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Your yak or mine

June 7, 2011
Paddling with Mel the Guide
Hi guys. Has this not been some of the greatest weather Mother Nature could throw our way? Our kayaking season has never been better. The weather has been warm and the folks from up north and the locals are loving it. We small businesses in Southwest Florida sure are glad to see the change. Last year it was cold and the threat of the oil spill put a hurting on tourism. That is all behind us now, and things are looking up.

With all this great weather here I can’t think of any years gone past that I have seen so much activity on the surface of the water. Like so many stingrays giving birth right in the back bay, you could sit in your kayak and see the stingray population increase right before your very eyes.

The manatees and dolphin were all over; even by the new bridge construction in Matlacha. We had a few dolphin moms and their young swimming up and down by Sun and Moon bed and breakfast almost every kayak tour, which is always good for business.

This year the weather warmed up early, by April and May the temperature of the water was up in the 80s. Even the turtles showed up a few weeks early. They had their heads up and swimming on the top of the water to get some of that good old Florida sunshine. Having seen so many this year I think I will tell you about some of the sea turtles we have right here in southwest Florida.

There are five different kinds; they are the LOGGER HEAD, which is the most common one, named for its large block-like head. They weigh about 275 pounds. and have a shell about three feet long. It’s brown on top and yellow like on its underside. Because of its strong jaws he eats crabs, clams, and other armored animals. He is a big guy, but because he moves so slowly he is easy prey for large sharks.

The GREEN turtle is more streamlined then the logger head, but weighs around 350 pounds. Its head looks like a logger head and his shell is about 3 and a 1/2 feet in length. He is olive brown with a dark streak running through it.

The green turtle is mostly a vegetarian and eats sea grass (turtle grass) and algae. He nest in Florida June through September.

The next really big guy is the LEATHER BACK. He is about 6 feet long and weighs any were from 500 to 1,500 pounds. Unlike most turtles his back is not a hard shelled one. His is a leathery like skin and it has seven ridges running lengthwise down his back. Interesting is as big as he is, he only eats jelly fish.

We then have the KEMPS RIDLEY, which is the rarest and most endangered of the Florida sea turtles. It only nests in one area on a beach called Rancho Nuevo on the gulf coast of Mexico. They are a small turtle and weigh about 85 to 100 pounds and measure about 2 to 2-1/2 feet long. They like to eat crabs and other crustaceans.

Then last of our Florida sea turtles is the HAWKS BILL. He is also a small turtle and only goes about 100 to 200 pounds. His shell is only about 30 inches; sadly his shell is used in making jewelry and hair decorations, even though international trade in hawks bill products has been banned in much of the modern world.

Now a little about a turtle that is not a sea turtle (but you would think it was) that is found in our mangroves and back bays and salt marsh.

He is the salt water TERRAPIN. He is the only turtle species in the United States that resides in brackish water, salt marsh, and mangroves. There are seven sub species of terrapin turtle. The most popular is the diamond back. They eat fiddler crabs, mollusks, and small fish.

A few weeks back my oldest daughter Jackie, her husband Jim, and the girls Cassie, Brielle, and Jessica. Came down from the cold New Jersey shore to visit G MA and G PA. (That’s what they call us on the text phone messages) in the sunny Florida paradise. So what do you think we did with three teen-age girls on vacation. We did the beach and all got sun burned red. Wow how cool. (Or hot.) Then we went out to eat to all the great restaurants. However, I think if you ask them the best part of this trip was going? Kayaking. What did you think I was going to say? Yep G PA showed them what he does every day. And why he likes it so. We had a tour going out with five nice ladies from Canada, and the girls wanted to go out kayaking. Therefore, we mixed a little of pleasure with the work for that day. Mom, Dad the three girls and G MA all came along. It was a large tour, but most choose to go in doubles. Which made it easier to keep track of every one. We left the base camp at 9 a.m. and we were ready for a day of fun. There were no winds and the tide was high, so we went for the river of death. Now we call it the river of death, but nobody ever died there. Except dying of laughter. You see the tide moves swiftly in this spot and depending on the high, low, or in and out going tide it gets moving pretty fast. Now nothing a healthy mature adult can’t handle. However, we have some newbees to kayaking and some teens. This is going to be an adventure. Well as it turned out the tide was at its ebb and not moving hardly at all. (Until we came out.) We had a good tour and saw osprey, eagles and string rays. Then G MA and Casey dropped off in the back somewhere. So we waited till they caught up. They had run into a bunch of small terrapin turtles swimming in the out going tide. They surely would have been bait or someone's dinner had we let them float by. The girls put out their paddles and the turtles swam up on to them, as if to say thanks for the spot to rest. We let the turtles stay on the blades of the paddles and gently placed them on the shoreline. I hope they make it as so many do not. As we came back Jim, my son-in-law, was in the lead and the two other db kayaks were getting tired. So what do they do? They sneak up behind dad and tie up their kayak, he had no clue, and he thought it was just the tide and wind making it harder to paddle. Now G MA and Jackie see this and they also wanted a free ride. Therefore, they tied up also. Jim still has no clue. We made it across the Back Bay, Jim with the two kayaks in tow, when he found out we all had a great laugh.

Well that’s this month’s adventure at Gulf Coast Kayak.

Hope you can join us on our next one, keep your eyes open there’s something happening different out there every day. Thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide.


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