August 29, 2000: Florida Collecting

One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: May 21, 2008

From:  Alan Silverstein <ajs@hpfcajs.fc.hp.com>
Date:  29 Aug 2000 12:11:23 -0600
Subject:  Florida collecting report (Aug 20 - 27)
To:  (rocks list)

I spent last week in Florida (hot!) visiting relatives and traveling around my myself. I did significant snorkeling at about six different places, beachcombed at about eight different places, and brought back about 30 pounds of collected shells and coral. I saw some live lobsters, a stingray at least 4' in diameter, lots of nice shells in 15-20' deep water, and fortunately no sharks. I had to leave the Keys because Hurricane Debbie was bearing down, and a mandatory evacuation of non-residents was ordered -- as it turned out, it was not a threat, but the state parks all closed to camping.

But the reason I wrote to this list was mainly to remark on some rock and fossil hunting at Apollo Beach (east side of Tampa Bay, southeast of Tampa) and the Peace River (southeast of the Tampa area, northeast of Fort Myers, near many phosphate mines). This report follows up on some (literally) stimulating postings to this list by others the last few years.

I'd been to Apollo Beach once before and found a handful of brownish, tumbled mammal bones. This time there were even fewer. Again, no shark teeth. Again, no access at the Ramada (as someone else described earlier), but there was a nice little nature preserve 0.6 miles north of there at the end of the road. Despite a daunting list of "no"s on the sign, it appeared shell and rock collecting was OK there.

I spent maybe an hour walking from the north end (inlet across from the generating plant) down to the north-most private property. Lots of rocks and shells to examine, but nothing very exciting... Wrong time of year to see manatees in the bay, unlike March 1999.

Driving southeast and south through "bone valley" past big draglines mining phosphate from layers about 50' below the sands, I yearned again to be able to hunt in their pits. But I knew from past experience that it was pretty much "no access" unless you knew someone who worked there, and even then it was tough. I did stop once along the road where there was a (rare) dump pile of larger stones on the edge of the mining zone and no fence along the road. I found a few beat up chunks of bone there, barely recognizable, 1-2" in size, not worth going out of your way to get.

Next I meandered south along the Peace River from north of Wauchula, to Arcadia, looking for access points. I'd heard there was a drought this summer and the water was low, but apparently not enough to expose real gravel bars anywhere I stopped. At a little park about 3 miles north of Wauchula, there were hardly any small rocks. In Wauchula, no good access. In Zalfo Springs, Pioneer Park didn't offer much good access either. South of there I found a barely signed, unpaved side road leading a couple miles west to a boat ramp, called Gardener I think, which was the best access I found.

Here I waded across, and the water was waist deep at most. It was pleasurable playing in the flowing, cool, opaque, tea-colored water, but there were hardly any rocks along the sandy and muddy shores. I walked on lots of tumbled black stones in the water, and brought up handfuls, but found only one ragged fraction of a tooth. Most of the stones were blah. The previously posted advice from others about using a boat and/or a sieve was right on -- don't bother, or at least don't expect to find anything, without those... At least, a shovel or bucket plus a sieve.

(I had a 2' square homemade sieve, but I didn't bother to bring it from Colorado.)

I suppose some people find shark teeth some of the time, but I'd hardly ever seen them anywhere, in many trips to Florida. Then again, I hadn't spent long hours hunting either. Anyway, take my report as an antidote to the glowing accounts you'll so often read, and don't get your hopes up.

I have found -- a lot of trash everywhere (sigh), biting bugs, private property blocking access to beaches and rivers, and rude drivers. Severe tailgating appeared to be the primary mode of socializing on Florida highways. Even in August the state felt crowded. The many toll roads and parking meters were tiresome. I came to appreciate offbeat places where I could park for free and without a time limit, such as the well-marked beach access spots along Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach.

I had more fun shell collecting than with any rocks or fossils. The public beach at Miami Beach offered a lot of pretty, solid white coral -- I think it's fossil stuff, not sure -- just as it did 25 years earlier when I lived nearby. Anne's Beach on Lower Matecumbe Key (I think) had lots of small coral branches, soft and chalky, but I also saw a fair amount of live coral of various types in very shallow water (and left it there).

Snorkeling at Palm Beach one morning was memorable because the waves were mild and the turbidity was low. The water was clear and blue. I could hover 10-15' above the bottom, and dive for nice shells and occasional coral pieces collected in natural depressions around chunks of coral rock. Later that same day though, larger waves made Jupiter Beach quite difficult and disappointing. After an hour of swimming and diving in such conditions, I got vertigo and a little queasy, more than once.

A few other tidbits...

When traveling in a hot locale, bring a spray bottle, and wet your shirt and hat with water liberally from time to time. This makes it much more pleasant, at least if there's a breeze.

At Coconut Point Beach south of Melbourne one morning, I found a couple of (barely) live baby loggerhead sea turtles, about 2" across and very dark colored. They'd apparently hatched during the night, and some stragglers were still on the beach, tuckered out. I doubted they would survive, but I took them down to the water and helped them past the waves. Cool!

I liked the shelling better at Fort Myers than on famous Sanibel Island to the north. Also, shelling on the Atlantic side, which is known to be not-as-good, is really not bad if you go at low tide and walk the beaches looking for local concentrations. It seemed that for any beach, it's best to go early in the morning while it's cool and uncrowded, and while some free (as opposed to metered) parking is available, although some beaches do not "open" (say the signs) until 8 am!