Posts Tagged ‘mangrove’


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,

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At this very moment, an innocent creature of the sea is becoming ensnared in a fishing net. Well, you may say, isn’t that the purpose of fishing? But what if the net has been abandoned long ago, perhaps washed overboard by a storm or otherwise discarded? Even when humans are no longer manipulating them, nets, lines, ropes, traps, pots and other derelict fishing gear keep on working to capture and entangle denizens of the deep and of the coast.

The very apt term for this nightmare activity is “ghost fishing.”

As you can see from the above montage, Wildlife Research Team’s stellar volunteers have loaded up tons of this pervasive form of marine debris into our canoes over the past two decades. When discarded rope/cables/hawsers/fishing line wash into the mangroves, they weave a noxious net that may ensnare creatures as well as other types of trash, which makes an even bigger obstruction. Even the string from helium balloons can wrap around the roots, beginning the process that may develop into an unholy, unsightly, and even deadly mess; what goes up, will come down.

When WRT started doing waterway and coastal cleanups in 1994, we were dismayed by the tragic proliferation of this type of marine debris. We researched ways to recycle the many different types of line but learned that environmental degradation of the materials, which were usually petroleum-based, would not allow for much of that. At least there are now programs which place containers for discarded fishing line at many marinas. But it sadly seemed to us as if most of our haul from a typical cleanup was destined for the landfill.

Recently we learned of a nonprofit organization, founded in the Netherlands in 2012, which addresses the chronic problem of “ghost fishing” around the world. The founders of Ghostfishing.org are technical divers who have personally observed the severe consequences of ghost gear, and regularly lead dive teams to extract it from the depths. It’s truly heartening for those of us in WRT to find kindred spirits around the globe! On their website and Facebook page, they share information on other noble organizations all over the world who are also fighting the battle against marine debris. (Even though many people shun Facebook for its pettiness, it’s proven to be a great educational resource!)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the issue of ghost fishing was first brought to the attention of the world at the 16th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries in April 1985. They recognized the danger to not just sea life and habitat, but to vessels; when propellers get caught and snarled, there could possibly be loss of the ship and even human life.

Recently, Ghostfishing.org posted news of a program that converts defunct, worn-out fishing gear into clean power. Several entities have combined to reduce the menace of ghost fishing. Some ghost fishing occurs because the owners of fishing boats do not want to pay to haul their worn-out nets and gear to the dump for disposal. As long as there have been humans, the sea has been our dump site. So, over the side for unknown tons of junk fishing equipment.

Now, thanks to a partnership called Fishing for Energy, free removal services are provided at 37 ports in nine states. Through 2012, 1.8 million pounds of fishing gear had been collected. Fishing for Energy partners are NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Covanta Energy Corporation and Schnitzer Steel Industries. Since the program began in 2008, Covanta reports that more than 2.2 million pounds of used-up fishing gear have been processed at Covanta’s east and west coast facilities. For the Covanta Waste-to-Energy plant in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which is the focus of the article on Ghostfishing.org, after the gear has been collected in bins at the docks, it’s the Schnitzer company which first sorts it to recover and recycle metal, donating the hauling and recycling services. Some fishermen, reports the Schnitzer Steel website, have even found a new source of income in retrieving abandoned gear from the ocean floor, and then selling it for the value of the metal.

What cannot be recycled, Covanta turns into clean energy. According to Covanta, as much as 95% of the material that is brought into a waste reduction facility goes through a high-tech type of combustion, with the rest turned into non-leachable ash. This combustion unit reaches temperatures of up to 1850 degrees Fahrenheit; the most important byproduct is clean electricity produced when boilers of water are heated until steam is produced, then steam turbines spin and drive power generators.

Here in South Florida, Covanta operates Miami-Dade County’s Resources Recovery facility as Covanta Dade Renewable Energy in Doral. Covanta’s website states the plant processes 3,000 tons of municipal solid waste and 1,200 tons of wood waste each day, generating 77.0 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 45,000 homes. Also recovered from the waste stream for recyling: 26,000 tons of ferrous and 2,000 tons of nonferrous metals. Fishing for Energy, according to the NFWF website, offers bins at multiple locations in Miami-Dade to dispose of cast-off fishing gear. Covanta Dade Renewable Energy is a sponsor of Baynanza, the yearly cleanup of Biscayne Bay, which WRT has participated in for many years.

It bears mention that there is another waste-to-energy plant, close to our canoe storage facility in Davie, Waste Management’s Wheelabrator facility. It was opened in 1991 to serve southern Broward County, and processes up to 2,250 tons daily of solid waste; it can generate 66,000 kilowatts, enough to supply 38,000 homes with its clean, renewable energy. Although their website gives no indication of direct participation in Fishing for Energy, they contribute to the community with a yearly environmental education symposium for middle school students.

It’s good to know that such technology has been created to deal with two monumental issues of civilization: municipal waste and clean energy. For those of us in Wildlife Research Team, it’s really good to know that underwater habitats are safer for wildlife thanks to the efforts of our many kindred spirits all over the world.

For further information, please visit these websites:


www.marinedebris.noaa. gov






Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,


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On a beautiful Miami morning, Dr. Tom Kazo and two students enjoy the companionship of a bottlenose dolphin on its morning commute down the coast.

If you are at all familiar with Wildlife Research Team, you know that since our inception, in 1993, our “trademark” black canoes have served as habitat restoration classrooms, field laboratories, mentoring corners, tool carriers, fulcrums, sleeping chambers, fishing skiffs, artists’ studios, garbage barges, ocean cruisers, river racers, swamp transports, camping conveyances, photographers’ stands, psychologists’ offices, celestial observatories, birdwatchers’ nests, tug-or-tow boats, exercise machines, scuba stations, scientist ferries, gossip containers, bravery-testing spaces, dating services, surf boards, picnic places, meditation corners, strength-building vehicles, playtime crafts, vessels of healing, hope, and enlightenment… We have yet to carry bundles of furs in the manner of French Canadian voyageurs, or Native American warriors to battle!

Every possible emotion has been expressed in our canoes, running the gamut from white knuckles on the gunwales to involuntary catnaps due to excessive relaxation, with smiles of wonder and gasps of delight in between. Our oldest passenger was 105; the youngest, born a century later. Some were millionaires; some were homeless veterans. Some were Olympic athletes; some could not walk, some could not see.

Yes, we sure can do a lot in a canoe. What a cavalcade of rich experiences. Such a simple vessel, and yet so versatile. Too versatile, perhaps, and that’s our predicament. As we ponder our Team’s future, we must choose with care the best expression of our overarching mission, which is to reconnect People with Nature in a hands-on, primary experience.

It seems to be a good idea to narrow that focus a tad, don’t you think? Let’s start with a question: who are the most important people in your world? If, like me, you are a parent, it’s your children, no question. My daughters were both in elementary school when their future stepdad, Dr. Tom Kazo and I founded WRT in 1993. Christianna and Jamie literally grew up in our canoes. Their friends were frequent passengers.

Lots of other great kids have enjoyed our Canoe View, and one of my greatest pleasures is learning about their accomplishments as adults. Our canoes have transported future Navy and Coast Guard personnel, nurses, lawyers, doctors, photographers, journalists, teachers, software engineers, artists, writers, a NOAA scientist and many more I am forgetting. Some students were earning Community Service Hours with us for scholarships; some were serving court-mandated sentences.

What a privilege it has been for this writer, to know our humble canoes have provided opportunities for these fine young people to develop into productive citizens. It keeps me going through challenging times; the certain knowledge that we have made a difference and can continue to do so. WRT seems to have created an almost magical confluence between children and Florida’s unique ecology.

So that’s the answer to this delightful dilemma of where should we now focus our resources: on this convergence of young people with South Florida’s unique ecosystem. Now more than ever, our kids need hands-on contact with the natural world, to their community’s ecology. Now more than ever, our irreplaceable region needs to be studied, understood, and hopefully rescued by the people who would like to grow up within its unique and challenging ecosystem.

Let’s face it; all of us today are overwhelmed by too much input zapping us too quickly to absorb. Attention spans shortened, sleep problems epidemic, nerves frazzled. Daily life: artificial, digitized, even meaningless. Nobody is surprised to hear on our daily dose of “news” that people of every age are suffering from noise pollution, air pollution, light pollution, pesticide pollution. Do we really want to do this to our precious children?

Happily, even as we permit technology to overpower our “analog” physiology, there is a growing body of evidence that simple exposure to the natural world restores our biological rhythms. In other parts of the country, a walk in nature can fill the prescription; but South Florida is different! Ours is a very aqueous area, hemmed in by the ocean on the east, and the Everglades to the west and south. The land in between is almost built to capacity. The good news is that it is interlaced with waterways of all sizes and WRT’s canoes have traversed most of them. Our Canoe View excursions have thus been dispensing Nature Therapy for two decades.

South Florida possesses another rich asset— an exciting assortment of first-class environmental educators. Some of them are reading this newsletter! Some of them have already been out in our canoes, usually as dedicated volunteers participating our waterway and coastal cleanups. (Thanks, folks!) And some of them have expressed regret that they were not able to reach those who needed their knowledge the most, in a meaningful manner.

So here’s how WRT can combine the needs of these three factors: our local ecosystem; our community’s children; and our frustrated environmental educators. We will do this by placing carefully selected teams in our canoes to pursue hands-on research studies of South Florida wildlife and its fast-vanishing habitat. In order to accomplish this, we will create a team-within-a-team of trained canoe guides.

Again, if you are familiar with WRT, you will know our first program was “You Point We Paddle” in which our guides were the “engines” of our canoes. Passengers were not required to paddle, which meant that people who were too young, too old, or infirm could still enjoy a Canoe View excursion.

Thus, each canoe in our wildlife research studies will be paddled by one of our trained guides, with two young naturalists-in-training per canoe. The environmental educator and Group Leader will share a canoe. The day’s lesson will be developed by the educator and WRT.

If you are such a person, would you like to share your knowledge and wisdom with a captive audience of motivated young people? Let us know!

Obviously, these will be small groups, but our results have proven to be exponential. Just a single excursion has been enough to lift a young person to a positive outlook. Permit me to paraphrase Mother Theresa; that we may not be able to do great things in our lives, but we can always do small things with great love.

Our dilemma, I hope you agree, has been delightfully resolved.

Stay tuned.

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

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The sun comes up. We draw the drapes. The room is hot. We switch on the air conditioning. Rain falls, unheard, washing away poisons sprayed on manicured lawns. The sun goes down. We flip on a lamp. Venture forth from the cocoon, look to the stars for guidance as our ancestors did; city lights have washed them away. We look to screens and machines to guide us. Everyday life in our civilized world. Nature is the name of a program on television. Nature, always, yields to the superiority of Technology.

And yet…and yet…as biological beings, there remains a yearning in our cells for the sensations found only within the natural world. Perhaps because of the salinity within our cells, we feel a particular longing for the ocean, for the smell of salt on a cooling breeze, the sound of waves calming our caffeine-drenched heartbeats, far horizons which rest our aching eyes, primeval crunch of sand beneath bare toes. We crave it all; we know it will restore us.

In Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, author Richard Louv explores in depth and detail what we lost when technology disconnected us from the natural world of our ancestors. “Nature deficit disorder” is the term he coined to describe what this loss has done to our children. One chilling fact: the Center for Disease Control has linked the rise in childhood obesity to the amount of time children spend watching television. Louv’s books criss-cross the globe on a thoughtful journey to meet a fascinating array of very different people who have dedicated their lives to one overarching objective: salvation of the fast-disappearing natural world. Through their stories, along with discussions of scientific research, we discover how Nature provides therapy, healing, and harmony. Lack of Nature, we learn, actually makes us sick; but we may have already suspected that. Louv takes us down the road to despair but then lifts our sad hearts with realistic optimism, workable projects, doable ideas, provides in-depth resources and contacts.

In one sentence from Last Child in the Woods, Louv crystallized for this writer much of what Wildlife Research Team has been working toward these past twenty years: “People are unlikely to value what they cannot name.” I have to agree; we care most deeply about who and what is familiar to us. When people venture forth in our canoes, they learn, first-hand, that great value resides in the waters which surround and snake through South Florida. WRT’s principal mission has always been to reconnect people with Nature, in a hands-on, primary experience, so that they understand for themselves its importance.

Our early-morning Stress-Relief excursion was one of Dr. Tom Kazo’s most beloved ideas. He knew that watching the sun rise over the ocean restored the soul, and was keen to share this wonder with everyone. No one who took him up on this ever regretted it.

Here in South Florida, most of our waterways eventually lead to the sea, and so are tidal-influenced. Yet that term baffles the average person. So to teach the tide, when we launch our canoes, we have a child push a stick into the area at the water’s edge. When we return, and the water has either left the stick high and dry, or crept toward the top, the child exclaims, “Who moved my stick?” Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion for him or her to be convinced that it was the pull of the moon which moved the water! It’s always gratifying to see that look of understanding sweep over a young face. You hope that they are sensing, perhaps for the first time, the authentic power of Nature, power beyond the control of humanity.

Tide's Out, We're Walking This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, which is world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the water was deep enough to paddle right up to the launch site.

Tide’s Out, We’re Walking
This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the tide had come in, and we could, as planned, paddle right up to the launch site.

Citizen Naturalists: The Missing Link

Our Dr. Tom was a wildlife ethologist whose life’s passion was the rewarding study of animal behavior. We’ve helped scientists with studies of horseshoe crabs, manatees, and water quality. In our Canoe View Classroom, teachers and students have enjoyed hands-on lessons in wildlife research. Yet our canoes and volunteers have so often been asked to instead accomplish cleanups or habitat restoration projects; at least we are sure we have saved the homes and lives of innocent wildlife. But cleanups are not enough—people need to learn about the habitat they are rescuing. So when Louv introduced the term, “Citizen Naturalist,” in The Nature Principle, I felt a missing link drop into place. “In every bioregion, one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild the community of naturalists, so radically depleted in recent years, as young people have spent less time in nature…To be a Citizen Naturalist is to take personal action, to both protect and participate in nature.” He goes on to list many exciting projects taken on by volunteers from all walks of life, who have eagerly provided solid and important data to scientific institutions in several countries. “So let’s increase the number of front-line citizen naturalists, who count, chart, map, collect, protect, tag, track, heal, and generally get to know countless species of plants and animals in the wild, in the elfin forests of their own backyards, or the woods, or the great national parks, or at the end of an alley in an inner-city neighborhood.”

Tide's In, We're Paddling This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Tide’s In, We’re Paddling
This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Or, Mr. Louv, how about along the rivers, canals, ponds, lakes, mangrove creeks and coastal fringes of South Florida? For it is within that delicate interface wildlife clings to the last remnant of habitat, there that pollution from pesticides and soil from erosion wash into the water. For twenty years, our Team has been a guardian of that fragile boundary. Now we can take a step further, teach our people about it, and help to satisfy that yearning.

So this is official notice of Wildlife Research Team’s new mission: to develop an active corps of canoe-savvy Citizen Naturalists! We are seeking sponsors to support this exciting new program, and partnerships with some of the excellent environmental educators in our community.

Can you help us? Can we help YOU?

Stay tuned!

With joyful anticipation,


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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?

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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.


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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.


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