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Ron Reefman

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Ron,
Wifey and I just moved to the Holiday area and I was wondering if you knew of any good snorkeling spots up in our area. We've been to honeymoon island (Dunedin) a lot and that seems like a good place but its pretty busy. Especially on weekends....
Any leads in my area?

Thanks man. GREAT thread......
Hubcap, unfortunately I don't know of any areas for snorkeling up in your area. We don't really have any worth talking about down here in the Ft Myers, Cape Coral, Naples area either... at least not that I know of. If you find any, even if they are just OK or average, let us know. That's half the idea behind this thread, to help people find places to snorkel. I'm always happy to share all the sites we go to in the Keys and places we do beach walks (and some collecting) on Sanibel and Lovers Key (just south of Ft Myers Beach).
 
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As I am setting up my new tank I have been thinking about when I lived in Salem, Mass when we would frequently head up to the more northern rocky coasts of Massachusetts and Maine. One of our favorite pastimes was searching for tide pools in the rocks, often we would find them teeming with life.

tide pool 03.jpg tide pool 02.jpg
tide pool 00.jpg

We still live close enough for trips out there and I would love to have a local urchin in our tank (my wife particularly loves urchins). My tank water will be something like 10 degrees warmer than the water these would be coming from. Is this too extreme a difference or is it reasonable to expect that with careful acclimation they would be okay?
 
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Ron Reefman

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OK, on to Day 2 of our snorkel trip:

We went out to a small island named Little Money Key. It's a regular stop for us as it's easy to get to at less then a 1/4 mile out from a boat ramp at the southwest end of the Seven Mile Bridge. The water is shallow and the environment to the north side of the island is crazy full of small aquatic life.

There is one small, rarely used house on the island with a big dock. In the past we could hardly see any of the house due to the amount of foliage on the island. But Hurricane Irma (2017) washed completely over the island and the salt and wind killed 95% of the trees and shrubs. Only a few survive and they are all on the north side of the island, away from the direction Irma came from. This photo shows how bad it still looks almost 3 years later. BTW, you are seeing about half of the live trees in this photo!

aP6240080 island house.jpg

Here is a quick rundown of some of the life we saw.

One of my favorites, the blue sponge. I collected this small sample to try and keep in my DT or my refugium. But I have low expectations, which is why I only took a small sample.
aP6240050 small blue sponge.jpg

Good old emerald crabs. They are everywhere among the corals and algae out here. You can hardly pick anything up and not have one dart around to hide from you. Sometimes they even run to the back of your hand or even down your arm!

aP6240058 emerald crab.jpg

I love sea stars and this small one is quite typical for the area. Brittle stars are not uncommon either, but we saw less this trip than in the past.

aP6240077 small sea star.jpg

This kind of encrusting stony coral isn't very common here. I suspect there is too much algae and everything on the bottom except big sponges is loose and moves around on days when the water is rough. On the other hand, these guys do stand out when you are looking around the bottom. BTW, I believe this is a non-photosynthetic coral, but I'm not 100% sure.

aP6240084 stony coral.jpg

This zoas seems to come and go out at this site. Today there was a lot of it. Too bad I'm only allowed to collect 10 polyps (that's 5 for me and 5 for Elaine... that's the daily limit). It is photosynthetic but it doesn't fluoresce at all.

aP6240087 green zoas.jpg

I think it must have been urchin breeding season recently. We saw dozens and dozens of tiny urchins. Some as small as the eraser on a pencil. But this big red one real caught my attention. About the size of a baseball. I'll have more about urchin in the Day 3 narrative.

aP6240090 red urchin.jpg

Wearing dive gloves is highly recommended if you are picking things up out on a reef. Elaine turned over this rock and found more than a handful of fire worms. Even with gloves, we avoid contact with these guys. They are like fine prickly pear cactus with tiny spines that sting and are impossible to remove!

aP6240107 fire worms.jpg

This nice purple gorgonian was just laying in a bed of algae. It must have become detached and got washed here as there are no others in the immediate area. These are so common in some areas that the State of Florida allows the collection of up to 8 colonies per day per person. I just took this one.

aP6240114 gorgonian.jpg

This is a sponge I wish I could get to encrust and grow in a reef tank. But I've tried a small one and it only survived a month.

aP6240127 big sponge.jpg

This stony coral is commonly called Rose Coral. It's not very common here, but we do see them occasionally. Again, not photosynthetic and illegal under State law. I happened to find these 2 within a few feet of each other and they were the only ones I saw during over 3 hours of snorkeling. These are the common colors, but very rarely I've seen light green and bright yellow versions.

aP6250193 rose coral.jpg

Damsel fish and some juvenile tropical fish do inhabit the area. Many like to make a home in empty queen conch shells. And the parents are quite protective of their home. Sometimes they will swim right up to you as if to warn you that they aren't happy with your intrusion.

aP6240156 Damsel.jpg

This is another stony coral and and I believe it's also not photosynthetic. It's known as tube coral. Elaine found this nice size colony which is kind of uncommon. Normally we find them with just a few heads.

aP6250209 pipe coral.jpg

These big ball sponges survived Hurricane Irma pretty well and are doing just fine. This example is about 18" in diameter.

aP6250198 ball sponge.jpg

Vase sponges on the other hand, did not fair so well during Irma. So it's nice to see some good examples have survived and are making a comeback.

aP6250202 vase sponge.jpg

And the last thing I have to share in the way of animals, is the one we enjoyed seeing most of all. This Reef Squid is probably not mature yet and is about a foot long. We were in 3' of water and 100' off the edge of the island. In over 15 years of snorkeling in the Keys shallow near shore patch reefs, we have only seen a squid 3 times, and one time out on the big reef 5 miles off shore (we rarely go out there).

a squid  R2.jpg

aP6240180 squid.jpg

All in all, a really nice day out snorkeling. Especially since we've been staying home and avoiding people as much as possible. But we were the only people at this island all day!
 
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Ron Reefman

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tide pool 00.jpg

We still live close enough for trips out there and I would love to have a local urchin in our tank (my wife particularly loves urchins). My tank water will be something like 10 degrees warmer than the water these would be coming from. Is this too extreme a difference or is it reasonable to expect that with careful acclimation they would be okay?
Tough call for me. My best guess is that it's at least possible, probably better than a 50/50 chance. The urchins in the Key survive some 70F water in the winter and some 90F in the summer. That's a pretty big range.

I like urchins OK, but in your photo, I really would love to find those limpets attached to the bottom. Really good looking and good algae eaters and glass cleaners, IMHO.
 

thatsruff

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Tough call for me. My best guess is that it's at least possible, probably better than a 50/50 chance. The urchins in the Key survive some 70F water in the winter and some 90F in the summer. That's a pretty big range.

I like urchins OK, but in your photo, I really would love to find those limpets attached to the bottom. Really good looking and good algae eaters and glass cleaners, IMHO.
Thanks so much! Yeah, they are some really nice little folks, why not both?!
 

thatsruff

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OK, on to Day 2 of our snorkel trip:

We went out to a small island named Little Money Key. It's a regular stop for us as it's easy to get to at less then a 1/4 mile out from a boat ramp at the southwest end of the Seven Mile Bridge. The water is shallow and the environment to the north side of the island is crazy full of small aquatic life.

There is one small, rarely used house on the island with a big dock. In the past we could hardly see any of the house due to the amount of foliage on the island. But Hurricane Irma (2017) washed completely over the island and the salt and wind killed 95% of the trees and shrubs. Only a few survive and they are all on the north side of the island, away from the direction Irma came from. This photo shows how bad it still looks almost 3 years later. BTW, you are seeing about half of the live trees in this photo!

aP6240080 island house.jpg

Here is a quick rundown of some of the life we saw.

One of my favorites, the blue sponge. I collected this small sample to try and keep in my DT or my refugium. But I have low expectations, which is why I only took a small sample.
aP6240050 small blue sponge.jpg

This nice purple gorgonian was just laying in a bed of algae. It must have become detached and got washed here as there are no others in the immediate area. These are so common in some areas that the State of Florida allows the collection of up to 8 colonies per day per person. I just took this one.

aP6240114 gorgonian.jpg
I really like the blue sponge and purple gorgonian, very nice finds.
 
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I really like the blue sponge and purple gorgonian, very nice finds.
The blue sponges are a bit less common, but certainly not rare. At Little Money Key there aren't a lot of gorgonians. But some of the other places we snorkel you can't turn around in the water and not hit a gorgonian!

Here is some more from Day 2:

I found this lonely feather duster attached to a small chunk of dead coral which made it easy to collect. About 99% of the feather dusters we see are well attached to really big rocks and almost impossible to collect.

aP6250233 feather duster.jpg

Elaine took this just after we anchored the boat. Behind Little Money Key is the southwest end of the Seven Mile Bridge about a 1/4 mile away. Just to the right, out of the frame of the photo would be the boat ramp we use. It would be an easy kayak paddle and you can rent those by the day in Marathon. The grassy bottom is about 3' below the surface here and it's just full of life!

aP6240001.JPG

This is the dock on the northeast side of the island. I find it interesting that on one side of the dock is a quite different environment than on the other side of the dock. One side is grassy and has lots of life, including zoas (but no palys). On the other side it's more sandy bottom with some rocks and some brown palys (but no zoas).

P6240135.JPG

BTW, notice the Cormorant birds all 'social distancing' on the dock while they dry out after a morning in the water fishing. Then these birds swim, their entire body goes below the surface of the water and just the long neck and head are visible.

aP6240122 social distancing.jpg

Elaine found this unusual sponge laying in the grass. We weren't close together so I didn't get to see it. Lucky for me, she at least took a photo.

aP6240159 odd sponge.jpg

After a couple of hours in the water we got back to the Zodiac for a lunch break and some relaxation. In the shadow under the boat a school of small fish were taking shelter.

aP6250241 minnows.jpg

Back at the boat for lunch is one of the most relaxing times of my life. We just spend time doing our favorite pastime, snorkeling. Then we get to bask in the sun, tell each other about what we saw, have a PB&J sandwich and some watermelon chunks. BTW, watermelon chunks after a couple of hours in the water are way better than any other time I've had watermelon. Maybe it's due to the salt water drying out my lips and the fresh water from the melon being so refreshing!

aP6240182.JPG

And as much as I enjoy snorkeling, I have to admit, it's twice as much fun doing it with Elaine. I always tell people that I love to snorkel and that I think Elaine enjoys it more than I do!

P6240186.JPG

After lunch we snorkel for as long as we can. But the pressure of the water pushing the mask against your face actually gets painful after a few hours. Then we call it a day. But during our afternoon in the water we did find this decorator crab who didn't have some sponge hooked on it's back. It actually had a hole in the sponge and was living almost inside it!

aP6250228 dec crab.jpg
 

ReefGrammie

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Great pictures, Ron! Interesting seeing the specs on what you can bring home. My father was an avid saltwater fisherman and could quote the specs on any fish with marine restrictions. I have great memories of fishing with my dad. ;Joyful
 

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20200712_072504.jpg
20200712_072054.jpg
20200712_072030.jpg
This is where I go wade fishing Sunday at sunrise. Always countless cerinth snails and huge hermit crabs. It's in Sarasota bay, so no coral, just sponges and urchins and the like. In my lifetime we have started catching more tropical species, don't know if thats due to warming or not. Snook have moved up the East coast farther than they've ever been recorded.

20200704_070300.jpg

This is beach access 12 on Siesta Key, where I get my water. A couple hundred yards East is Point o' Rocks, where we snorkle. This past year it was so full of fish it was hard to believe, especially after the water being devoid of observable life from the red tides the year or 2 before. No coral on the rocks near the shore, but 50 feet out you start to see soft coral and large sponges. My friends have seen lots of sharks at the further out ledges so I don't go out there . These are limestone ledges. Ive seen snook schools near the seawall with snook that made you pause they were so big. My plan is to make a shallow 4x2 or 3x3 touch tank for my boy and 4 y.o. nephew to collect from here and other local spots in the next year or so, and order a little biotope appropriate rock and zoa/gorgs from K.P. Aquatics.
 
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This is where I go wade fishing Sunday at sunrise. Always countless cerinth snails and huge hermit crabs. It's in Sarasota bay, so no coral, just sponges and urchins and the like. In my lifetime we have started catching more tropical species, don't know if thats due to warming or not. Snook have moved up the East coast farther than they've ever been recorded.

This is beach access 12 on Siesta Key, where I get my water. A couple hundred yards East is Point o' Rocks, where we snorkle. This past year it was so full of fish it was hard to believe, especially after the water being devoid of observable life from the red tides the year or 2 before. No coral on the rocks near the shore, but 50 feet out you start to see soft coral and large sponges. My friends have seen lots of sharks at the further out ledges so I don't go out there . These are limestone ledges. Ive seen snook schools near the seawall with snook that made you pause they were so big. My plan is to make a shallow 4x2 or 3x3 touch tank for my boy and 4 y.o. nephew to collect from here and other local spots in the next year or so, and order a little biotope appropriate rock and zoa/gorgs from K.P. Aquatics.
Very coll that you have an area in Sarasota to do some beach and some snorkeling! Thanks for the photos, they are lovely!

We happened to be in Sarasota on a Miata Club event and afterwards we went looking for the Point O' Rocks location but couldn't find it. Any chance you can do a Google Earth map and show us were it is?

To be fair, here is a beach/estuary where we use nets to collect shrimp, snails and small fish. It's called Bunche Beach and is on the way out to the Sanibel Causeway.

Bunche Beach 1..jpg

Bunch Beach 2..jpg

Bunche Beach 3..jpg
 

growoldplease

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Below is point o rocks in relation to Tampa Bay. The Manatee River empties into Tampa Bay, and below that is Sarasota Bay.
Excuse the elementary school drawing on my phone!

20200712_130359.jpg

Below is beach access 12 on Siesta Beach and point o rocks (fills up before midmorning but parking is across the main street also).

Screenshot_20200712-130258_Earth.jpg
 
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Ron Reefman

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Always love your posts Ron, you guys are living the dream!
Maybe some day for you? After all, I was born and lived 30 years in Michigan and then spent 20 years in Columbus, Ohio. The last 20 years living in SW Florida have been by far the best!!! ;)
 

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Hi @Ron Reefman , love this thread. Currently we are on vacation at North Captiva I was trying to to some snorkeling but visibility is zero, I have access to a boat what places do you recommend nearby to do some collecting?

Cheers
 
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Hi @Ron Reefman , love this thread. Currently we are on vacation at North Captiva I was trying to to some snorkeling but visibility is zero, I have access to a boat what places do you recommend nearby to do some collecting?

Cheers
There isn't much to snorkel here. We were just out at Lovers Key (south of Ft Myeres Beach) and the water wasn't very clear, but I've seen a lot worse. We do 99% of our snorkeling in the Middle Keys where the water is very clear about 50% of the time and there are some great spots to snorkel off the beach and charters that can get you out to the big reef. Although personally, I like the shallow reefs where I can touch things, pick up animals and even do some collecting.

To do some collecting around here, one of the best places is Bunche Beach (see post #530 for maps). I'll send you a PM with my phone number and you can call to discuss where and how to collect there. Heck, I might even find time to join you! Going early in the morning is best as parking is a bit limited. And you might want to visit the Baily Mathews National Shell Museum on Sanibel. They have just re-opened and now have a number of aquariums (some quite big) with live mollusks. In fact our aquarium club is getting a behind the scenes tour tomorrow morning at 8:45am.
 
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I'm going to depart from the main theme of this thread for a post or two. Our local aquarium club got a behind the scenes tour of the newly rebuilt Baily Mathews National Shell Museum last weekend. In the past they had a few small tanks (40 breeders) with some live mollusks. Now they have 7 big tanks and 2 big touch tanks (local/tropical & cold water). Here are some photos.

This tank has lots of small tropical fish and lots of live corals (frags and small colonies) but it's really about all the big giant clams.

20200718_091119_resized.jpg

And plumbing that comes down from above and goes out from underneath.

20200718_091315_resized.jpg

20200718_091227.jpg

They have 2 nice octopus tanks with shallow and deep water species.

20200718_093013_resized.jpg

Here is the cold water touch tank. It has covers on it because we were there before the museum was open.

20200718_094725_resized.jpg

They have a lot of very cool and bright artwork on the walls around the tanks.

20200718_095950.jpg

They have the only live Junonia snails in captivity anywhere in the entire world! These guys live 100' to 175' deep and eat other snails. The Junonia shells are considered a huge treasure if found on the beaches of Sanibel Island.

20200718_102339.jpg

Each of the tanks has it's own water system. Only 2 tanks in the whole place are tied together. There are 3 different rooms with 8 filtration systems. Here are some back room shots.

20200718_095054.jpg

20200718_095757.jpg

20200718_095807.jpg

They have 2 full time marine biologists taking care of the tanks. But in case they should have issues, there are lots of instructions on the walls in each room!

20200718_100917.jpg

This is the saltwater tank and next to it to the right (out of the picture) is the same size tank for RO/DI storage. And that is their supply of salt behind Becca (one of the biologists).

20200718_101506.jpg

Above the water tanks is the chiller system.

20200718_101427.jpg

And to the right of the tanks and chiller is the huge diesel generator that has enough fuel to run nonstop for 7 days. The green box is the generator and the black box below it is the fuel tank.

20200718_101603.jpg

That's the lower level of the museum which is all new. Upstairs is a 2nd floor with tons of shell exhibits, a big meeting room, a gift shop and a room for kids to make shell jewelry and other artwork. If you are ever in SW Florida, this is for sure a place to visit.
 
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Ron Reefman

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I go snorkeling in cape Ann in north shore mass, also getting my scuba license soon
I assume most things there want cooler water than in most reef tanks, right? Do you ever take any photos?
 
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