Monday, September 29, 2008

Rubber Duckies and NASA

In January of 1992, thousands of plastic bath toys manufactured by First Years went overboard during a storm in the Pacific Ocean. As these yellow ducks, green frogs, blue turtles, and red beavers washed ashore, Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and fellow scientist James Ingraham used the information to learn more about ocean currents. (This Wikipedia link will provide you with more details.) If you've watched our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD, you know that since that time, Curt has been referred to as Dr. Ducky. (Photo courtesy of Dave Ingraham)

This past week, Yahoo! posted a Discovery Channel article about NASA scientists using yellow ducks to research the path of water from melted glacier ice. The story notes: When a science probe failed to return data about melting glacial ice, a researcher from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory labeled 90 rubber ducks with an email address and the words "science experiment" and "reward" written in English, Danish and the native Inuit language, then set the toys loose in the glacier. The idea was that fisherman would find the ducks and notify him where they were found. (Photo by Konrad Steffen, University of Colorado)

I forwarded the story to Curt, Margie Mitchell, and Ed Perry, and this being a small world after all, a couple of days later, Margie found this yellow duck in the seaweed. (For new readers - Margie is Beach Coordinator for the City of Cocoa Beach and spends a lot of time monitoring the beach, so she's in the right place at the right time to find all these beach things she shares with us.) In the email accompanying the duck photo, she notes: "Look at this duck I found in the seaweed today. Not identical, but awfully close. And nothing written on it but "Made in China." You don't suppose... "

In a follow-up email to Curt, Margie says: "I emailed the guy at JPL. He says it's not one of his. I'll save it for your symposium table anyway, though. It has another story, although we'll probably never know what it is." So this little guy will be at the Sea-Bean Symposium, October 17 & 18, Cocoa Beach Library, at Curt's table.
Anybody missing a duck?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mary's Bean

'Tis the season (sea-bean season, that is), as Margie Mitchell noted when she sent this photo of a Mary's bean she found a few days ago. As Mary's beans go, this one is huge - Margie says it is the largest one she has ever found. If you watched the sea-bean section of Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast, you already know that the Mary's bean is also known as the crucifix bean because of the cross indented on both sides. A superstition about these beans is that holding a Mary’s bean during childbirth will make the birth less painful. However, reports that Ed Perry gave a Mary's bean to his wife to hold while she was giving birth to their daughter, and that midway through the labor process, she threw it at him!

We admire the Mary's bean in Margie's photo, but don't overlook that beautiful golden sargassum seaweed.

October is usually a good month for finding sea-beans, depending on the storms, the tides, good luck .... That is, of course, why the Sea-Bean Symposium is always held in mid-October. I hope you've already marked your calendar for October 17 and 18, Cocoa Beach Library. Be sure to visit for David McRee's excellent posting about the Symposium.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The unruly ocean has provided us with beaches full of lovely wrack. If you've watched our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast, you'll recall that we use Blair and Dawn Witherington's definition of wrack - "Lengthy piles of floating marine stuff that has washed in with the tide." So far, thanksfully, there have been very few washbacks (post-hatchling sea turtles) in this seaweed. There have been reports of a few sea-beans, and Margie Mitchell found a beautiful Mary's Bean that will be the subject of tomorrow night's posting. Thanks to Connie Meihofer for sending us this excellent illustration of wrack.

Ann Zscheile wants folks to know that seaweed is good for the beach for several reasons. "It adds nutrients (food) to the beach and also helps it rebuild and "renourish" itself. It is the best and least expensive form of "renourishment." I have heard people talk about raking the seaweed up and also of collecting it and removing it from the beach. Beachside residents should be grateful for the seaweed, as it not only helps the beach, it often brings us unexpected treasures." To illustrate the point, she sent this photo taken last year at Hightower Park in Satellite Beach of the beach restabilizing and rebuilding itself naturally over the seaweed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Coastal Cleanup Local Results

These photos were taken at Ocean Avenue Beach Park in Melbourne Beach. As you can see in the first photo, Saturday was a delightful day to be at the beach.

The second photo is of the Keep Brevard Beautiful coastal cleanup check-in site. The picture was taken about 10:00 in the morning, and you can see a respectable collection of white trash bags midway through the four-hour event.

Florida Today reports the following stats for Brevard County: 1,125 volunteers, 27,375 pounds of trash collected (vs 35, 553 collected last year). Good job!

We'll report Ocean Conservancy stats when they become available.

(Photos by Marge Bell. Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

International Coastal Cleanup Reminder

Just a reminder that this Saturday (the 20th) is Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup . As we mentioned in an earlier posting, this event differs from standard beach cleanup events in that the trash is tabulated and cataloged world-wide. But as is noted on the web site, "... this is more than a one-day event, it’s a year-round movement. The ocean is essential to the health of everything on our planet. But harmful impacts like climate change and overfishing are taking its toll. The International Coastal Cleanup provides a direct, tangible way to make a difference. Trash in the ocean kills countless seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles each year through ingestion and entanglement. The International Coastal Cleanup brings awareness and action to one of the largest problems we face. "

Locally, Florida Coastal Cleanup effort is being coordinated by Keep Brevard Beautiful (this link leads you to the check-in sites list). Per the web site, "Keep Brevard Beautiful, Inc. invites beach lovers, anglers, bird watchers, surfers, school, church and civic groups, and people of all ages to participate in the Florida Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, 20 September, 2008 8:00 a.m. to Noon. ... Materials needed for the cleanup activities, including trash bags, gloves, sunscreen, data cards and pencils, will be provided. Volunteers may want to bring drinking water and a snack. FREE T-shirts while supplies last! Check-in sites are located throughout Brevard County. We especially need boaters to assist with the spoil island clean up activity!"
We'll see you there!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Ready for the Sea-Bean Symposium

The 13th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium is just a month away - Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, at the Cocoa Beach Library. The keynote speaker Saturday evening (7:45 to 8:45) is Richard LaMotte, vice-president of the North American Sea Glass Association and author of the award-winning book Pure Sea Glass (2004). He'll be at the Symposium Saturday during the day to autograph his book and confer with folks about interesting sea glass, so "bring it if you've got it."

We're excited that Izumi Hanno, world traveling sea-beaner, will be back with us. Izumi is a botanical artist, a cartoonist and a beachcomber. It's been several years since we saw Izumi, and we're looking forward to her presentation on Saturday afternoon (1:00 to 2:00). This girl leads an exciting life!

At Beaners' Night Out last night, we got the Drifting Seed newsletters labeled for mailing. Ed Perry outdid himself with this edition - you can read it on-line at, Drifting Seed Newsletters option, Vol 14(2), 9/1/08. (I know, I could have given you a direct link, but I want you to look at the rest of the website - it's a labor of love for Paul Mikkelsen, and full of good stuff.) You'll find a full schedule for the Symposium on page 18, and more information about Izumi on an earlier page.

If you've been to one of the previous Symposiums, I know you'll be back. If you've never been to one, and you're the type that reads blogs like this, you owe it to yourself to attend - it's a unique affair!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Matagorda Update

Good news! In yesterday's posting, we spoke of sea-bean symposium friends in Matagorda, hoping that they were escaping the worst of Hurricane Ike. It's Sunday evening, and we've received the following email from them: "...we are now back home after evacuating, and gratitude does not begin to express how we feel - we dodged the bullet here. Were worried that Mike's shop and the apartment would flood, as it is only at 6 feet elevation, but the water just missed and all is well. Now we are watching the devastation where we lived before we moved down here - Galveston County/Clear Lake/Kemah area. Will take me a couple of weeks the way I feel now to put everything back where it was before we packed up and headed out, but I am so grateful I'm not dealing with flooded living quarters! See you in October!!!!"


Saturday, September 13, 2008

News from Florida's South Gulf Coast

As we watch the news, our thoughts are with those in Texas getting the brunt of Hurricane Ike. We have sea-bean friends in Matagorda, and we're anxious to hear that they are safe.

Curious as to the effects of Ike on Florida as he moved through the Gulf, I asked David McRee, aka BeachHunter , what was going on at the beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast. He sent this report, plus a couple of photos.

"Tides here have been running about 3 feet above normal for several days and the surf has been in the 5 to 8 foot range. Attached is a photo I took of a surfer on Anna Maria Island yesterday. The water in the finger canals has been coming out of the banks and onto the roadways, in some places a foot deep. Many roads are nearly impassable on some parts of some islands. Can you imagine if the storm was actually heading toward us? I feel sorry for anyone in Galveston that thinks they are going to ride this one out. No way. Some large moon jellies have been washing up here in St. Pete, and I found both halves of a large sunray venus clam two days ago (photo attached). That doesn't happen often. Lots of parchment worm tubes tangled up with algae in the wrack, and some flotsam. Pen shells, broken whelks and tulips washing up too."

David is not only BeachHunter, he is the Beach and Surf Expert for . We are absolutely delighted with his recent review of our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast - as the saying goes, "He got it!" Be sure to read the review, and wander around in the rest of his blog as well. (Photos courtesy of David McRee. Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beach Erosion from Storms and Hurricanes

As you can well imagine, Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) volunteers have been busy rescuing hatchlings and monitoring beach erosion in the wake of the tropical storms and hurricanes that have really kicked up the surf. While we certainly thank our lucky stars that so far (knock on wood), storms such as Fay, Hanna, Gustaf and Ike have missed us, their impacts can be seen in these photos provided to us by Connie Meihofer. We're sad about the reason Connie was able to get these pictures, but we're proud to present them to you. The first one is an extraordinary photo of an exposed nest. The other shows the nature of the dune plant root systems that help hold the dunes together. (If you've watched our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD, you already know that these eggs are about the size of pingpong balls, with a tough, leathery shell. You also know the importance of dune plants in maintaining the dune system.)

Ann Zscheile reports the following:

"We had calls all week, but they really peaked on Friday when Hanna passed by quickly. We had eroded nests, eggs on the beach, exposed nests, nests starting to hatch that were exposed to predators (mostly birds) and premature hatchlings, but no documented washbacks. There is not a whole lot we can do once the eggs are out of the nest. We can rebury them, but most likely they will no longer be viable. (State regulations do not allow us to relocate nests or take in unhatched eggs. Even though it is difficult to see, this is part of the natural process that has gone on for a very long time.) We did not have a lot of hatchlings, of the ones we did have, most of them were exposed before they had completely absorbed their egg yolk and were not quite ready to make the swim out. After a day or two, once all of the yolk was absorbed, they were more than ready to go. The interesting thing about this series of storms from Fay to Hanna is that the mama turtles continued to come up and nest! I saw a loggerhead nest on Labor Day which really surprised me and we had 3 green sea turtles nest in Cocoa Beach during Fay. In fact Dori Hughes (nest survey permit holder) named the turtles, Fay, Fay and Fay!!"

Our sincere thanks to everybody out there working to protect our critters, and of course to Ann and Connie for sharing their words and photos. (Photos by Connie Meihofer. Click to enlarge.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How to be Safe from Scary Things in the Ocean

I love serendipity (and dumb luck). Through one of those long, involved stories that would make your eyes roll, I have a real treat to share with you. David McRee is an author and Florida Beaches travel writer. On his website,, you can find all sorts of great information about beaches. He is biased towards Gulf beaches, but he treats us on the Atlantic side fairly too! His book, Gulf Beach Guide, looks like a "must have" for beach lovers. The Beach Books page on his website lists books of authors we know and love, including Witheringtons and Cathy Katz. But the really wonderful part of this website is a FREE, downloadable e-book called How to Be Safe From Sharks, Jellyfish, Stingrays, Rip Currents and other Scary Things on Florida Beaches and Coastal Waters. This little gem is 67 pages of practical information written by somebody that knows what he's talking about. It's in .pdf format and requires less than one megabyte of space, and you will love the clear, concise writing style.

What a find - almost as good as a Mary's Bean!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tropical Storm Hanna

We dodged most of another bullet today when TS Hanna went along our coastline far enough away that all we got was some wind, a couple of inches of rain, and some fierce wave action. There have been rip current warnings posted all week, and thus far, most folks seem to be paying attention - at least I have not heard of any drownings in the last couple of days. Our friend Margie sent these photos that she took today, as Hanna was passing far offshore. Somehow, this first one reminds me of a beer commercial (click to enlarge - you'll see what I mean).

So far, I haven't gotten any turtle reports, and Alice reports that although we have a lot of wrack, there is not an unusual number of sea-beans.
I think this is what the poets mean when they speak of an "angry ocean"! We thank Margie for venturing out and for sending us these wonderful photos. (Photos courtesy of Margie Mitchell)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hanna and the Wrack Line

Jim just called to report that the beach is literally blanketed with wrack - sargassum (seaweed) washed ashore by storms Fay and Hanna. We received a similar report for beaches along Biscayne Bay in Miami. We'll have photos later.

This photo from last year shows colleague Matt MacQueen and Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer (aka Dr. Ducky) preparing to videotape the beach walks shown on our website. That brown stuff they are standing is is called the wrack line. In the Flotsam section of our DVD, Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast, we use Blair and Dawn Witherington's definition: The wrack line is lengthy piles of floating marine stuff that has washed in with the tide.

Good things come in with the sargassum - the wrack line is where you are most likely to find sea-beans. Unfortunately, as you may recall from an earlier posting, hatchling sea turtles that make their home in the "nursery" provided by the Sargasso Sea also wash in with this seaweed. These post-hatchlings are referred to as "washbacks", and they don't have the strength to swim back out to their home. If you find washbacks, don't just put them back into the ocean. Please call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) at (321) 676-1701 or take them to the STPS facility located near the intersection of 5th Avenue and A1A in Indialantic, in the strip shopping center next to Wendy's. If it is after hours, there is a holding box at the back of the facility, or call the pager (321) 455-0576 and input your phone number.
In our DVD, we recommend that you use a "wrack stick" to look for things in the wrack line - you never know what might be in there.