Friday, February 24, 2017

The Operculum Discovery

Bean "season" as it is known is over in these parts.  So, as we wander the beaches these days, we certainly do not hope to find many of our usual drifters much less new ones.

Despite the lower overall numbers it seems that new beans continue to arrive.

Here are four recent finds.  Two of which we can identify and two which remain unidentified, thus far.

                                    First up, the Asian Water Chestnut.

It has a spectacular shape and is the only bean we've found that actually begins in the water and ends up on land.

                                     This is one of our unidentifieds.

         We are still searching for the ID of this lightweight and porous drifter.

                                        Next up, the Mucuna Holtonii.

     It is similar to the hamburgers we've shown you prior only thinner and wavier.

Our second unidentified.  It is thought to be in the wood rose family but that remains unconfirmed.

Of the 1700 people in Nicole's SeaBean Group we are the third to have found one of these drifters.  One was found in Texas, one in Cocoa and now ours found here in Stuart.

When looking for drifting beans in the wrack line one often comes across other items that are just too curious to ignore.  The other day, Nicole found this mixed in with the seaweed.

                                               Interesting, isn't it?

We brought it home, cleaned it up and went to googling for all sorts of ocean dweller parts.

When none of the search terms revealed anything, we turned to an authority better than google... Nicole's brother.  He came to visit and immediately said, "I know what it is!  It is a conch foot."  What?!

Well, for the most part, he was right.  Although it isn't actually the foot (that is more fleshy) it is the part that rests at the base of the foot.

It is the OPERCULUM.

An operculum is a structure that closes or covers an aperture; a secreted plate that serves to close the aperture of a gastropod mollusk's shell when the animal is retracted.

OPERCULUM.  OPERCULUM.  OPERCULUM.  Isn't that a cool word?

Well, it is a also a cool thing and conchs are not the only mollusks that have them.  They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors.


Guess what Nicole is on the hunt for now?!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Going Back A Few Months

We had been here a little over a week when Nicole completed her first local volunteer project.

The task... Bagging oyster shells at the Florida Oceanographic Society which is located over our two 'mountains' between the beach and the Intracoastal.

What is the goal of bagging up old oyster shells and putting them back in the water?

To form a 'reef', of sorts, in the Indian River Lagoon to which microscopic, zooplankton-like oyster larvae will attach and grow into living (water filtering) oysters!

Here's a short video that shows and explains the process.

Did you know that a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day?!

That is pretty darn important considering the state of water quality these days.  Over the last 60+ years, the St. Lucie River has lost over 80% of its oyster reef habitat, primarily due to poor water quality and low salinity levels.  Fresh-water discharges into the estuary are devastating the oyster population.  Up to 300 estuarine species rely on the oysters for habitat and food.

Photo opportunities were not the name of this game so Nicole did not take any photos but we'll share some borrowed from the Oceanographic Society.

So, how was the volunteer project?

It was a well oiled machine of an incredibly awesome day with great people and one of the most killer workouts you can get while having a good time.

This is where they dump the shells to dry.  It is also where we bag them.

Only two or three folks (including Nicole) were new and the regulars... These people worked!

Step 1: Hand rake the shells into the nets. 
Step 2: Carefully pull the tube out while grabbing the top of the bag!

Step 3: Give the bag to the knot tiers and the pvc tube to the mesh bag put-er-on-ers.

Step 4:  Grab a pre-netted PVC tube and repeat... until the roaches and snakes all start running (which means you are at the bottom of the barrel).  Then repeat some more until the trailer is empty.

Step 5:  Start moving the bags!

These bags don't get themselves on the barge and the staging area for the barge is down the road.

Three solid hours of moving oyster shells around.  Around 900 bags were moved in a conveyor sort of line where each person handles the bad and passes it to the next.  With each weighing an average of 8 lbs or more.  That's about 7200 lbs Nicole lifted in three hours.  Although she was ready for a nap when it was all over, she was also energized and excited! 

Although she had signed up for it, Nicole could not make the deployment of this set.  Maybe next time!

Something else we did a few months back was tour the House of Refuge with Nicole's brother while he was visiting.

(Not our photo - we didn't bring our camera)

Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Martin County’s oldest building and the only (of the ten that were built) house of refuge remaining.  If you have visited Florida anytime in the last few years it could be hard to imagine that the coastline was once quite desolate.  But it was.  Believe it or not, Mastodons once roamed in Florida.  We digress, however.

The ten Houses of Refuge were built as havens for shipwrecked sailors and travelers along the sparsely populated Atlantic coastline of Florida.  They were run by the United States Lifesaving Service which was started in 1848 and merged with the United States Coast Guard in 1915.  The houses were staffed by keepers and their families who lived life isolated in these locations in order to find and rescue the many shipwreck victims of the time.  Part of the keepers duties were to walk along the shore as far as possible in search of survivors.

Gilbert's House of Refuge is located on a thin strip of land between the ocean and the Intracoastal.

The historic structure has weathered many storms and provided needed shelter for shipwreck survivors, including those of the Georges Valentine, whose wreckage remains just 100 yards off the rocky shoreline and is on our list of snorkeling trips once the water warms.

The history of this last remaining House of Refuge and the land that it sits on continues to be revealed.  In 2004 hurricane damage to the nearby shoreline revealed an Indian midden attributed to the Ais Indians who inhabited the area from 2000 B.C. to the 18th century.

If you notice the rocky shoreline between the ocean and the house in the above photo you will see the reason that this house is the last of its kind.  The others did not have this natural foundation to help protect them from the results of natural erosion.  The rocky shoreline is called the Anastasia Formation.  It is a geologic formation deposited during the Late Pleistocene epoch.  Although it runs for quite a distance along the coast and has been said to be up to 30 m in depth, it is only exposed in a few locations with the House of Refuge being one.

(Not our photo)

In relation to elevation, thoughts of Florida do not often bring to mind much other than a flat line.  So, it can be hard to imagine that, at times, especially after a good storm, these formations can reach heights of 15 to 20 feet overhead as you walk along at low tide.  At high tide with a good set of waves, you can enjoy the many blow holes that have been created by erosion and watch them send water shooting 50 feet in the air. 

That is all for now...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Let's Talk About The Woods

Suppose that title is just a little bit misleading to some.  We are not referring to the woods as in an area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees.  No, we are talking about seabeans or drift seeds whose name ends in "wood".

Now that we've cleared that up, let's get to the first in our little list of three that we find in fairly high quantities (as drifters go) on a regular basis.

First up... Calophyllum inophyllum also known as Laurelwood.

Probably the reason that we find so many of these is that it is native to many many places;  Africa, Asia, Southern India, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the northwestern, southwestern and south central Pacific Region and Australia, to name a few.

This low-branching, slow-growing tree reaches heights on average of 50 feet and produces showy, white flowers.

Laurelwood Flower

What is delivered via the ocean currents to our beaches though are the fruit (seed pods) of the Laurelwood.

The fruit (aptly nicknamed the ballnut) are these round, green (pre-ripe), yellow to brownish-red and wrinkled (when ripe) danglers.

Although we have found a few with some wrinkled skin still on them, typically after a long journey at sea we are left with what looks like a wooden ball.

2016-10-17 Florida, Stuart - Laurelwood Seabean
Traditional Pacific Islanders used Calophyllum wood to construct the keel of their canoes.

Nicole has taken a special interest in the innards of the beans that we find more than two or three of.  She carefully dissects the outer shell to reveal the seed inside.

   The kernel of the Laurelwood is really cute and looks a bit like a miniature lemon.

These seeds yield a thick, dark green oil that is used for skin regeneration or hair grease.  The sap of the tree is poisonous and is used to make poison arrows in Samoa while the mature fruit is poisonous enough to use as rat bait.

One very interesting fact is that the fatty acid methyl esters derived from this seeds meet major biodiesel requirements and the oil was used as fuel to generate electricity to provide power for radios during World War II.

So, it seems you can say that we've got ourselves a bowl of skin healing, poison arrowed, biodiesel balls.


On that note, we'll move on to Carapa guianensis or Crabwood as we call it.

The tree grows in the Amazon region, Central America and the Caribbean.
It is a tall tree with dense foliage that grows in the tropical rain forest
along the edge of rivers.

2 (2)
    The flowers of the Crabwood are small and delicate looking.

2 (3)
                                    They grow in clusters.

The wood of this tree resembles mahogany and is used in quality furniture and other items like masts.  The bark is used for tanning.

2 (1)
                            The fruit is fairly large.

What we find washing up on our beaches are the seeds from inside this fruit.

2 (4)
There are three in this fruit each with the unique three flat sides one curved shape.

An oil with medicinal and insect repellant properties is derived from these seeds. The oil is used to treat hepatitis, tetanus and ringworm.  It can also be used as a lamp oil and to protect furniture from termites and other wood-chewing insects.  Leaves are also used for things like itchy skin.  The fruit rind is used for intestinal worms.

Crabwood (1)
The first three of our specimens.  Nicole thought she would stop here but there is something about these uniquely shaped nuts...

  ...and so we have kept all 20 that we have found.

The front two in the above photo have been cut open in an attempt to see the innards.  However, their long journey at sea ate away at the two we have opened and all that was left was a dust or a paste.

Crabwood (2)
Perhaps Nicole will dare to open another but these are favorites so it may not happen.

We'll move on to Pterocarpus officinalis (otherwise known as Bloodwood).

The Bloodwood is a dominant tree of freshwater coastal wetlands in the Caribbean and the Guiana regions.  It is known as a kind of teak native to southern Africa. 

This wonderfully artistic root system is a unique
feature of the Bloodwood tree.

The bark, when wounded, yields drops of red juice which
soon harden into crimson tears.

The resin of this tree is astringent and haemostatic and has been used in general wound healing, lowering fevers, the treatment of diarrhea, mouth sores and thrush.  An infusion of the outer bark is also used to treat dysentery.

dragonsblood flower
                                      It's flowers are small and yellow.

                                        It's seeds are uniquely shaped.

By the time we find the seeds drifting onto our shores they have aged and turned brown.


    One common characteristic of all of them is the veins that run through them.


The Bloodwoods are like the Crabwoods in that once they reach our shores their internal seed is rather dried up and non-viable.  So, we'll spare you the picture of the dust that we found inside.

Instead we'll share with you a shot of the internals of the Nickerbean (aka Sea Pearl).  If you remember, we shared their details in a past post.

2016-12-03 Florida, Stuart - Nickerbean Seabean (2)
                    These are Nickerbeans.

They have a very hard shell so they survive their long journey.  Nicole had to use a hacksaw to cut one open.


We've been somewhat slack on getting more posts up since settling into our condo here in sunny Florida and taking on part-time jobs. 

As of this posting though we are entering our fifth month of not living in Annie.  We are also entering our fifth month of staying one place.  Four months is the longest we have stayed in any one place for the last five years.  Needless to say, our nomadic toes are tapping and we both are feeling the itch. 

However, for the time being, we shall stay put.  We've got a really great deal with our living situation and a great landlord (who just bought herself another condo and has told us to stay as long as we want).  The location is prime as Florida goes with only a quick three mile jaunt to the ocean and Nicole's folks are just a short drive away, as well.

Soon the water temperature will warm up and we will clean off our sandy feet by exploring the many shipwrecks and reefs in the area.

Until next time...