After crossing the boardwalk over Lake Worth Lagoon at John D. MacArthur State Park in North Palm Beach, we made it to the beach side. You can either take the handicap ramp up the dune to the beach access, or the multilevel of stairs. We chose the stairs.
I climbed the first set of stairs. Everything was fine. On the next set of stairs, underneath the bottom step something caught my eye.
Finding refuge from the heat, a snake relaxed on the support beam underneath the step!
It was a red rat snake, also known as a corn snake! The Pantherophis guttatus is a common, non-venomous constrictor. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee, red rat snakes are the best climbing snakes in Florida, which explains how it got up to its aerial secret spot!
This particular red rat snake was vibrantly colored. Their colors can vary from yellow to tan to orange. They feast on small mammals, lizards, eggs, and sometimes even a bird.
Red rat snakes are known to inhabit mangrove forests, rockland hammocks, and pine rocklands. They are highly adaptable, as they have learned to deal with human expansion by thriving in urbanized environments.
No matter which public access beach in Florida you go to, the beach warning flag system will be the same.
In 2005, an amendment to Section 380.276, F.S., required all public beaches to display only the flag system that was developed by the Florida Coastal Management Program, the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association, the United States Lifesaving Association, and the International Life Saving Federation.
Prior to this change, beaches had their own color or pattern system to signal ocean conditions to beach goers, which led to confusion and misinterpretation if another beach used a similar color to denote a different condition.
If you learn what each flag means prior to your beach trip, you will be able to assess the conditions of the water and any hazards there may be.
These flags will usually fly at the entrances to the beach access, or they may be flown on the actual lifeguard stand. Each beach is different in their presentation, but the meaning of the flags remains the same.
Double Red Flag- Water Closed to Public
This will be flown if there is impending weather or extreme rip currents. Lifeguards will also put this in areas near jetties or piers that are “no swim zones.”
Solid Single Red Flag- High Hazard
If there are big waves, a storm coming, or strong currents, this flag will be flown. It is usually best to exercise extreme caution when this flag is flown, and if you are a weak swimmer or not experienced in the ocean, it is probably best just spend your beach trip on the sand.
Solid Yellow Flag- Medium Hazard
This flag means there is moderate surf and/or currents. The water may be choppy, with larger than average waves. It is best to exercise caution, especially if you have an elderly person or a child with you.
Solid Green Flag- Low Hazard
Green means go! The green flag flying is the most ideal flag to fly over your beach trip. The ocean conditions are favorable and calm. It’s time to relax, but still be cautious!
Solid Purple Flag- Dangerous Marine Life
Often times, this flag will be flown with one of the other flags. For example, you will see a green flag flying, which means water conditions are favorable, but the purple flag is also flying just beneath it, because the lifeguard has spotted man-o-war. You can still enter the water, but be aware of what is swimming around you. Be particularly wary of clumps of seaweed, where jellyfish may be. The lifeguard will usually write on the lifeguard communications board what specific dangerous marine life is in the water.
Dangerous marine life does not necessarily mean that a Great White Shark is lurking in the waters. The absence of a purple flag does not mean you are “alone” either. It is always best to be aware of what is around you. The magic of the ocean is that you may be underwater, looking out into the clear water, and there is nothing in front of you. You continue to look out longer, and suddenly things will appear before you that you wonder how you could not have seen. It’s awe-inspiring.
Sharks have a bad rep, because they will usually leave you alone. It is common to run into a nurse shark, especially if you are near a reef, but they will not bother you.
The one time I did run into a shark that could have posed a potential threat, a lifeguard on a four-wheeler followed it down the coast. When he approached our beach camp, he calmly said, “Hey, there is a shark cruising this way, very, very close to shore. You should probably stay out of the water, and let them know what is going on.” I signaled to my companions, and they returned to shore, and the three of us watched as the large, dark shadow passed through where they had just been swimming.
We returned to the water when it was further down the coastline, treated to an amazing close encounter with a truly majestic creature.
Always pay attention to the warning flags. Ask a lifeguard for more information about why they are flying a certain flag that day if you have questions.
This lifeguard communication board displays the warning flags, and other pertinent information about the beach conditions.
This South Beach lifeguard stand flies a green, low hazard flag. The flag key is displayed on the back of the stand.
This board at Red Reef Park shows the flag key and the rip currents chart for beach goers reference.
This sign is at the entrance to the boardwalk of Atlantic Dunes Park in Delray.
This sign and flag flies at near the boardwalk entrance of John D. MacArthur State Park.
Getting caught in a rip current is a scary moment, no matter how well you can swim or how many times you have been in the ocean.
As with most scenarios, maintaining composure will allow you to get out of the rip current safely, or as this sign so succinctly says, “Break the grip of the rip!”
According to the NOAA, 100 people drown in rip currents every year in the United States alone. People caught in rip currents account for more than 80% of all lifeguard rescues.
Rip currents can occur in any large body of water, even the Great Lakes!
What is a rip current?
A rip current is a fast-moving current of water that moves from the shore out to sea. They can be narrow, or hundreds of yards wide, depending on the conditions. If you are caught in a rip current, it will pull you out to sea, but not underwater. That is why floating and/or staying calm is imperative to your survival.
You can always see a rip current from shore, right?
No, not always. You can look for signs, such as churning water, murky water, or excess foam or seaweed. If most of the water has normal waves rolling in and the water is clear, but there is a section that appears darker, or the waves are choppier, chances are the latter area is indeed a rip current.
I’m pretty much the best swimmer. Ever. I’ll be fine…right?
Wrong. A rip current would give Michael Phelps a run for his money. Some rip currents have been recorded moving at speeds of eight feet per second! Just as fast as you got into a rip current, you can get out of it, but the shear speed of the water might alarm you. As difficult as it may seem, don’t panic!
Forget this, I am never going in the ocean again!
Woah, woah, woah! Don’t be like that. You can go into the ocean, but don’t go into the ocean when A) a large storm, especially a tropical storm or hurricane is coming or going B) if other people are getting rescued by lifeguards due to a rip current, or C) there are red, “no swimming” flags flying along the shoreline and/or at the lifeguard stand.
OMG I DIDN’T LISTEN, I AM STUCK IN A RIP CURRENT!
Keep calm, and breathe.
DO NOT try to swim towards shore. You will be swimming against the current, and that will exhaust your energy.
Instead, swim out of the current, parallel to the shore.
Once you are out of the current, you can then swim into shore.
If you cannot get out of the current, tread water, or float. (Floating will conserve the most energy.) Eventually, you will be out of the current, and then you can swim to shore. Don’t be afraid by how far offshore you may seem to be.
If you absolutely cannot get out of the rip current, face the shoreline, yell, and wave your arms to get the attention of a lifeguard.
Do not panic. Do not think about how you just watched Jaws. Think happy, peaceful thoughts.
Phew, I made it out! So what should I do next time to prevent getting caught in a rip current?
Check your local weather or a weather app. It will say if there is a rip current warning, and where. It is best to avoid that area.
Swim where there are lifeguards present. It is nice to have someone watching over you who has been trained and knows the proper procedures, and CPR if necessary.
If you think there might be a rip current, ask the on-duty lifeguard to see if he or she agrees, and what their recommendations are.
Wearing polarized sunglasses may help to see the differences between the regular water, and the rip currents.
If someone else is in trouble, call 9-1-1 or run to a lifeguard. Even in unguarded areas, there may be a buoy that you can throw to the person in trouble. If you go after the person, you may become caught in the rip current yourself, putting you both in jeopardy.
It’s a life or death journey that only one out of every thousand survive. It’s the moment to sink, or to swim. This is the trek of the hatchling.
To humans, it is not a great distance from the edge of the sand to the ocean surf. To a baby sea turtle, this is the longest, most significant journey of their lives.
Sea turtles lay their eggs, and then leave them behind forever, never knowing how many, if any, of their next-gen will make it to the sea. After incubating underneath the sand, the babies will hatch, and crawl just beneath the surface in unison. When the sand temperature is just right, the hatchlings will emerge from the sand, looking for visual clues to make their way to the sea.
Meanwhile, natural predators standby waiting to feast on the disoriented hatchlings, picking off a significant portion of the hopeful swimmers.
Hatchlings use clues such as the white caps of the waves and the natural light of the horizon line to adjust their course in the right direction. This is why human lights can be so detrimental to the hatchlings trying to find the ocean; streetlights, houselights, carlights, or flashlights can distract a hatchling from its natural path.
Another issue for hatchlings is debris in their path. When a mother turtle dropped off her eggs, she probably chose a spot that was clear. Overtime with the changing tides, many different things, from seaweed to human litter, can wash up and ruin the hatchlings’ course.
Below are some images that present different angles around a single protected sea turtle’s nest. It begs the question of how these tiny hatchlings will be able to make their way to the ocean against these physical obstacles.
Think about where your trash goes. Don’t be the reason why 999 baby hatchlings won’t make it to the ocean.
Pretty self explanatory, a dune sunflower is a sunflower that grows on a dune! Their bright yellow petals cannot be missed. They grow at an extremely fast pace, and are imperative to preserving the coastal dunes.
Like other beach flowers, they thrive in bright sun, saltwater air, and low-nutrient soil. They can be found in eleven counties in Florida, all of which are on the eastern coast.
Did you know that the Latin word for sun is “heli”, and for flower it is “anthus”? The scientific name for the Dune Sunflower is Helianthus debilis, with “debilis” referring to this flower’s “debilitated” crawling growth pattern.
Learn more about the Dune Sunflower with the Florida Native Plant Society.
When you think of the beach, wildflowers are not usually the first image that comes to mind. Believe it or not, there are many interesting wildflowers you can find at the beach!
The Indian Blanket Flower (Gallardia pulchella) is a wonderful wildflower that flourishes in sandy soils. It is also known as the “fire wheel” because of its flame-colored petals. At the beach, you will sometimes find it amongst dune sunflowers. The Indian Blanket can also be abundantly found in meadows and prairies.
This wildflower is the state flower of Oklahoma. It is believed to hold medicinal properties to fight ailments such as gastroenteritis. The Kiowa Indians celebrated this flower as token of good luck.
The Railroad Vine , also known as the Beach Morning Glory, is as strong as it is beautiful. It thrives in some of the harshest conditions for a plant- saltwater air and sand dunes.
The Ipomoea pes-caprae gets its common name because of how quickly the vine chuga-chuga-choo-choos across the dunes; it can grow up to one foot a day!
It is most commonly purple, but can vary towards pinker hues. This perennial wildflower blooms throughout the year. It has been said that the Carib Indians used Railroad Vine during certain rituals to cleanse evil spirits.
Dune flowers such as the Railroad Vine help to naturally preserve and stabilize sand dunes, so when you come across these flowers, bask in their beauty, but don’t disturb their home.
At the beach, it is easy to feel relaxed. The soothing sound of the ebb and flow of the ocean mixed with the warm, tropical breeze can take all the worries away. You want to let go, feel like you are away from it all. The one thing, however, you should never let go of is your personal awareness of what is going on around you.
Despite the fact that we want to believe that sunshine chases all the evils away, unfortunately it can bring many criminal moths to the flame. Bad things unfortunately do happen in beautiful, breathtaking settings.
Most beaches will have a sign that will remind you to make sure all of your valuables are locked away; these signs exist for a reason. I once read that law enforcement officials believe that a clean car is a safe car; if there is nothing in view to tempt the thugs and thieves , they will move on to the next car.
Criminals know that once you leave your car for the beach, you probably won’t be returning for a while. Most of the time your car won’t be within your sight. The criminals know this. There will usually be a lookout, watching the lot, and looking for certain things that will tip them off to some goodies.
For example, ladies if you store your purse somewhere in the car, then you will be walking out of the car without a purse, which will raise a flag to the criminal lookout to know to look in the car for a purse! (This scenario has happened to me.)
Another scenario I witnessed was a gentleman who left his shorts on the passenger’s seat of his car. When he returned to his car after a mere fifteen minutes, his passenger window was smashed in, and the shorts were gone. Luckily, nothing of value was in the shorts, but it was mind boggling to think that someone had just smashed his window in in hopes of something being in the shorts. They stole SHORTS. It was a huge chance that didn’t pay off for them, and ended up causing a headache to the gentleman victim. If there would have been a purse, smartphone, or mp3 player within view, that stuff would have been gone before you even had a chance to return to the car. Just because the doors are locked, your valuables are still within reach.
People will also be bold and steal something right out of your beach bag or off your beach towel. Broad daylight won’t stop them, so be aware of the people around you. Always have an eye on your things.
Don’t let your day in paradise turn into a nightmare.
Here are some ideas to minimize your chance of being a victim:
Don’t Flaunt Your Technology. Don’t walk onto the beach and pull out your shiny new iPhone, your amazing SLR camera, and then run into the water. Now everyone knows you have the good stuff.
If You Are With a Group, Don’t Leave Your Beach Camp Unattended. Go to the water’s edge in alternating groups, so that there is always someone with all of the beach bags and stuff.
If You Are Alone, leave your stuff in front of the lifeguard stand. Lifeguards are observant, and might notice if someone else goes sniffing around your things.
Leave Your Designer Gear at Home. Everyone loves to show off their designer beach gear, but no one likes to lose it. Save the labels for the pool.
Lock Valuable Things You Can’t Be Without in the Glove Box. If your glove box has a lock, put things like credit cards, etc. in there. Place them between the pages of a car manual. The longer a thief sees a prospective robbery taking, the lower the chance they will take the risk.
Make Sure Your Car is Secure. Double check the locks, double click your alarm system so the whole parking lot can hear it beep-beep.
Check on Your Car Often. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to run back to the car and make sure nothing sketchy is going down, either to your car or someone else’s. It takes a village.
Park Where There is Security. Park where there is an attendant, where there are workers, and near other cars. There is safety in numbers.
Keep Things Out of Sight. Whether it is your car, or your beach blanket, don’t leave things out in plain view. Leaving something as simple as a car charger may signal to a thief that there is a phone somewhere to be found.
Don’t Even Risk It. Whatever you truly do not need with you at the beach, leave at home.
Always Trust Your Instincts. If a place is giving you bad vibes, turn around right then and there, and go somewhere else. Don’t take a chance if your inner voice is telling you something is wrong.
Don’t let other people kill your jive, be thoughtful and prepared and you should have a great time! This is not the time or place to figure out if ignorance yields bliss, because that could mean you could lose something you will really miss.
If you are looking for a fun, educational experience near the beach, and you love sea turtles, then you must check out Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex in Boca Raton, Florida.
Located on A1A across from Red Reef Park, Gumbo Limbo gives you an up-close look at what is going on under the sea and then some. The complex consists of a butterfly garden, an indoor nature center, classrooms, a turtle rehabilitation center, large outdoor aquariums, and a mangrove boardwalk. There is also a gift shop.The twenty-acre property is situated on the intracoastal, so whether you go through the butterfly garden or the mangrove boardwalk, you will be able to see the beautiful waterway.
The Shore-t Story
Who it is good for: The whole family
Cost: $5 suggested donation, they are a non-profit
Time to visit: One hour to three hours
Parking: Free onsite parking for the environmental complex only; no beach parking
Food: Vending machines dispense bottled water and canned gatorade; No picnicking allowed
*Tip*Park at Red Reef Park and walk across A1A if you plan on going to the beach (Parking is $16 weekdays, $18 on weekends and holidays). You can also park across from Red Reef Park at the Red Reef West Park, use the same entrance as the Red Reef Public Golf Course. Parking there is $2 an hour weekdays and $3 an hour on weekends.There is access from the parking lot to Gumbo Limbo’s boardwalk.
The Nature Center
Throughout the indoor/outdoor nature center, you will see a variety of wonderful nature exhibits. There is a gopher tortoise exhibit, a butterfly nursery, local plants potted throughout, and other thought-provoking exhibits that focus on how humans impact the environment.
Local flora and fauna potted throughout the exterior walkways of Gumbo Limbo
Gopher tortoises burrow deep into their hole. In the wild, these burrows provide homes for over 300 different species.
This exhibit illustrates the lights that can negatively impact a sea turtle’s course, while also showcasing recommended artificial lights.
These gopher tortoises continue to burrow. The longest recorded gopher tortoise burrow is 47 feet long!
The Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center
One of the greatest things about Gumbo Limbo is the work that they do in terms of sea turtle rehabilitation and conservation. In 2010, their new rehabilitation center opened, a state-of-the art facility that provides refuge for sick and injured sea turtles.
Talk to any of the volunteers or employees, and they will gladly teach you about all of the turtle patients receiving treatment. There is even a window where you can watch a turtle receive treatment. I witnessed a turtle receiving IV fluids. It is heartbreaking to see turtles missing parts of their shell due to boat collision accidents, or their bodies covered in fibropapillomatosis. However, it is wonderful that places such as this exist to offer these sea turtles a second chance.
*Tip* No flash photography is allowed in the sea turtle rehabilitation facility.
Entry to the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation facility.
In each of these tanks, is a sick or injured sea turtle.
This interesting chart outlines the health and treatment plan for each patient in the rehab facility.
The newest additions to Gumbo Limbo are their sea tanks. There are four large tanks, each of which represents a different coastal ecosystem. Two shallow tanks are in one pavilion, and two large tanks are in an adjacent pavilion.
One shallow tank represents a mangrove ecosystem, and the other a nearshore reef. In this room you will see stingrays cruise by, fish, and other sea surprises!
The shallow tank pavilion at Gumbo Limbo
Stingray cruising by in the mangrove tank.
In the pavilion with the large tanks, there is a tropical coral reef tank and a shipwreck tank! You can marvel at the beautiful colors of the coral reef, or gasp when a baby shark swims up to the glass right in front of you. This is a great way to show kids what is going on beneath the waves. A corner of the shipwreck tank has a step for little kids to use so that they can easily peek through the glass.
*Tip* Visit Red Reef Park in the morning and enjoy the beach and artificial reef, and then walk to Gumbo Limbo during the heat of the day.
The Mangrove Boardwalk
The boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo is a peaceful, shaded quarter-mile path that takes you through the mystical mangroves. Go slowly, tread quietly, and you will be surprised at the abundance and diversity of wildlife to see.
There are many amazing plants throughout the boardwalk as well, from mangroves to the eponymous gumbo limbos, from strangler figs to cabbage palms.
One of the most incredible things about the boardwalk is the forty-foot tall observation tower that takes you above the coastal hammock to give you a bird’s eye view of surrounding Boca Raton.
Overall, Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex is a great day trip whether you are alone, a couple, or a family. When you enter the hammock boardwalk you quickly forget that you are in the heart of coastal Boca Raton.
Beginning the journey
Map of the Coastal Hammock Boardwalk
The Florida sun glares on this exposed portion of the boardwalk
The boardwalk continues into the thicket
The overlook leads to the intracoastal, and the observation tower is on the way to the nature center
Mangroves growing thicker as you get closer to the water’s edge
Through the branches, a visual of the water
At the edge of the overlook
The water is crystal clear
To learn more about Gumbo Limbo or to volunteer, visit their website.