times, suggesting the wail of a supernatural creature. Although the boatlift sound is the product of a purely mechanical movement, it has come to be one more of the many voices that are raised during everyday life along a canal.

Great Blue Heron

Another canal voice is that of the startled night heron. Often these reclusive birds fish at the base of a canal seawall, where they are not noticed by anyone on the property above. But if you happen to walk close to the where the night heron stands, below, it is likely to suddenly squawk a very loud and distressing call, as it quickly flies away, startling you more than you startled it.

Categories
Environment

Shelling on Florida Gulf Coast

Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches
Shells on Anna Maria Island beaches

Every evening we walk several blocks across Anna Maria Island to the Gulf Beach, where we walk along the water’s edge as the sun approaches the horizon. It’s always interesting to notice what kinds of shells are on the beach at certain times. There are some “regulars,” which are almost always there. And there are some very unusual ones that show up only every once in awhile. But even the unusual ones tend to come in groups. In other words, if there is one, there are many. This happened one evening several years ago when there were beautiful shark’s eyes suddenly on the beach in large numbers.

The shells that usually wash ashore on the beaches of Anna Maria Island include spiny jewelboxes, which are white with spikes protruding. They look like bivalves, but are, in fact gastropods. Another fairly common gastropod shell is the lettered olive, which usually measures almost 2 inches long. We also come across Florida augers quite often, which are small cone-shaped shells.

A wide variety of bivalve shells is also seen at all times. One of the most interesting and charming is the little coquina, which comes in a wide range of pastels and earth tones. There is nothing more enchanting than seeing the live creatures in tidal pools, where they move with the inflow and outflow of the water. Little cat’s paws or kitten’s paws, range in color from white to black to orange. Jingles are translucent shells that come in these same three colors. About the size of a quarter, these round shells look like they’re made of mica.

There are several bivalves with remarkable patterns on them. Although it’s not unusual to see these shells, it is unusual to find one that is not worn. The sunray Venus may be the most beautiful of these shells, with a pattern that really does give the impression of sunrays. Both calico clams and calico scallops are quite common, too. The buttercup has an appealing smooth round shape, and is the color of butter. Less beautiful but more remarkable is the turkey wing, with one very straight edge and an otherwise roughly shaped surface, striped with brown.

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Tourism

Walking to the Beach

Here it is, mid summer, and we still are enjoying our daily walks over to the beach. Most of us who live on Anna Maria Island are able to walk to the beach. It is wonderful not to have to drive. The island is so narrow at the south end that the beach is never more than three or four blocks away. Farther north, the island widens and the walk increases by a few more blocks. But the only areas from which a walk to the beach would take more than just a few minutes are Key Royale and the neighborhoods near Galati Marine at the southeast end of the City of Anna Maria.

Our house is exactly a half mile from the beach. We usually make that walk and then continue along the beach, toward the setting sun before we turn and head home. The beach part of the walk is spectacular every evening. Tonight the beach was particularly wide, and the sand looked smooth and white. The temperature was extremely pleasant—amazing for mid August! The water reflected the pink/orange glow from the low sun. There was almost nobody on the beach. This is the kind of “paradise” experience for which people travel long distances. How lucky we are to be able to walk to it.

Categories
Environment

Small Birds of Anna Maria Island

This spring we have noticed surprisingly large numbers of small birds in our yard and the nearby neighborhoods of Anna Maria Island. We become so used to the larger great blue herons, pelicans, ospreys, egrets, ibises and wood storks that the small birds have become of particular interest.

Parrokeets of Anna Maria
Parrokeets have made themselves at home on Anna Maria Island

Several kinds of smaller birds are permanent residents of the island, or visit here often. The loud, gregarious parakeets that fly overhead seem to fluctuate in numbers. We suspect that may have to do with nesting trees being cut, in particular, along the main road in Anna Maria. For whatever the reason, it was not unusual several years ago to see large flocks of these green parakeets overhead, or on a tree or building. Now they appear much less often.

The doves can be heard cooing, and often perch on powerlines along the street. They also perch on deck railings and seem to like our Bahama shutter supports.

Mockingbirds are the state bird of Florida. If you are going to have only a limited number of songbirds in your neighborhood, it’s wonderful if one of them is a mockingbird. This cheerful-sounding bird rattles off a wide variety of songs, giving the impression that there are many kinds of birds in the area.