Anders, Finkel share expertise during ‘River Meets The Sea’ cruise
“Like a flower that has blossomed
In this dry and barren sand
We are born and born again most gracefully
Plus the winds of time will take us
With a sure and steady hand
When the river meets the sea.”
Although it does share its name with a beloved John Denver tune, “River Meets The Sea,” the newest cooperative endeavor between the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and Captiva Cruises, is a hands-on excursion to explore the mouth of the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.
During the two-hour journey from the shores of Punta Rassa, passengers are engaged in environmentally-consious discussions about the ecological functions of the back bay waters and estuaries in and around San Carlos Bay and are invited to take part in water sample readings.
This cruise, led cooperatively by Kristie Anders, SCCF Education Director, and Richard Finkel, Captiva Cruises’ Environmental Educator, also shares a detailed history of the region, from the arrival of Hamilton Disston to the latest in water quality monitoring technology.
SCCF’s real-time River Estuary Coastal Observing Network (RECON) program, which tracks key water quality parameters from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, currently has seven monitors anchored throughout the bays. During this outing, the Santiva — named after the historic mail boat which served island residents — stopped close to the unit located near Shell Point.
The RECON units test for several characteristics that determine water quality, including salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, temperature and nitrogen levels. Information gathered by these units, transmitted via cell phone, is essential in tracking trends of the quality of the waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva.
The cruise sailed slowly up what Finkel described as “The Miserable Mile,” a narrow channel within the bay whose depth varies from only a couple of inches (during low tide) to approximately five feet.
“Whenever you live along the coast, tides play a very important role in the environment,” said Finkel, who explained that subtle changes in the salinity of our waterways can alter the color and appearance of the water. Extreme changes in the balance of salinity, oxygen and nitrogen levels within the water can dramatically impact marine life.
As the cruise progress, Finkel and Anders pointed out several dolphins, manatees, roseate spoonbills, brown pelicans, osprey and other bird species commonly found in the region. Finkel also noted an active bald eagle nest on one of the mangrove islands which dot the scenic bay.
“Our dolphins in this area are real lucky because they can find good food sources throughout the year,” said Anders. “Dolphins are usually a migratory species.”
Stopping near the RECON unit, Finkel gave passengers the opportunity to do some hands-on water quality testing of their own, using basic instruments such as a hydrolab and a refractometer to measure for the elements that the RECON units can automatically test for – and submit to the lab — within seconds.
“You can see how much more valuable it is to have a unit in the water that reports back to a website on an hourly basis,” he said. “This is why these RECON units are so important.”
While participants enjoyed sailing past flocks of pelicans and cormorants, the cruise itself is just as much about history and science as it is about promoting community advocacy and conservation.
According to Anders, a large population of black skimmers once nested along the Causeway Islands. However, back in the 1980s, a number of construction projects is blamed for the species looking elsewhere to nest.
“Black skimmers like wide open, white sandy beaches to make their nests,” she said, adding that the construction crews were ordered to create a number of spoil mounds — which eventually became tiny islands, including Fisherman’s Key — with a secluded beach, with the hopes that these birds would relocate their to build their nests.
And thankfully, they have.
“I saw some of them coming in the other day,” said Anders, who travels by boat to and from work every day. “Somebody told me that they saw a bunch of them up by Blind Pass, too.”
To inquire about future “River Meets The Sea” cruises being offered by SCCF and its business/environmental partner, call Captiva Cruises at 472-5300.