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Posts Tagged ‘Miami’

09.26.13mailchimp

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,
Donna
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09.17.13mailchimp

“We win!” exclaimed the young volunteer, raising his fists in the air in triumph. He had just heaved a nasty, mud-covered truck tire into our canoe as he stood knee-deep in the Miami River. His genuine enthusiasm was infectious, even though I am not a competitive or sports-following person. Yes, if we remove noxious debris from the habitat, I guess Mother Nature’s Team does win!

I’ve never forgotten this episode over the years, because I’ve witnessed the same fervor among our volunteers whenever we extract a tire from the coastline during our cleanups. Heck, I have felt that way myself when I loaded a real stinker into my solo canoe after pulling it out of the mangroves! It’s the challenge, I guess: large, bulky, slippery, full of water and muddy filth, hard to load into a canoe; a tire is the definitive example of civilization’s intrusion into the fragile habitat. You can see from the montage above we’ve removed quite a few of these bad boys from South Florida’s waterways.

This got me thinking, and then researching, about the ubiquitous tire.

The good news is that 90% of tires in the US are now recycled. But don’t get too excited; since there’s a tire scrapped each year for every person in the US, that’s still 10% of 311,000,000 tires that may end up where they are not wanted: like in our local waterways.

But people are finding ingenious ways to make use of an item once considered to be out-of-mind once it was out-of-sight. Back in “the good old days” people simply piled old tires out in the country, or in empty lots. Now there is less open space for such eyesores and ignorance, but even worse, tires collect rainwater and become breeding heaven for mosquitoes, while burning tire-piles are hell on earth.

In order of preference, the Environmental Protection Agency upholds this sequence: reduce, reuse, recycle, waste-to-energy, with appropriate disposal at the end of the list. Estimates vary, from one to three billion scrap tires currently stockpiled just in the U.S., so everyone needs to become part of the solution.

Reduce
How? Help your tires last longer. Simply keep them properly inflated, rotate and balance them every 4,000 miles, keep your vehicle in alignment. Choose to use your car as little as possible. You will save money while helping the environment.

Reuse
It’s heartening that people seem determined to reuse scrap tires, whole or in pieces, in a myriad of products. Tires rammed full of dirt are used to build houses, called “Earthships” for living off the grid. Roofing shingles are made from large pieces of tires, with the steel belts adding strength. As an artist myself, I was thrilled to find sculptures by Korean artist Yong Ho Ji: large and dynamic fantasy animals built from strips of tires that make especially fine use of tread patterns. Other artisans have crafted the tough rubber of tires into utilitarian items such as shoe soles, furniture, baskets, flowerpots, woven and crocheted floor mats, belts, gaskets, dock bumpers, planters, bike racks, playground equipment, toys, purses, wallets, even jewelry…and let’s not forget that much loved tire swing over the creek! One of my best childhood memories is when my dad gave me a huge inner tube from one of his airplane tires.

If there were an award for “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time But Instead Was an Ecological Disaster” my vote would go to the well-meaning coalition of folks who in 1974 dumped about two million tires into the ocean 7,000 feet off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. They were sure that this giant rubber jumble, dropped upon an artificial reef of concrete jacks known as Osborne Reef, would become a thriving habitat for fish, coral, and other undersea life. Some tires were tied together with steel or nylon bands, some just freely dumped by boaters. In hindsight, it seems incredible that nobody (on record) predicted that the bands would fail, and the tires would move, damaging natural reefs and organisms that had attached to the tires. Tropical storms and hurricanes shifted the tires for long distances. Despite the drastic failure of Osborne Reef, other countries attempted to install tire-reefs in the 1980s. In 2002, Ocean Conservancy’s director of strategic conservation, Jack Sobel, said, “I don’t know of any cases where there’s been a success with tire reefs.” Heroic attempts have been made to remove them but that’s too much for this brief article! Google “Osborne Reef” to learn more.

Recycle
After processing, the rubber from scrap tires becomes a component in at least 100 products. The metal from the steel belts must be removed and reclaimed. Then the tires are processed into shreds, crumbs, or powder on their way to becoming Tire Derived Product (TDP). Ground-up rubber is called crumb. The rubber not only meets the road, but becomes the road, as yearly, twelve million scrap tires go into rubberized asphalt to resurface highways. That’s the largest single use of recycled rubber. There’s a new recipe for railroad ties: grind up 80 pounds of scrap tires, add plastic from recycled bottles, wrap around a steel beam, and wait ninety years for it to wear out. That’s three times longer than a wooden tie and twice as strong. TDP makes rubber composite decks last 25 years with less maintenance than wood. Hyperseal Inc., a California company founded by chemical engineer and USAF Colonel (Ret.) Ronald Savin, uses TDP in their durable and waterproof coating products and caulks (I have to admit I am really excited to discover this company, as it sounds like their paint would be perfect for the deck of WRT’s eight-canoe trailer!). Apokalyps Labotek is a Swedish company that uses TDP for beautiful and tough parquet flooring. Chopped into larger, one-eighth-inch pieces, scrap tires become mulch that lasts far longer than wood mulch, won’t float away, or attract bugs or mold. It’s also used in playgrounds as a kinder, cushier surface than dirt.

Fun Fact: Next time you are in the market to rent a car, consider that Hertz has vowed to recycle every tire from its rental fleet, which in 2012 amounted to 170,000 tires.

Waste-to-Energy
The EPA or any other governmental agency (or anyone with common sense!) does not condone the disposal of tires by burning in the open. Tires burn fiercely, as each produces the same amount of energy as seven gallons of oil, and yield 25% more BTUs than coal, releasing thick black smoke and poisonous gasses into the air. Millions of tires are legally combusted as waste-to-energy in several industries. When shredded, they become tire derived fuel (TDF). However, there is controversy about the emissions that is beyond the scope of this article.

Disposal
Certainly, YOU, Dear Reader, are not the type of loathsome cad who would dispose of old tires by chucking them into the bushes or a waterway! Your state, city or county government can advise you on their tire disposal policies. To get rid of old tires, you may have to pay a fee, which may go to fund recycling or cleanup programs. The information you need will be easy to find on the internet.

Have I tired you out with the results of my research? Hope not; I, for one, feel better knowing that so many inventive and determined people are dealing with this obnoxious, omnipresent representative of our love affair with the automobile.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Research Team will continue to remove the tiresome relics of humanity from our precious habitat, thanks to the winning enthusiasm of our wonderful volunteers.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!
Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

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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,
Donna

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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.

tk_sketch_11.17.2001

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.

-TK

431-1104_04_matheson

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.

436-1101_17_matheson

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.

-TK

436-1101_24_matheson

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.

436-1101_13_matheson

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.

-TK

436-1101_02_matheson

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.

-TK

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.

—TK

463-0502_10_matheson

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.

—TK

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.

—TK

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.

-TK

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Exercise is important for diabetics, with walking highly recommended by doctors. One of the reasons Tom wanted a canoe, back in 1993, was to help him burn off his blood sugar through exercise. His diabetes caused perpetual foot ulcers and he often had to endure being in a wheelchair. Although there are many ramps these days for folks in wheelchairs, even a one or two-inch curb can prevent their access to the place beyond.

Here was a guy who had walked the length of the Alaska pipeline with his sniffing dog trained to detect oil leaks, who found himself unable to walk across the room. But he had tremendous upper-body strength! So when I tell people that canoeing saved Tom’s life, I am not exaggerating.

Once I had overcome my fears and gotten good enough to handle a canoe on my own, Tom and I began a program we called, “You Point, We Paddle.” Each of us was not only a guide, but the engine of the canoe, as the person in the bow seat was usually unable to paddle.

As Tom had spent about two years in nursing homes, and substantial time in hospitals, he was keen to share our adventures with as many people as possible who were dealing with their existence in those places. It was not uncommon for our passengers to weep with silent joy when our canoes were gliding over the calm waters of early morning.

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If you’ve ever had a challenge to your own mobility, you can appreciate the reaction of these dear people to our outings. Empathy was one of Tom’s greatest qualities, whether dealing with a human or a critter…he knew, he knew… There was one trip where he paddled several blind folks (I wasn’t on that one) into Biscayne Bay, and made them get out on a sandbar in the bay! His mom had gone blind from diabetes overnight, so he was experienced with people dealing with that disability.

I would really love to get back to our You Point, We Paddle excursions again. Our waterway and coastal cleanups are amazing in so many ways, don’t get me wrong, we have a blast while making the water safer for wildlife and people by removing marine debris.

I’ve learned that canoes possess so many ways for folks to improve their lives. On our cleanups, our volunteers challenge themselves as they work with others who care about the environment the way they do. We get a great workout, for sure.

But what if you could barely walk without help, and your world was limited to a small room, hallways, a common eating area, doctors’ offices? Smelled only those odors common to nursing homes, saw only other suffering people, or professional health care workers, or what was on the tv?

Imagine, then, how you’d feel when placed in the bow of a skillfully paddled canoe, to breathe in lungfuls of fresh salty air, cutting through satiny waters as the sun peeked over the horizon and birds wheeled overhead?

Is it any wonder, my friends, I love canoeing so much? And miss my soulmate so much? If ever there was a man who could think of simple things to change lives so completely, it was Tom Kazo.

Learn more about Tom and our Team on www.wildlife-research-team.org. Let me leave you with one thought: do you own a canoe? Do you know how to paddle it well, and do you have all the safety gear? Perhaps you could invite a less-than-robust friend out for a joyride one summer morning. Enjoy the sunrise together as if it’s the only one ever made. Tell the birds and the fish that Dr. Tom sent you.

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Okay, I am not an expert on Zen, or anything Buddhist, or even Asian, really. Let’s get that straight. This is just something a girl said to me on one of our early canoe trips when I was explaining the best way for me to paddle, “Is that the Zen of paddling, Donna?” It has stuck with me for almost 16 years.

So here’s how I interpret the Zen of paddling a canoe. My decision at the very beginning of all of this canoeing with my soulmate was to paddle as excellently as possible, to make every stroke count. You are going to have to do it millions of times, might as well do it right from the beginning. So there’s a fair amount of concentration to develop form while you are learning, but that’s the same with so many things. Especially in sports; tennis and golf come to mind. Repetitive motion, with mastery of technique the difference between a champion and a novice.

My personal goal in paddling is to be as quiet as possible, to slice the water with each dip of the paddle with efficient, powerful stealth. What I always tell our volunteers at every quick pre-cleanup canoeing tutorial is to think of an Olympic diver slicing into the water without a splash, and emulate that. Don’t thrash the water as if you are beating egg whites to make into meringue. Don’t keep clobbering the top edges of the canoe, either.

I love to sneak up on wildlife, first of all. I also love not wasting energy. I especially don’t want to hurt myself, and miss out on future canoeing adventures. I really hate to see people deprive themselves of fun in the future by not getting the hang of smooth, efficient paddling. Canoeing is such a marvelous thing to do that I hate to see people in pain because of it.

Remember, it’s just not as easy as it looks. Few things are, when you do them really well. So be kind to yourself, allow yourself to learn. Canoeing is one of the few sports, though, that has the power to actually kill you, because you are deliberately placing yourself in harm’s way: rough weather, crazy people on jetskis, drunks in powerboats, alligators, killer whales…

When paddling, put yourself into a contemplative state, with the repetition of each stroke as soothing and yet revitalizing as a Buddhist chant. You also have to be sure to choose the right paddle, but that’s not our concern just now. Seek perfection in each stroke, in placement of the paddle. Feel the breath in your body, feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your face, the strength in your muscles. Be totally present, be in the moment.

Drink plenty of water and use sunblock, wear a good personal flotation device, wear sunglasses so you can see beneath the surface. Be proud of yourself when you return to the dock. Be blissful. Now just make sure you keep doing it. Like meditation, it’s called a practice for a reason. Let me know about your adventures, okay? Remember, you can learn more about canoeing on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org.

Happy paddling!

Donna

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