Florida Bay mangrove islands with the Gulf Stream clouds and Florida Keys in the background.
I love watching adventure shows where the protagonist drops in on an island and must use his immediate resources to survive or escape. I'm always skeptical too, of the serendipity that Bear Grylls just happens to find a 30 foot rope, a lighter, or gallon jugs half-filled with potable water washed up on the shores. Surely, the producers must have planted some of that stuff before filming. I held this skepticism until I started exploring the islands in Florida Bay for our spoonbill research with Audubon. Now, I find myself eager to go to work if not just for the spoonbills but also because I never know what I'll find while walking through mangrove tangles or kayaking along the mud flats.
Mangrove prop roots act as nets trapping all matter of floating debris.
The most common things I find are colorful stone crab buoys which at a distance have fooled me to believing there were flamingos in the central bay. I have also started a collection of drink cozies with faded tackle shop labels. Antique bottles are a great treasure to find and I have a couple that date back a century. There's no shortage of homeless sandals either. Crocs brand are the most common, and if anyone needs a size 9, 10, or 12, then I have you covered. Why is it always the left shoe that people lose?
A boat enters into Trout Creek in the northeastern Bay.
It's no surprise really. With all the boaters, residents, and visitors to the Keys and Everglades a few things are bound to arrive on the islands of this 850 square-mile wilderness. For years the Everglades was renowned for its lawless backcountry allowing drug smugglers a perfect location for trafficking. Veteran fishing guides who wish to remain nameless, muse on the days of their biggest catches, landing large "square groupers," caught in the tidal flats which would fetch $200,000 at market price.
While contraband busts rarely run the headlines, the Everglades remains vast and largely unpatrolled by park officials. Just last week, while exploring an island in the northwest Bay, I saw something strange washed up on a sandy beach.
A homemade Cuban life raft washed up on the shore of an island in the northwest Bay.
A blue vessel, made of canvas stretched over two large tire inner tubes with oar-locks, and a heavy plastic keel, sat abandoned at the high tide line. At closer inspection, inside the cockpits were cans of tuna, varying flavors of soda, and a couple of sweaters. Although the labels slightly worn, I could tell immediately where this raft came from. It's incredible to think two people floated in open ocean aboard this backyard-assembled dinghy. Being only 90 miles from Cuba, Florida Bay is really the perfect destination for refugees. I just hope they didn't get too antsy and try to swim the remaining 5 miles to mainland through the shark and croc-infested water. For a moment, I looked up, scared to find the stranded sailors watching me from the trees, but at this point they were long gone.
A 14 foot American crocodile suns on the banks of Cape Sable in Florida Bay.
I may not be Bear Grylls, but I'd like to think that if I were to be stranded on one of these islands, I'd be able to survive just fine. With my luck, I'd just hop on the next abandoned life raft and paddle safely to shore, gorging on canned tuna and orange soda.