Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Andrew’


As South Florida residents happily fling open windows to cool sunny days, swirling snowflakes will remind our family and friends it’s time to visit us lucky folks. Today’s post will help you guide your guests on a budget-friendly but memorable excursion. Miami deserves its reputation as a world-class destination, but it’s not always easy to show it off to its best advantage. The photo montage is to give you a taste of a Canoe View of the Magic City.

These photos were taken during excursions skirting the mangrove preserve on the west side, near the north end, of the barrier island called Key Biscayne. You access this paddling destination at Crandon Marina. You will have to supply your own canoes or kayaks; there is no rental facility at the marina. The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, so you can paddle out whenever the mood strikes!

This location was the first saltwater canoeing Dr. Tom Kazo introduced me to, at the beginning of Wildlife Research Team in 1993. In those days, sad reminders of Hurricane Andrew’s force were everywhere, with many broken boats rudely shoved into the mangroves. We would often launch in the very early morning, but sometimes we would wait until the late afternoon and enjoy a beautiful sunset. On occasion, we could then turn the bow of our canoe to the east and watch the full moon rise over Key Biscayne. Sometimes, Tom and I would stay out until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the bioluminescent creatures lighting up the waves, chilled by the mist rising from the water.

The old, gnarled red mangrove trees have withstood the brunt of many hurricanes. These stalwart protectors of the shoreline also fringe a championship golf course for part of the way. The peninsula jutting out into Biscayne Bay, known as West Point, is all dense mangrove habitat. As this is part of the treasure designated as the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, you and your guests may be delighted by sharks, sea turtles, dolphins both fish and mammal, manatee, rays, barracuda, tarpon, snook, glass minnow, pufferfish, needlefish, crabs, jellyfish, brown pelican, cormorant, anhinga, herons, egrets, magnificent frigatebird, and osprey, among many others.

I seriously recommend you check the weather and tides before venturing forth. When the tide is high, you will be able to paddle into cozy coves hidden behind and beneath the mature mangroves, which we made use of just the other day to escape the sun. If there is a strong wind from the east, northeast, or southeast, you can then be fairly sheltered in the lee of the island. I speak from white-knuckled experience: the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay can kick up big time! A strong west or southwest wind, combined with low tide? Pick another day, especially if you are leading a tour of guests unfamiliar with South Florida’s dramatically ephemeral weather.

To get there, take the Rickenbacker Causeway across to Key Biscayne; there’s a $1.75 toll for cars, and if you are towing a trailer, that will jump significantly,  to over $10. My advice is to strap your canoe or kayak to the roof of your vehicle if possible! Your guests will certainly enjoy the view from the causeway; and as you pass through Virginia Key, don’t let them stop at the Miami Seaquarium! Point out University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science just before you drive over Bear Cut; and then you are on Key Biscayne’s Crandon Boulevard. (NOTE: Bear Cut overpass is under construction, so traffic might be heavier.)

Keep a sharp eye to your right for Crandon Marina, as it’s close to the bridge and easy to shoot by. Make that right turn into the marina, and work your way past the parking lots and boats being launched or landed to the very end of the docks, on the left, or south end. The safest place to launch canoes and kayaks is as far away from the big stinky powered vessels and their often erratically driven tow vehicles as possible! Fee to launch a boat is $15, but canoes or kayaks are just $4.00. There are 24-hour automatic pay stations that accept exact change, or a credit or debit card; their public restrooms are about what you’d expect. “Nuff said.

Once you launch, keep to the left, where the water is shallow, so you can get away from powerboats. By following the fringing mangroves, you are most likely to see wildlife, which cannot be guaranteed; but the fabulous view of Miami’s ever-growing skyline is always ready and waiting for a photo! Just make sure everyone has stowed their camera equipment while entering or exiting their vessel, as that’s when you are most likely to drop it overboard! The sailboats moored between the marina and the small  island/rookery make first-rate photo compositions. It’s a nice relaxing paddle along the curving shoreline of mangroves, exploring the nooks beneath the old mangroves and the tiny islands. You are likely to see stacks of glass minnows flashing beneath the surface, occasionally “skipping school” as they leap into the air. Eventually you will reach West Point, inhabited not by future officers of the US Army, but by seabirds, raccoons, and crabs. Straight out from there are sandbars and tidal flats where it’s possible to get out and slosh around with the wading birds, or even picnic, if conditions permit. It’s a stunning view, always. Look for the ivory gleam of Viscaya across the bay.

West Point can be a good turnaround, or you can follow the mangrove preserve until houses appear. At one time, President Richard Nixon’s waterfront home could have been seen further south, but it was razed years ago  Although it would be quite a workout, it’s possible to paddle all the way down to the south end of Key Biscayne and the well-known Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Key Biscayne offers many other great destinations: Cape Florida’s historic lighthouse, Crandon Park’s beach, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Crandon Golf Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Tennis Center; and in the developed central area are hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants. Those may be for another day, though, unless the paddlers in your party are in great shape. Don’t forget the sunblock and a personal flotation device for every person in your group.

And remember, there are no two days alike on the water. Every trip will produce its own unique set of wonders, challenges and irreplaceable memories.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

Read Full Post »

The photo  was taken during our Canoeing 101 class this past Saturday; seasoned WRT Member Craig Clark, in the stern, and new volunteer Jason Neer, are paddling next to the 595 overpass. Wonder if anyone looked down to see our black canoes enjoying the beautiful day?

The photo was taken during our Canoeing 101 class this past Saturday; seasoned WRT Member Craig Clark, in the stern, and new volunteer Jason Neer, are paddling next to the 595 overpass. Wonder if anyone looked down to see our black canoes enjoying the beautiful day?

Much has been made of the importance of teamwork. I’d be the first to get on board with the concept. After all, I am a founding member of “Wildlife Research Team.”

But the other day, after a fine canoeing excursion had successfully concluded, it suddenly struck me; the good heart and willing spirit of a single person can be exponential given the opportunity. I am happy to report, that after several frustrating years of barely making headway, WRT is on the rebound specifically because of the generous contributions of two men. They deserve special mention today.

Vinnie Tozzo has repaired two of our three trailers on his own time, with only a small reimbursement for the wheels and wiring harness of our smallest trailer. Vinnie and Tom Kazo, who I am sure you must know is WRT’s primary founder, go way back. During his precious free hours, Vinnie has welded, rewired, and installed new wheels on our trailers so that we can get back to work. What good is a fleet of canoes if we can’t get ‘em wet?

Jason Neer is our newest volunteer and is fast becoming a superlative one. He’s happy to tow our canoe trailer when he can get the day off from his full-time job. He even installed a special towing hitch on his truck just for this purpose. Saturday’s excursion was only his second time in a canoe but he’s learning fast! I hate to say it, but some volunteers stand around talking while others do the many less-than-glamorous tasks that go into a safe and successful canoeing excursion. But show Jason just once, and he gets it, which makes everything run more smoothly for all of us.

As I was thinking of these individuals with gratitude, my thoughts expanded: one person can truly make a significant difference, for good AND bad. Good names sprang forth: Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Lindbergh, Martha Stewart, Winston Churchill…Tom Kazo. At least my “bad name” list is very short: Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Napoleon Bonaparte could be added.

But even if you don’t agree with my quick list, I am sure you agree that not all of the people who have changed lives have been famous.

Think: in your own life, what ONE person gave you courage, inspired or influenced you, served as either an example to follow or one—sadly—to veer from? Let’s hope your parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members are the earliest candidates. Then, a certain teacher, a coach, an employer, a Scout leader, or a minister may have been The One in your young life, who recognized your potential and encouraged you. Sadly, our prisons are full of people who never had The One to set them on the straight and narrow path.

With both pride and humility, I can attest that I’ve been that One in a few lives. Even Tom Kazo’s, when he was at his lowest ebb as a nursing home patient in 1990, having been given a three-months-to-live prognosis. (Why is it always three months?) Uncharacteristically, he reached out for help—and I was happy, even honored, to respond. It was simply the right thing to do. Until his passing in May 2006, he went on to become The One for so many people, and of course, the animals he loved so much and understood so well.

Now, this is a great opportunity to thank three exceptional people who have been The One for me in these past difficult years. Steve Weinsier, of Allstate Resource Management, blessed me with his time, support, and mentoring. WRT Director Tom Brown kept WRT going while I recovered from my ’09 burnout. Christianna Cannon lovingly volunteered countless hours of her time and skill to build a website which beautifully honors our people and establishes our contributions to history.

There have been others who stepped up to be The One to keep WRT paddling with their outstanding financial support. A quick dash of history: we became a nonprofit in 2001; our six grants from NOAA and FishAmerica Foundation funded our five-year restoration of the hurricane-devastated Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. These grants were closed out successfully in 2006, a few months after Tom died. With no other revenue streams, like other charities, we had to turn to the public for donations. Whether I liked it or not, on top of everything else, I became Chief Fundraiser!

I confess my first call for help was driven by desperation and panic. But I was overwhelmed by the response! If YOU, reading this, are one of those angels who donated your hard-earned dollars to WRT back then, THANK YOU. Your generosity, 2006-2009, helped WRT to accomplish over sixty waterway and coastal cleanups, providing more than 700 volunteers with exciting and educational opportunities, removing tons of harmful debris from the habitat (you can stuff a lot of trash in a 17-foot canoe and we have the photos to prove it!). Great kids, including some awesome Boy Scouts, earned Community Service hours performing meaningful tasks. I’d like to think that each person felt they were part of a great Team and gained new personal strength.

So as far as I am concerned, your donation made you The One. Your gift to us made an exponential difference.

It was the unexpected and total breakdown of our dedicated tow vehicle in December 2008 that curtailed our mission. We still lack such a vehicle; we are still held back. The generosity of Vinnie and Jason has at least let us begin again. Every journey is accomplished one paddle stroke at a time. We are needed more than ever, and we will continue to make progress…

But we need your help.

Do you have an older but serviceable vehicle to donate outright? If not, any donation is welcome and will be put to good use; like any business, we require operating capital. Remember that as a 501(c)(3), WRT can provide you with a tax deduction to the fullest extent of the law.

Since you have to pay your taxes anyway, why not have some control over where your money goes? Your donations will be put to good use in your own back yard instead of being vacuumed up, without thanks, by Washington.

Why not feel The Power of One?

To make your donation, you can follow this link to WRT’s website and our Paypal button, or contact me, Donna Kazo, at paddle4research@yahoo.com, or feel free to call me at 954.474.8194. Our mailing address is 2165 SW 83 Avenue, Davie, Florida, 33324.

All of us in Wildlife Research Team thank you for your generosity!



This is the paragraph legally required of us whenever we hit you up for donations:


Read Full Post »


Hello and thanks again for your time and interest in Wildlife Research Team. Here we go!

When Dr. Tom Kazo and this writer, Donna McVicar Cannon (later Kazo) founded WRT in 1993, with a single refurbished canoe, a main reason was to help Dr. Tom control his diabetes. It worked: paddling burned off his excess blood sugar and literally saved his life. Although for the rest of his life he was plagued with foot ulcers and was wheelchair-bound at times, he’d wrap his foot well enough to keep it dry in the canoe. Awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle in Vietnam, Dr. Tom was a long-term patient of Miami’s Veterans Administration Hospital, and epitomized the role of “wounded warrior.” So from our outset, WRT has welcomed people who must overcome physical challenges to their mobility.

Dr. Tom was that rare combination of a dreamer and a doer. Which is why our first canoe, a Mohawk Blazer, bought for just $20 because it had a hole in its side, was named Do-er. Our second canoe, purchased new for $300, was named Do-it. In 1994, a generous person donated another Mohawk, a 17-foot “guide” canoe which became Did-It. The fourth canoe, Dunnit, was purchased through a newspaper ad and was a fast racing type made by Sawyer Canoes. When a solo canoe found its way into our fleet, Dr. Tom named it Magnificent Deviation. As the fleet grew, the pattern of “Do” names persisted for the tandem canoes, while the solo canoes would have unique names. As an experiment, Dr. Tom also decided to paint WRT’s canoes black to see if manatees and dolphins would accept the dark shape as friendly, one of their own. He was right: these mammals frequently follow our black canoes on their excursions (see the photo accompanying Part 1 of this series.)

As my dear partner Tom sought to overcome his medical problems, I had my own fears to conquer, more typical of first-time canoeists: tipping, drowning, sharks, alligators… One of his favorite sayings, “Knowledge eliminates 99% of fear” empowered me, though, and I had grown up on a lake in Quebec that was part of the St. Lawrence River, so I did possess a child’s love of “messing around in boats.” We explored waterways throughout South and Southwest Florida inDo-er and shared many adventures as I learned how to be a canoe guide/naturalist. When Do-Itcame along, we were able to initiate our first program, You Point We Paddle. One of us was the “engine” of each canoe, so that the passenger(s) were not required to paddle, although they were always allowed to. YPWP allowed many people to enjoy an excursion with WRT who would not otherwise be able to get out in such a small vessel. This included residents from the VA nursing home, where Tom had spent so many long months. The response of these people was particularly gratifying.

Other programs we developed as the 90s passed were our Stress Relief excursions, our Canoe View Classroom for students and teachers, our trips scheduled for sunrise, sunset, and the rise of the full moon, Canoe Camp, research trips with scientists, and of, course, guided fishing trips, as Dr. Tom was an avid fisherman who “tyed” his own fishing flies.

Everything changed when Wildlife Research Team took on the momentous task of restoring Matheson Hammock’s Hurricane Andrew-devastated mangrove forest, however. Tom had grown up on Miami’s Biscayne Bay; he was a professional powerboat racer in his teens and a fearless sailor who’d captained a small sailboat from Miami to the Bahamas at age twelve. He was sickened to see what Andrew’s force had done to the mature mangrove trees of Matheson Hammock and R. Hardy Matheson Preserve when we paddled along the ravaged coast a few months after the storm. Despite the fact he had only his small disability pension, he vowed at that time to “fix it.”

Tom put the wheels in motion; WRT incorporated in June 1999, and we presently applied to the IRS to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As soon as we received that valuable designation, and with no experience in grant writing, we submitted a proposal to FishAmerica Foundation and the NOAA Restoration Center for a habitat restoration grant. This was 2001; we not only won that grant, for $10,500, but five more, each focusing on a particular area within Matheson’s devastated mangrove habitat. We matched these grants with 10,000+ volunteer hours, so that the total value of these six grants added up to $330,000. What a gift to the residents of Miami-Dade County!

NOAA funds grew our fleet to over thirty canoes. This number includes those first canoes, which were used hard during the first years of our grants; it may be that they are no longer seaworthy. Which is why we bought Florida-made Mohawks of various models, to replace them. As Tom put it, “canoes for every reason and every season.”

In 2000, he fell in love with the North Fork of the New River in Fort Lauderdale, as this “undiscovered” urban waterway still possessed areas along its banks that were remnants of the Everglades. WRT has attained some valuable partnerships as we’ve worked alongside many other concerned people to clean and restore it to full health. WRT was named a Keeper of the River, and we continue to take that role very seriously.

In 2003, our Dr. Tom was chosen to be a NOAA Environmental Hero of the Year, “for his unique vision” which restored the tidal creeks, key to the restoration of Matheson Preserve as an Essential Fish Habitat. His methodology was simple: using only hand tools, canoes, and volunteers, we unclogged the corridors full of giant mangrove trees, and let Mother Nature do the rest with renewed tidal cleansing. It worked. There’s much more to this story, but I am really trying to keep this brief!

The year 2006 was a tough one for all of us in WRT; in early May, Tom succumbed to liver cancer after a long heroic battle; in September, our Matheson grants were successfully closed out. There was no reason to apply for more grants; we’d accomplished what he had wanted us to do. The restoration of Matheson’s mangrove habitat was the best possible testimony to Dr. Tom Kazo’s love and perseverance, and to our amazing and dedicated volunteers who found such inspiration in his courage.

Even as I dealt with deep grief in the loss of my partner and husband, as WRT’s new President and Executive Director, I had my work cut out for me. With the NOAA/FAF grants over, so began our public fundraising phase. I spent countless hours composing letters and emails to friends of Dr. Tom and anyone else who might be a potential donor. Several thousand dollars in donations received by people who wanted to honor Dr. Tom paid our monthly bills for a time.

But we had to do something to benefit the public which would spur them to support our mission. So, in early 2007, I chose to focus on something for which we were already renowned: waterway and coastal cleanups. These would provide volunteer opportunities, community service hours, and would keep our name and reputation in the public eye. For the next two years I created, coordinated and led sixty cleanups, with about 700 volunteers participating. Many tons of harmful marine debris were removed from South Florida’s shorelines.

Our regular cleanups at “our” Matheson Hammock, (and one at Oleta River) paid off when the environmentally aware Miami-Dade County Commissioners Katy Sorenson and Sally Heymantook notice and awarded us some of their “discretionary funds” for our hard work (Commissioner Heyman also donated $500 of her own money!). We also received funding from South Florida Water Management District for our North Fork cleanups, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University, Broward Urban River Trails, Broward’s Department of Environmental Protection, and several community groups.

In October 2008, a trusted mentor told me, “It’s all coming together, you don’t see it because you are too close to it, but it’s coming together.” But it was not to be. December 2008, during the rapid downturn of the global economy, WRT’s 2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac unexpectedly suffered catastrophic engine failure. The horrific timing of this breakdown meant that donations to replace the engine were not forthcoming. This vehicle, purchased new by Dr. Tom in 2005 to tow our canoe trailers, was well maintained but just out of warranty. Any other time, donations would have poured in. Without a dedicated tow vehicle, WRT’s operations trickled to almost nil.

I am sure you are aware of the sad stories, that so many wonderful nonprofits had to shut their doors during the dark days of this Great Recession. At least canoes don’t need to be fed! I have to admit that by summer of 2009 I was suffering from emotional exhaustion. I’d done all I could to raise the funds to fix our Sport Trac but the economy was against me. Fortunately, in 2007, I had taken on a contract for a monthly cleanup which earns us enough to pay the rent on our canoe storage facility. WRT Director Tom Brown took on this task in 2009 and that’s what has kept us alive; on life support, but alive. Yes, another Tom, and he’s an Environmental Hero as far as I am concerned!

There’s something about an anniversary with a zero in the number; so in this, our twentieth year, I’ve determined to get Wildlife Research Team’s black canoes back to work. I’ve regained my strength and my zeal, and it’s darn obvious: the people and wildlife of Florida need us now more than ever before.

Once again, all of us on Wildlife Research Team are grateful for your interest in our small but dynamic group. You are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by looking back through our WordPress blog and our website.

(You may have guessed; the photo at the top is of Tom and Do-er at the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne.)

Hope today the tide is with you!


Tomorrow: How many good things can a canoe do for you if a canoe is named for doing good?

Read Full Post »

In this post, Dr. Tom Kazo’s Project Baitfish 1096 reports from several consecutive weeks have been combined, as all of them are short, and all of them refer to a common enemy: rough weather. Tom was no stranger to waves and wild weather, as he grew up boating on Biscayne Bay. He began building raceboats at age 13, and at age 16 was World Champion Powerboat Racer. He was also an accomplished sailor, and could read the water better than most of us can find our way through our homes.

Speaking from personal experience, being with Tom gave everyone else courage. He was the best at figuring out how to escape from the most dire situations. So, with our grant money burning a hole in our bank account, and an overwhelming task ahead of us, Tom and other members of WRT were driven to get the work started. He and I had waited since 1993 to get busy “fixing” Matheson’s mangrove forest.

First, to help you understand the areas under discussion, is a sketch Tom did during this time period. The area on the left is Matheson Preserve, and on the right is Biscayne Bay. Our journeys were therefore highly influenced by the conditions on this large body of water. Paddling back into the teeth of a northeast wind was brutal.


Sunday, 11 November 2001

Project: “Baitfish” FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7 am→ 1 pm

Weather: Breezy, cold, seas 2’→4′   Low tide (10:30 am) Threat of rain

Canoe: Sure-Do

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob Council

Passengers: 0

Summary: The low tide makes the day’s workload difficult. Our return trip will take us out into the ocean. We were intent on retrieving several canisters of fluid that was suspicious in nature. We had to alter our plans as the tide receded and would not allow us to gain access.

We continued to areas that could be penetrated, removing several (5) plastic oil containers with heavier than water fluid (to be disposed of) plus other oil containers discarded by local fishermen and boaters. Total of 3 large bags of trash and 2 blockage logs (3′ x 5″ thick) were taken from the area.

Rough weather would not allow us to continue.



Kevin Rapczynski is standing where we usually park the tow vehicle and trailer for unloading.

Saturday, 17 November 2001
Project: Operation Baitfish FAF 1096
Location: Matheson Hammock
Time on Location: 7:30am→3:30pm
Weather: Windy, 20 mph N.E.    High tide peak 10:04 am       Seas 2′ increasing
Canoes: Sure-DoDuzzit, Dark DeceiverDid-it
Guides: Tom K(azo), Kevin R(apczynski), Adam C(asper), Rob C(ouncil)
WRT Volunteers: Dr. Rose Resendez, Ed C.


From right, Adam Casper looks on while Robert and Kevin make slow progress through the corridor. The bottom of this tidal creek was clogged with fallen trees, and deep sinkholes were also a real hazard.

Summary: The weather is not conducive to good canoeing but the tide is. We ran the coast south to the southmost entry point of the project. We worked our way to the clog. We took notes on what equipment will be necessary to remove the log jam. We entered into the north trail, removing much debris.

This area can be treacherous to both canoe and human. There are also bottom sink holes that have no apparent bottoms. These will all be tested, checked, and marked. Runoff sediment could possibly be the reason for this problem. Severe damage by Hurricane Andrew, uprooting large trees etc. may be another cause.

Our return trip was rough with seas at 3′ and a NE wind of 20 gusting to 35 mph. All canoes were loaded with trash and tires.



Robert Council (left) and Adam Casper loading up the trailer; one of those days when our volunteers could paddle right up into the parking lot.

Sunday, 18 November 2001
Project: Baitfish FAF 1096
Location: Matheson Hammock
Time on Location: 7:00am-3:30pm
Weather: Winds 20(+)mph N.E. Gusts to 35 mph. Hi tide 10:27 am
3′ seas    Sunny, cool
Canoes: Sure-DoDoerDuzzitDunnit
Guides: Tom K(azo), Rob C(ouncil), Kevin R(apczynski)
WRT Vol. Members: Dr. Rose Resendez, Ed C
Summary: We took advantage of the 3’+ seas by heading out into them and then after 1/4 mile, making a long southward arc. This enabled us to surf almost to our southmost entrance. We came equipped with saws, pulleys and line. We removed the “Clog” (a way point named after its definition- “clogging up the waterway.”)
We then started on the north trail (was completely clogged). We chopped, sawed and removed approx. 1/4 mile of debris and uprooted, dead flora…One roll of film was destroyed by sun exposure.
We proceeded NNE, most of the time wading waist deep in detritus. Many bottom logs had to be moved or removed. This was necessary to enhance corridor flow. Many of these logs had to be cut (by hand) for removal. The movement was slow and brutal. We removed several large trees (dead). The bottom should now have some relief.


Looking for logs in all the wrong places

Our desire is to have runoff and tide flow wash the sediment out and into a “hook” exit in the bay, causing a small delta. This can then be planted with red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle). This in time would create a crescent internal circular corridor for baitfish.
It is important we complete a rough corridor before late spring. This will allow us to observe blossoms and breeding of bait fish if we can get them to use the corridor. This would cleanse the mangrove area.
Our return trip took us up the coast close to the mangroves. Eleven bags of trash and debris, plus two tractor tires were also retrieved and brought in for removal. Several large trees were chopped up and dispersed at the work site.



Loaded down with a large tire and other items of marine debris, Kevin and Robert are zipping right along. Note the condition of Biscayne Bay beyond: breezy and rough.

Saturday, 15 December 2001

Project: Operation Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 6 am→ 1 pm

Weather: Hi tide, raining, mixed winds, 67°  Bay waters very choppy. NNE→E 20 mph

Canoes: Dark Deceiver, Duzzit

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob Council

Passengers: Volunteer- Linden F.

Summary: When we arrived in the Park, no human was in sight. The seas and skies were very threatening. Tide was high with winds gusting 20 mph +. We headed south through the forest. The overcast had stopped the rays of daybreak. It was almost like traveling at night. The storms of the past several days have left the project area littered with debris and flotsam.

We entered the North Entrance. Approx. 600′ of black nylon trap line had come ashore and entangled itself within the mangrove structure of the area. The winds and rains were fierce. We spent 4 hours filling 15 bags (6′) of this plastic black trash. If this were left for a later date, if would have totally entangled the area and would destroy new growing flora.

We headed back only when the tide got so low that we were scraping bottom.


Sunday, 16 December, 2001

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7 am→2:30 pm

Weather: Overcast- raining- tide reaching peak. Increasing wind 10 mph +

Canoes: Dark Deceiver, Sure-Do, Duzzit, Can-Do

Guides: T. Kazo, Rob C., Dr. Dave, Shara D., Kevin R.

Volunteers: R. Baker, C. Baker, B. Figini

Summary: Today again, it is not a good day to be on the bay. Our main interest is to remove the remnants of trap line fouling the flora of our work project. We managed to unravel and cut 11 more bags of line from the coast and entrance area of the project. We stored them (bags) in the shoreline.

We then proceeded into the south fork of the project. We loaded 2 canoe loads of rotten logs and tree debris that we had been cutting for several weeks.

We now have one complete corridor completed southbound and two westbound. It was rigorous trying to transport all the trash but we managed.

Our biggest problem is that in our absence, more flotsam compiles along our shoreline, than we removed the time before.



A typical view of the tangled mess within the Preserve, with Robert just seen beyond, paddling through the maze.

Saturday, 22 Dec. 2001

Project: Operation Baitfish FAF #1096

Location: Matheson Hammock Park

Time on Location: 9:30 am→ 1:20 pm

Weather: Small Craft Warnings: 3′-5′ seas in Bay    Winds to 35 mph, scattered rain— very cold 50º — incoming tide

Canoe: Dark Deceiver

Guide: T. Kazo

Passengers: 0

Summary: Another bad day on the bay. White caps into the parking lot. Not good weather for canoeing. NE wind very cold. Just enough water was present to scout the shore line to the north entrance of the project. Last week many hundreds of feet of trapping line was removed from this entrance area. Several 4″ float balls were staged in the mangrove wash before our departure.

Today I attempted to locate them and in turn learn something of the force and direction of fresh water runoff and its influence of the area. Four out of six balls were located and positions marked. The area will be gridded and results formed as to influence.


Saturday, 5 Jan. 2002

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7:00 am→ 10:30 am

Weather: Very rough, seas 7′ in Bay. E→SE wind 25(+) mph – 40 mph gusts— very cold, 57º

Canoe: Sure-Do

Guides: Tom K., C. Doyle

Passengers: 0

Summary: Winds were so bad that we had difficulty taking canoe from trailer. We hoped to enter into North entrance and check any water flow changes with comparison to wind direction. We were not successful. We were unable to fight the fierce winds as we entered the open bay.


Sunday, 6 Jan. 2002

Project: Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock

Time on Location: 7:45 am→ 11 am

Weather: Very rough seas  9’→12′    Winds 30 mph (+) Scattered showers. Bay is covered with froth. Small Craft Warnings

Canoe: Duzzit

Guides: Tom K., Craig D.

Passengers: 0

A 2nd attempt was made to gain entrance on the north side of the project. Again another failure. Within 30′ of the beach (2 boat lengths) we were swamped 3 times in a short period of time.

Better luck next week.


Read Full Post »

Today we continue with the research project reports made by Dr. Tom Kazo during the beginning of our habitat restoration grant from FishAmerica Foundation. Mindful of the fact that he wrote them swiftly in ink and made few corrections,  I reproduce here, with as little editing as possible, his entry for November 10th, 2001:

Date: Saturday, 10 Nov. 2001
Project: Operation “Baitfish” FAF #1096
Location: Matheson Hammock
Time on Location: 7:00am-3:00pm
Weather: Winds NE at 18mph, partly cloudy, 76°, low tide going into high
Canoes: “Sure-Do”
Guides: T. Kazo, Rob Council
Passengers: 0

Summary: The wind was up, making our paddle south a little testy. We located a Third World 55 gal. oil drum 7/8 full of a fluid heavier than water. This was marked and pulled out into the flats area for helicopter disposal.


Approx. 300 yards south of the drum the skeletal remains of a female leatherback turtle were observed. These were gathered and bagged. It will have permits applied for and be used in an educational class. Students will get the opportunity to reconstruct the structure. Fifty yards south of Turtle #1, we found remnants of Turtle #2. This was only a partial skeleton. Not much of it could be retrieved due to the detritus.


We entered the South project entrance. To a great surprise some baitfish (glass minnow) started following us up the corridor. This is a good indicator.

Debris and trash in the area is still very evident. It will take time, much removal equipment, cuttings and trash bags to attain an acceptable degree of cleanliness.

GPS Readings from Start Point to South Entrance Clog

Start 25° 40.301′     80° 15.663′
Clog 25° 39.665′    80° 16.065′

We entered the North Trail and started removing and cutting dead wood. During this endeavor we also found an old now dust rotted bale of Cannibis sativa. These remnants were collected and discarded and scattered.

Our first bird of the inner mangal is believed to be a roseate spoonbill. A foraging nest was observed. To this date the only birds of note are two great blue herons that on occasion follow WRT canoes in hopes for a handout.

We have found this area to be extremely fragile due to pollution and human disregard. The habitat (mangal) has been thoroughly ransacked and raped by storm and pollution intrusion. Careful and delicate removal of these “cancers” in time and proper habitat reformation will abound again.

Seven bags of trash and two tires were recovered and brought to the Park for disposal.


Going back over Tom’s reports has been an emotional experience. I’ve been an editor for over twenty years, and have edited writers from all over the world, and of all levels of education, but Tom’s use of English was unique. He loved to play with words, loved to make people think with unusual descriptions. He would sometimes refer to “Project Baitfish” as “Operation Baitfish” and I can attribute this to his Army service in Vietnam.

We chose “Project Baitfish” because of the vital importance of the little guys to the health of the ecosystem of beautiful Biscayne Bay. With the restoration of the historic tidal creeks and corridors of Matheson’s mangrove forest, baitfish (and other, larger species) would again have their nursery. The term we learned for such an important area was, “Essential Fish Habitat.” That pretty much sums it up.

Tom’s vision was to pull out the manmade debris and the dead wood which clogged the tidal creeks, so that normal, healthy tidal flushing could do the rest. That he called such items “cancers” makes sense, because they do tend to attract more debris and grow to a malignant condition, effectively killing the ecosystem. Turns out canoes were the best vessel possible for this miracle to take place.

In the photo near the beginning of this post, Robert is dealing with the 55-gallon drum, and that tire won’t be there too much longer. Note in what we call our “canoe view” that the tide could not be lower! But there were advantages to all tide conditions, in that we could reach different areas for varying projects.

“Mangal” is a term used to describe a mangrove forest habitat. What we set out to restore were remnant passages of Snapper Creek, which was artificially straightened back in the 1920s and made into a canal deep enough for boat passage. At the time Tom wrote this report, it was impossible to venture into these waterways, so choked were they with hurricane-felled mangrove trees.

There were two distinct areas for our attention at this time; the Northern Corridor system which is most visible on the 1992 satellite photo below, compared to the nearly-invisible Southern Corridor. The “clog” Tom refers to was a few hundred yards up the Southern Corridor; beyond that was a branch that trickled northward. This was historically the link between the two remnant systems.

Note that in this satellite photo taken in the months after Hurricane Andrew, Matheson Hammock’s marina are bereft of boats, and the houses in the developments are a mess. The red color indicates the temperature of the surface; the green area indicates cooler areas which happen to be the ones where there are some surviving mangroves.

Earlier in this post, and below are some of the photos we took of the leatherback turtle Tom mentioned, to include the eggs she never got to lay. Leatherbacks grow bigger than any other sea turtle; note the size of that femur! Can get some real swimming power with that back leg. The puzzled young man below is student volunteer Joseph Lopez, attempting to put the skeleton back together again (he could not). However, last we heard, Joseph was studying veterinary medicine in another state, which makes me very happy.


Lots of good kids have grown up in our canoes. And Wildlife Research Team will find a way to continue to provide those opportunities, because it’s never been more important to do this.


Read Full Post »

For the past few months we’ve been revamping WRT’s website, using HTML5 and CSS3. Fortunately, I, Donna Kazo, leave that part up to our long-suffering but devoted webmaster of ten years, Christianna Cannon. My part, as co-founder and Historian, is to supply the content. That’s an enjoyable but somewhat overwhelming task, since WRT has a twenty-year history of keeping the waters of Florida safer for wildlife.

One of the most important features of our website is WRT’s restoration of R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. That’s why we became a nonprofit: so my wonderful but sorta crazy partner, Tom Kazo, could do what no-one else had been able to do: “fix” the mess Hurricane Andrew had made of this jewel of Miami-Dade County in 1992.

Tom and I paddled along Matheson’s shoreline in June of 1993, before Matheson Hammock Park had even been able to reopen. We found a put-in place far up the canal that runs by the marina. The word “devastation” has been over-used but that’s the only way to describe what remained of this magnificent mangrove forest. The two photos below were taken that day.


The fact that a major hurricane had not hit South Florida for a very long time is what caused the mangroves to grow so tall. Down they went like bowling pins. The tidal creeks, a nursery to dozens of types of the fish which populate Biscayne Bay, were hopelessly blocked. This “Essential Fish Habitat” was no longer able to live up to its name.


Well, to cut to the chase, in 2001, the IRS bestowed upon WRT our 501(c)(3) designation, and we immediately applied for a grant from FishAmerica Foundation. FAF was partnered with NOAA’s Restoration Center. We won that grant, for $10,000, and five more over the next five years.

Our last grant was closed out in September 2006; unfortunately, Tom had passed away in May of that year. At least he lived to see the glorious rebound of fish in the Preserve, brought upon by our restoration of the tidal flushing of the corridors.

The Matheson story on our old website was written in 2002-3, so it doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s what I will be doing over the next few days (weeks?).

So as I was beginning my hunt through our archives today, I came upon Tom’s file of Project Reports. As a former policeman, he knew well the value of such reports. He was a terrific writer; a lot of people don’t know that.

Here, without further ado (and as little editing as possible) is his report from one of our very first Matheson workdays.

Saturday, 27 Oct., 2001

Project Baitfish FAF 1096

Location: Matheson Hammock, Coral Gables Fla.

Time on Location: 7:30AM to 4 PM

Weather: Cloudy, rain threat. Variable winds. 75 degrees. Tides into low.

Canoes: Doer, Do-it

Guides: Tom K(azo), Rob C(ouncil), Craig D(oyle)

Passenger: Dr. Rose Resendez, VA Hospital

Summary: Pleasant paddling day- wind was not quite against us (SSW). We had to ocean paddle to the South Entrance. This water creek is beautiful but completely blocked with fallen dead trees (hurricane). We removed all the flotsam we could by hand, then securing several bags, we started cutting the dead wood with hand saws.


We managed to get to the “T” also known as the “South Clog.” Most trees were criss-crossed across and just under the water. Most were 18″ to 20″ in diameter with some over 2′. Nine-inch hand saws did not give us a superior advantage.


All loose logs and movable boards, planks, etc. were moved out of the water flow and dispersed into the flora or set aside for removal. It is surprising that this small amount of movement and removal starts cleaning the surface waters and also starts taking the silt layers off the bottom.

During our stay, we observed small bait fish curiously coming in to check the corridor. Seven bags of trash and 4 large pieces of wood 5-1/2′ x 2′ were taken from the area.

Back in the bay the weather had changed. Wind peaked at 18-20 knots NNE. We were bucking the wind back while the water was foaming. We had to go out into the ocean as the flats were too shallow to maneuver.

I had the doctor in my canoe. She had never been in one before, much less paddling experience with a load. A long paddle back found the seas rising and really blowing. The wind had forced water well into the parking lot to a point that the vehicle got stuck.


Photos of Project Baitfish are on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org/matheson.html.


When I first saw these photos, I remarked that it looked like a steeplechase. You can see why nobody had yet been able to figure out how to restore this creek. It took a crazy guy with no money to decide it could be restored with canoes, volunteers, and hand tools.


Others have said, you must have had to use chain saws, right? But no. Never. Hand tools, courage, and determination did the job. Oh, and a whole lot of love.

Read Full Post »

At first I had a crazy, I mean, ambitious, goal of writing a new blog every day. Now I am striving for quality over quantity. There is a lot to write about, sure, with 16 years of WRT behind me. Actually, I am not sure just when our official anniversary would be. I only recall doing a lot of canoe trips in the spring and summer of 1993: me and Tom and Do-er.

And soon, other people joined us, sitting in the center of the canoe. One was my daughter Christianna, as a treat when she had finished up school for the year. I guess that would have been grade 4? We took her out from Crandon Park Marina, one of our favorite places to paddle Biscayne Bay at that time. It was her first trip in salt water. Our now favorite Biscayne Bay launch site, Matheson Hammock Park, was still closed after Hurricane Andrew smashed it in August 1992.

Tom had a goal of paddling every waterway in Dade County. I mean every one, even little short canals. I thought that was a waste of time, really, but he was like that: obsessed. When he set his mind on something, look out. Just because we were soul mates does not mean we lived without conflict, oh no! Poor Do-er had to put up with some dreadful arguments!

But all in all, those first months of WRT were heady ones full of adventure and exploration. Wherever we went, hurricane damage was evident. Boats, or rather, pieces of boats, were jammed into shoreline foliage, tipped over, or sunk. The trees themselves were either dead or barely recovering, and usually in odd, wind-sculpted, shapes.

It was in June that we found a place to launch so that we could explore Matheson Hammock despite its still being closed. Tom had spent many happy hours from boyhood onward in the Matheson mangrove forest. Although he was afraid of what he’d find, he had to see how it looked a few months after the biggest hurricane to hit Dade County in years. There was a housing development being built along a canal which led to the ocean, through Matheson’s marina. Work on the houses was basically at a standstill, but the place had a security guard. Tom sweet-talked him into letting us launch our canoe. He was the world champion at sweet-talking!

The marina was a ghost town. But the worst part was the utter devastation of the mangrove forest. A very few trees still stood, Dr. Seuss-looking, with most of their branches sheared off but thick with leaves; I can still recall the vigorous birdsong emanating from those survivors. Many of the huge, skeletal, silver-dead trees would have looked at home in a Salvador Dali painting. Next to what had been the entrance to the largest tidal creek, a telephone pole rested in the shattered canopy. Tom called it, “Andrew’s toothpick.” Pieces of boats and other debris abounded.


It is because of this trip that Tom vowed to “fix” Matheson. As I love to declare, only a crazy guy with no money would take on so daunting a task. But over the years, he figured it all out: in 1999 we incorporated WRT, then in 2001, the IRS granted us 501©(3) nonprofit status, so we immediately applied for—and won— a habitat restoration grant from FishAmerica Foundation, backed by the NOAA Restoration Center.


With that $10,500 we began Project Baitfish—the successful salvation of Matheson’s mangrove forest. Tom’s methodology: remove the blockages to tidal flow, let Mother Nature take over from there. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, or said, those two very important words: tidal flushing. Five more grants from NOAA/FAF followed. In 2003, Tom was made a NOAA Environmental Hero of the Year for his “unique vision.” Boy, they got THAT right.

Three years later, he was gone. Well, it’s his physical presence that is gone from this world. He certainly lives on in the hearts of many people. He was not a person you could ever forget.

So: Happy Sweet Sixteen, WRT! Tom’s Dream Team is still paddling our black canoes! The best part is that he was right about one essential element: WRT can live without his daily input of charisma! When I now present WRT to the public, I don’t even have to mention Tom. People “get it.” That’s just what he wanted.

Our only problem: we are navigating some rough financial waters. Well, who isn’t these days? Cold comfort, though, as we struggle to pay the bills, fix the Sport Trac, plan our waterway and coastal cleanups…but it warms my heart, gives me strength, to recall how rich we are in people!

Photos of Project Baitfish are on our website: www.wildlife-research-team.org. Please take a look at them, and a whole lot of the other neat stuff that we do in our black canoes. That was one of Tom’s favorite phrases: Neat Stuff. May we always be in search of it.

Read Full Post »