Who would ever have guessed that the mangroves are just as cool as the reef? Matt and I went to Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo today with the intention of seeing what we could see snorkeling from the shore. The turtle grass was fun, we saw occasional small snappers, spaghetti string worms with tentacles so long that they seem impossible and occasional barracuda. Then we decided to explore the shoreline. WOW! The mangrove roots were covered with bright colored sponges, oysters and a gazillion bizarre creatures I didn't recognize. This was as good as most coral reef dives I have done, perhaps because it was my first time seeing it, but really, it is like the most incredible reef, just in miniature. My favorite was an elusive blenny (a 1 inch fish who hides in things) who was tucked into an abandon oyster shell. You can see a picture of one here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ae/Algae_blenny.jpg/690px-Algae_blenny.jpg
Inch long baby barracuda were tucked up to the limbs, but not everything was tiny. There were schools of 2 foot rainbow parrot fish chewing on the roots, and enormous somethings tucked into the tangle. Swirls of tiny silver sides made the water churn. The black tipped mangrove snapper and the the striped grunts were the most plentiful fish. Special treats: a large cowfish and several really cool bandtailed puffers.
The next day we returned but the wind was up and the visibility was poor. So we went into another area and found a mother load of lobsters and one big fat crab. Grin!
That afternoon we visited the wild bird rehab center to see the 3:30 feeding fest. All the pelicans in the neighborhood come for handouts. What a blast it is to grab hand fulls of fish from the buckets and plop them into the pelicans' open mouths. The herons of all shapes and sizes gather at a pond up the path and get fed smaller fish. They are delicate looking but tough competitors. I highly recommend visiting this place if you are ever in the Key Largo/Travenier area of the Florida Keys. Don't miss the bone pile where they put out goodies for the the raptors to devour.
A perfect end to a perfect day, sunset over the water at our hotel, the tiny and delightful Island Bay Resort at MM 92.5.