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Open Your Eyes


This lovely ‘ode’ to spring was written by a friend and fellow blogger:

Uncle Bardie's Stories & Such

In celebration of Spring.

Open your eyes, wipe the night away.

Open your eyes. It is morning,

the eastern sky awash with the sun and its many colors of light.

Slowly the world arises to do its daily dance.

The lonely and the loved gather themselves up for the new day.

Some waltz easily through the early hours;

for some, it is a difficult march

to be walked only after several cups of coffee.

Early runners dash onto city streets where they run their morning runs.

Their sneakers pound a steady beat.

From the houses, from the homes that the runners pass,

breakfast aromas seep out to them,

voices rise and fall in a chorus of conversations.

“Up and at ‘em,” they chant,

some with a slight tone of the resignation that is Monday,

many accompanied by the sound of running water

as they shower, they shave, they brush their…

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Cavern Diving: Yes. – Cave Diving: Nope!

Cavern Diving: Yes. – Cave Diving: Nope!

For many divers and non-divers alike, the idea of cave diving gives people the willies. A cave diver must undertake additional training that goes beyond recreational dive training. But there are many dive spots in Florida that are nowhere near the ocean that don’t necessarily require technical dive training (although more training never hurts).

That’s because Florida has a wealth of springs and sinkholes due to our porous bedrock and underground aquifer. Some of these form caverns that are popular recreational dive spots. Places like Blue GrottoBlue Spring, King’s Spring, and Ginnie Springs offer cavern diving (not to be confused with cave diving), which involves diving in shallower water within sight of the surface and with minimal or no overhangs (basically, anything that blocks your way to the surface). Most of these same places also offer cave diving, which involves deeper dives, extensive overhangs, and special training and equipment.


Not long ago, I had the good fortune to visit Blue Grotto as part of a work assignment. Located in Williston, Florida, Blue Grotto is technically a flooded sinkhole with very clear water and a maximum depth of 100 feet. Blue Grotto has an upper and a lower cavern; the upper cavern is well-lit and expansive.

DivingBellIt also has fun little quirks like an underwater diving bell (if you want to take a break and chat with your buddy), a small mermaid statue, some fish, and a resident softshell turtle named Virgil. The lower cavern has a safety line to follow all the way down to the bottom, but it is very dark and deeper than beginning divers should go unless accompanied by a dive instructor!

Another great spot is Blue Spring, which offers both a vertical cavern and a cave that branches off from the cavern at a depth of around 100 feet. Again, divers without cave diving training must go no further than the cavern (and there is a sign warning you as much)! Blue Spring, which connects to the St. John’s River, also involves a relaxing drift dive (with lots of fish) back to the main spring area. Unlike Blue Grotto, however, you have to trek nearly half a mile with all of your equipment before you get to the put-in for the cavern dive, so this is a more physical dive.

Cavern diving (as opposed to cave diving) is a great alternative to saltwater diving, yet still falls into the realm of recreational diving for divers who are just looking for a fun day out – but are still mindful of safety, as always.

Photo credits: Christine Janesko

Mutley, the Scuba Diving Dog

Mutley, the Scuba Diving Dog

And now for something completely ridiculous… a scuba diving dog? This Animal Planet video highlights the undersea adventures of scuba-certified “Mutley” and her owner, Gene. Not only did Gene create a custom scuba rig for his dog, he also made a rig for his cat, who seems to limit himself to the pool. Apparently, this story is not new, but it’s certainly unique. Everybody needs a hobby! Mutley is not from Florida, but I’d bet if she could pick her next dive spot, she would pay us a visit.

Photo credit: Animal Planet

Ponce Inlet’s Turtle Hospital Offers Rehab to Injured Sea Turtles and Newborn ‘Washbacks’

Ponce Inlet’s Turtle Hospital Offers Rehab to Injured Sea Turtles and Newborn ‘Washbacks’

Three young Loggerhead turtles who had been nursed back to health at Ponce Inlet’s Marine Science Center were released back to the ocean last week.

The sea turtles, who were given the names Seymour, Parker, and Zee, were initially rescued from nearby beaches. All three turtles had been found sick, dehydrated and anemic, and one of the turtles arrived with a hook in the corner of his mouth.

The marine center where the three Loggerheads recuperated is one of a handful of turtle hospitals and rehabilitation centers in Florida. Since 2002, the center’s staff has nursed nearly 900 juvenile and adult sea turtles and more than 15,000 hatchlings and “washbacks.”


Seymour, Parker, and Zee are considered juveniles or sub-adults and after their stay at the marine center, they weighed about 55, 85 and 130 pounds, respectively. Larger turtles like these can be released back to the ocean from the beach once they are deemed healthy. However, hatchlings who are stranded or washed in on storms or strong winds – “washbacks” – cannot be released from the beach. They must be nursed and then taken out to the Sargasso Sea by boat and released.

After hatching, sea turtles have only a brief window of time to make it to the Sargassum seaweed line, or Sargasso Sea, which borders the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. From Ponce Inlet, the Sargassum weed line is about 40 miles offshore.

Sue Usiatynski, who educates the public and works with the turtles, explained to visitors that hatchlings are born with a yolk sac in their abdomen, which they feed on for four to six days, while they frantically swim toward the haven of the Sargasso Sea.

Once they arrive, the hatchlings float on the Sargassum seaweed, which provides protection and also food, since it sustains many other kinds of marine life as well.

Washbacks and hatchlings that become disoriented, sick, or injured no longer have the yolk to sustain them on the long journey. The Marine Science Center and other sea turtle rehab facilities, like the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jupiter, feed and care for the hatchlings and often coordinate their hatchling releases at the Sargassum weed line.


Washback season starts Aug. 1 and runs through about November 1, said Usiatynski. Some of the washbacks are from Florida’s East Coast, and some of them are hatchlings from Florida’s West Coast – turtles who have made it around the peninsula to the Sargasso Sea off the East Coast, only to be blown back onto East Coast beaches.

Usiatynski said Volusia County has a Washback Watchers volunteer group, as well as the Volusia Flagler Turtle Patrol, and a nesting patrol. If turtle watchers see an unusual amount of Sargassum on the beaches, the Washback Watchers are alerted, and the volunteers comb through the weed looking for baby turtles that might be tangled in the seaweed. Any turtles they find are brought to the Marine Science Center for rehab before they are once again returned to the Sargasso Sea.

Photo credits: Sue Usiatynski and Christine Janesko

Sources: Marine Science Center, NOAA

Police Officer Saves Sea Turtles

Police Officer Saves Sea Turtles

A police officer’s job is to protect and serve, and that typically applies to humans. However a police officer in Sarasota, Florida happily extrapolated that to sea turtles, according to this Yahoo article, “Cop Saves Sea Turtle Hatchlings at Florida Resort.” Apparently, Officer Derek Conley was on duty when he noticed dozens of baby sea turtles walking around the parking lot and front walkway of the Lido Beach Resort. The newly hatched turtles are attracted to light, and instead of heading to the ocean, they were likely drawn toward the lights of the hotel. According to the report, the officer and hotel guests acted quickly, gathering the 90 to 100 baby turtles in a box and releasing them into the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo credit: Mark Sullivan, NOAA affiliate 

Don’t Feed the Sneetches: the Florida Sandhill Crane

Don’t Feed the Sneetches: the Florida Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes are a fairly common and impressive sight around Florida. Unlike many other wading birds, these very large, long-necked birds don’t shy away from populated areas. You’ll frequently find them on manicured, suburban lawns near retention ponds; around public parks, or sauntering across city streets.

Sandhill cranes are hard to miss: the tall, gray bird has a red patch of skin on its head and “tufted rump” feathers, and stands almost 4-feet tall.

For me, they’ve always brought to mind the Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. Maybe it’s because of their long necks or fantastic, bugling call as they fly overhead. (You can hear a sandhill crane call on this page). If Dr. Seuss were to create a bird call, I think it would sound like a sandhill crane.

Although you can find sandhill cranes in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, Florida has its own non-migratory subspecies that is a year-round resident called the Florida sandhill crane. Another, larger subspecies winters in Florida and in the Southwest (like human snowbirds), roughly quadrupling the overall sandhill crane population in the winter months.


Not all Florida sandhill cranes live in suburbia, and they would likely be better off if they didn’t, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Living in suburbia puts them at risk to several threats: predation by family pets, an increased risk of being hit by cars (which happens), exposure to pesticides and choking hazards (garbage, fishing line), and more chances to fly into power lines.

Also, many people with sandhill cranes living in their neighborhoods feed the birds corn. However, the omnivorous sandhill crane diet is typically very diverse; therefore, eating only corn for them is sort of the equivalent of you or I hitting McDonald’s day after day – it’s not very healthy.

It’s for these reasons that wildlife managers really don’t want sandhill cranes living among us – and why it’s actually illegal to feed them.

Feeding them also makes them more likely to become aggressive toward humans, and sandhill cranes have been known to attack children, according to the FWC. Nature photographer, blogger, and artist Vickie Henderson said sandhill cranes do get into scraps with each other (or at least threaten to) when they are establishing feeding territories, as seen in this amazing picture she took, below. The crane in the air is doing what is called a “jump rake.”


Sandhill cranes will also peck at rearview mirrors (sometimes smashing them out), at storefront windows, and at other reflective objects that appear to them to display another, uninvited sandhill crane. Males with a nesting female are more likely to peck at car mirrors, say wildlife experts. Some locals who regularly encounter sandhill cranes will cover their rearview mirrors (while parked) to avoid having them pecked out by a territorial sandhill crane – and this is recommended by the FWC. Generally, sandhill cranes that I’ve come across are pretty mild-mannered.

Despite the fact that sandhill crane-sightings are pretty common, there are only about 4,000-5,000 Florida sandhill cranes, and the species is federally protected and considered Threatened by the state of Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

So appreciate these beautiful birds, but cover your mirrors — and don’t feed the sneetches.

Read more about the Florida sandhill crane at FWC.

Photo credit: Thank you to Vickie Henderson for giving me permission to use her photo of the fighting sandhill cranes! Check out her site for more photos and information on sandhill cranes and other birds.

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Want to Know More About Sharks? Ask’s #SharkCam


If you haven’t yet heard from all the commotion and thrashing about on social media and online, we’re in the middle of Shark Week on Discovery Channel. Shark Week is HUGELY popular and its first show, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, reeled in nearly 5 million viewers, according to Forbes. If you’re watching Shark Week but you still have burning (biting?) questions about sharks, you have one more day to ask a question on Twitter at #SharkCam and have it answered by the National Aquarium’s Curator of Fishes, Holly Bourbon. The fun part is Bourbon answers your question as she scuba dives with 22 sharks in the National Aquarium. The last #SharkCam Q&A happens tomorrow (Aug. 8) at noon.