What lies beneath?
Ranger Katie Moses wades into the shallow water along Big Carlos Pass at the northern edge of Lovers Key State Park, her feet sinking slightly into the soft sea grass bed. Behind her, a dozen or so adults follow her lead and wade into the water with their dip nets ready. This is an Estuary Wading Tour, the most popular program at Lovers Key State Park.
Katie encourages everyone to dip their nets down into the water to see what they may find there. “The sea grass beds are basically a nursery,” she explains. “They are full of juvenile fish, crabs, sea stars, snails, and everyone’s favor- ite: sea horses.”
Sea grass beds provide protection for eggs and juveniles of many species, yet boat propellers easily damage the beds. A single, carelessly used propeller can cause damage that takes years to repair. But wading through the beds does no harm. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to explore them.
As people bring up their nets, sur prise and excitement are widespread. “I had no idea!” exclaims a man who brought up a brittle sea star and some juvenile fish. “Look at this!” says a woman with a fighting conch in her net.
Everyone brings their net back to the beach, where plastic bins of water are waiting to hold their finds. While the visitors look, Katie describes fascinating details about the creatures they’ve brought in from the water. There are tiny shrimp, juvenile hermit crabs, slipper snails, and three different types of sea stars. “We easily find at least 15 different species on a wading tour,” says Katie.
If You Go
Wading Tours at Lover’s Key State Park are offered monthly and reservations are required. The schedule varies with the tides, so if you are interested in joining a tour, check the website (www.floridastateparks.org/park-events/ Lovers-Key) or call the Park at 239- 463-4588 for the schedule.