[Crystal River, FL–] Mist rises from the murky green surface of Kings Bay as our group of snorkelers quietly enters the water. The air temperature this January morning is a chilly 40 degrees, but the …
In Seine: Fish, Crabs, Shrimp near St. Augustine
Though the Brletich family lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., they had never before visited the prime public nature reserve located just off A-1-A only pebble-skipping distance from their home– that is, until very recently.
That’s when they heard from friends about a free family seining program conducted year round at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve– 74,000 acres of coastal lands stretching from Ponte Vedra to Palm Coast run jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.
On selected days, reserve volunteers show parents and kids how to deploy a long fishing net along the beach at Guana Lake, then identify the various creatures they catch. The ten-mile-long lake — designated an “Outstanding Florida Water” and located about halfway between St. Augustine and Jacksonville– has the ideal mixture of fresh- and saltwater to be a nursery for all kinds of fish, crustaceans and other animals. The lake and surrounding uplands are a living laboratory for scientists of many disciplines.
On the Saturday that Matt and Tina Brletich, son Nate, 7, and daughter Madison, 5, visited, air and water temperatures were in the low 60s. They donned boots and chest waders and helped volunteers Gary Coulliette and Phil Gulliford unroll the 20-foot net and pull it slowly through the water onto the beach.
Coulliette and Gulliford laid the net on the soft sand and encouraged Nate and Madison to pick up the live creatures they found and put them in an aerated bucket of lake water.
“Let’s see what we’ve got in here,” Coulliette said.
The kids were a little hesitant at first, but then they plunged right in, Madison plucking a shrimp from the net and into the bucket, and Nate seizing a tiny minnow.
A snowy egret wandered onto the beach to watch, probably hoping to seize some of the catch.
When the net had been picked clean of live things, Gulliford produced an identification chart. Nate’s minnow was a silverside; the slightly-larger fish were mojarras. All were put back into the lake alive.
For round two, Matt and Tina took charge of pulling the seine while the kids took over culling creatures on the beach. This time, they found a tiny swimming crab in addition to the shrimp, mojarras and silversides.
“You kids did a better job than the high school kids did yesterday, “Gulliford told Nate and Madison.
Besides the family seining trips, Coulliette said volunteers also conduct guided hikes and beach and trail walks. A schedule is posted at www.gtmnerr.org.
Tina said the family enjoyed the experience.
“That was great. Thank you,” she told the two volunteers. “We’ll come again.”