Tag Archives: ecosystems

Sunset Bike Ride in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Some experiences require more than words summed up in a photo to express the true impact of that place, that moment, or that memory.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

My bike ride on the Shark Valley loop is one of those experiences. I love documenting my travels, and I planned to document this adventure like any other. However, it turns out that I need to work on my shooting-while-bike-riding skills, so many of the photos (as you will see) have a hint of blur to them.

For the second half of this bike ride, I put my camera away and just let the moment consume me. I allowed myself to be fully present, and while I may not have photos to show for it, the beauty I witnessed that day will forever be etched in my mind.

So what is Shark Valley? 

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

Shark Valley is located in Everglades National Park in South Florida. The access point for this loop is where the Shark Valley visitor’s center is. Here, you can rent bicycles for the fifteen-mile paved path, or you can go on a leisurely tram tour that takes you through the Everglades. From mid-December to April, tram tours leave on the hour, every hour from 9am to 4pm, and from May to mid-December tram tours leave at 9:30 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm.

My Shark Valley Experience

I had long lost cell service, when my fiancé and I arrived at the Shark Valley loop off of the Tamiami Trail. We arrived just after 6pm to find the gates to the main park closed, as expected. Outside of the gates, there is room for about four to six cars to comfortably park so bicyclists can bike in before or after the park hours.

We  went late because we didn’t want to contend with the tram tours on the path, and we looked forward to a sunset ride through the Everglades.

We brought our own bikes. I have a cruiser, which was perfectly fine for this ride because the path is paved, wide, and smooth.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

My fiancé and I have made it a life goal to visit each of the US National Parks together. This is the first one we crossed off the list!

Tip: If you are considering biking this path after park hours, I recommend doing this ride with a buddy. It is a long ride and there is no cell reception. Once you are seven miles out in the middle of the Everglades, you are out there with no safety net. Make sure you are prepared. 

To the Observation Tower

The Shark Valley trail is a fifteen-mile loop. Each mile is painted in the middle of the path, allowing you to know how far you have gone. Half-way through the loop, is the observation tower, and we were on our way.

The Road

Right out of the gates, we were greeted by one of the local residents.

shark valley bike trail the beach review travel blog everglades

Yes, that black spot in the center of this picture is an alligator! It was about four to six feet long, and completely ambivalent to our presence. Just to be safe, we stayed as far left on the path as possible, and left it alone.

This was the closest that we got to an alligator the whole ride, but seeing this gator at the beginning of the journey was a stark reminder to always be aware of my surroundings. In Florida, it is always wise to assume that there is a gator in any type of fresh water, whether it is a retention pond, a canal, a lake, or of course, the Everglades.

We saw many more gators throughout the rest of the trip. We saw little baby gators and a some huge mamas and papas.

There are a few benches along the loop, but after seeing so many gators, I thought it best to keep the wheels of my bike moving until we got to higher ground.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride
Endless golden plains.
Life Persists
Life persists.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

There were dragonflies everywhere. The gentle zip of their wings hummed across the grasslands. The curious ones would fly parallel to my bike to check me out. Others rested with effortless balance atop their own stalk of grass, awaiting the sunset show.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

You can barely see it, but this is the first glimpse of the observation tower way off in the distance. At this point, we had been biking for almost an hour non-stop, so it was a welcome sight.

We saw a handful of wading birds during this whole trip which I found surprising because I expected to see a lot more. We did see a lot of large ravens, especially near the observation tower. They seemed out of place yet to belong.

Watch the above time-lapse video to see the first half of my bike ride on the Shark Valley Loop trail. This video covers about seven miles of trail, and ends atop the observation tower with a special surprise in store.

I filmed the video with my iPhone attached to a selfie stick wrapped to my bike with a hair tie, so while it may not be the best quality, it still captures the spirit of Shark Valley. Enjoy!

At the Observation Tower

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride

This is the observation tower. It is forty-five feet high, and was designed by famed architect Edward M. Ghezzi. I think it looks like something you would find at Tomorrowland in Disney World. (Sorry for the awful picture, but you can’t write about the Shark Valley Loop without showing the observation tower!)

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride
Looking back at the bike path we just rode in on.

We reached the observation tower just before sunset, and the views of the watercolor sky over the Everglades are unforgettable.

shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride
Much to my disappointment, these stairs go to nowhere.
shark valley everglades national park the beach review blog bike ride
A beautiful storm off in the distance.

Continue reading Sunset Bike Ride in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

In Memory of the 295 Florida Black Bears

Let’s have a moment of silence for the 295 bears that were killed in less than 48 hours this past weekend.

Each bear was taken by surprise, a victim in an unfair fight. We want to tell ourselves that we were relieved of these nuisance bears, that a threat to the fragile human species has been curbed for now.

But I think that we, humans, are the real threat. The answer is not bullets or arrows in the name of “conservation”, the answer is coexistence. But in true human form, the powers that be decided on what they would probably call a “quick fix” to the increased sightings of bears in neighborhoods. This bear hunt is setting an unsettling precedent that we will resort to extermination and further destruction instead of developing and building with the long term in mind for all species involved.  Continue reading In Memory of the 295 Florida Black Bears

Protect Florida: Vote Yes on Amendment 1

On November 4th, 2014, Florida voters will head to the polls to cast their votes in order to decide the future of the state. Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, is an important initiative voters will decide on. If you like clean water, then we recommend voting yes.

Amendment 1 is our last chance to protect Florida’s fragile ecosystems. With climate change becoming more of a threat with each passing day, and the recent revelation that vertebrate populations have declined by more than 50% in just the last forty years, saving our planet and its plants and animals is something we can no longer wait for someone else to do. We the people must stand together, and by simply marking a ballot, we can choose to allocate more than $10 billion dollars to environmental conservation and water protection over the next 20 years, without any increase in taxes. Doing otherwise would be an irreparable act of negligence.

Since 2009, the Legislature has cut funding for land and water protection by 95%! Because our government seemingly does not find clean water all that important, citizens took matters into their own hands to get Amendment 1 on the ballot. Florida’s Water and Land Legacy was established, and within a year and a half, they received more than 700,000 certified signatures that allowed Amendment 1 to be placed on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

So what exactly will this Amendment do? According to the FAQS on the Amendment’s website, the Amendment will guarantee the following:

  • Restore, manage, and acquire lands necessary to protect Florida’s drinking water sources and protect the water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams;
  • Protect our beaches and shores;
  • Protect and restore the Everglades and other degraded natural systems and waterways;
  • Manage fish and wildlife habitat, protect forests and wetlands, and restore conservation lands that are an important part of Florida’s economy and quality of life;
  • Provide funding to manage existing state and local natural areas, parks, and trails for water supply, habitat and recreation.

The money that will allow this to happen will come from Florida’s excise tax on documents, or documentary stamp tax. This is an already established tax generated by documents necessary during the sale of real estate, and Amendment 1 will see to it that 33% of the funds raised by this tax will be used only for conservation purposes. This money will help Florida’s fragile ecosystems, and will combat both land and water pollution, helping to ensure clean and plentiful drinking water for this generation and those to come.

If this Amendment does not pass, the future of Florida and its inhabitants will be at stake. The future of clean drinking water, of our beaches, and of tourism will be uncertain. Will our children know the beauty of the Everglades, will they know of manatees and Key deer, will they be able to traverse trails and play in parks? Let’s answer these questions ourselves, with action, with our voices.

We can no longer rely on our legislators or representatives to do right by us and by the environment. We must do the checking and balancing.

It is up to us to protect our state, our ecosystem, and all of the inhabitants within it, whether they walk on two legs, four legs, or none. We must take action, and the easiest way to do that is to Vote Yes on Amendment 1 on November 4th, 2014.

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Read the Amendment in its entirety below: Continue reading Protect Florida: Vote Yes on Amendment 1

Marine Debris: In the Mangroves

More than just water moves in and out with the tides. If you walk along the coast at low tide, whether you are near the ocean or the intracoastal, the water will leave behind a troubling portrait of its health, as if asking for help or even mercy.

Moving with the currents is the trash that ends up in the waters, whether it originated directly from the beaches, from marine vessels, or from even further inland.

Below you will see a small snapshot of what is occurring in the mangrove ecosystem.

mangrove trash debris litter

This photo was taken along the mangrove boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex in Boca Raton. Each red rectangle shows a piece of trash that was deposited in the mangroves. In one small frame, we were able to capture nine pieces of trash.

You see a chunk of styrofoam in the top left corner, and aluminum cans and plastic bottles strewn about. These are some of the absolute worst things that can be thrown into the ocean because of their low decomposition rates. (It takes a small styrofoam cup about 50 years to decompose; 200 years for an aluminum can to decompose; 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose.)

More than likely these were deposited here indirectly, meaning that someone probably wasn’t sitting in the mangroves drinking beer and bottled water. These were pushed into the mangroves and left behind by the high tide.

The mangroves are home to many creatures, from birds to foxes, from crabs to spiders. They are safe houses for fish, crustaceans, and shellfish to reproduce. Snapper, snook, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, oyster, shrimp, and many other valuable marine species find their food amongst the mangroves. Pelicans and other coastal birds use the branches of the mangroves as their rookeries.

What would you do if your neighbor put his or her trash on your lawn, instead of in the proper receptacle? Even if it was just a couple of cans, or a plastic bottle? You wouldn’t stand for it, so why should we stand for this treatment of a valuable ecosystem?

Mangroves are important, fragile ecosystems that help protect coastal regions from erosion.  Mangrove roots naturally filter the water from pollutants, but in no way can they self-regulate the trash that accumulates there.

Poisoning the mangroves with human waste will lead to the imminent destruction of many already endangered species who call the mangroves home, such as the following:

  • American Crocodile
  • Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle
  • Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake
  • Barbados Yellow Warbler
  • Brown Pelican
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Key Deer
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Southern Bald Eagle
  • West Indian Manatee

So… what can you do to help protect the mangroves?

While you will see the occasional soda can, most cans you will see are beer cans. This happens because many people are drinking on the beach or on their boats, and when they become drunk, they begin to give little regard to the environment (amongst other things). Before you start drinking, have a trash disposal plan. Make sure you bring bio-degradable trash bags with you to the beach or put some on your boat. If you have a cooler, put the empties in there so that when you return home, you can properly sort and dispose your recyclables.

To minimize plastic bottles in the mangroves, use a reusable water bottle that you will take home with you instead of throwing it into the abyss.

Abandon the out of sight, out of mind mentality. Nothing in this world just disappears, not your problems, and definitely not your trash.

Friends don’t let friends become enemies of the environment. If you see your friend engaging in behavior that is hazardous to the environment, say, “Hey, friend, why don’t you throw that can over here to me, and I’ll throw it away for you?” If you don’t, then you are guilty by association.

Think of the critters. Think of the baby chicks waiting for their parent to return to the nest with food, their cute little chirps, their eyes not yet open. Mama bird returns home, and as she goes to regurgitate the food into the hungry beaks of her chicklets, she chokes, she screams, she squawks. She falls over dead because she choked on a piece of trash, leaving her innocent little babies hungry and vulnerable to the mangrove predators.

 

Our lives will come and go, and our trash and litter will remain. Leave more to your legacy than plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

Let’s all work to protect the mangroves and its inhabitants.