Though never in proportions that we witness in our cities and along our coastlines, big storms do bring a measure of chaos and loss of life to marine communities beneath the waves. The situation here along Florida’s east coast gives the appearance of being not far from the norm and people are back under the sun with their boogie boards, fishing rods, bicycles and suntan oil. The difference out there now is the seeming closeness of people finding space on a beach with high rolling tides, one made narrower without the dunes that disappeared with the passing of Hurricane Sandy.
In living here the past couple of years and walking on the beach daily I’ve developed an eye that takes in many of the shifts and changes in life on or along the beach. But really, anyone ‘unplugged’ and sensitive to the sights and sounds will see the same thing. Pull out the earphones, put away your smartphone and on any day a mini-Jacques Cousteau special will unfold at your feet, but this time it will tell a story of storm effects on a creature 300 million years old—the horseshoe crab. A day after the storm passed Florida on its move north, horseshoe crabs began washing up on the beach in numbers not seen in a few years. Some quality or condition in their habitat was badly disrupted, causing many of them to die and wash up on the beach.
These ‘living Fossils’ with their fierce looking shells and long tails are interesting animals. They live primarily along the eastern North American coast in the soft sand of shallow waters. It surprised me to learn that they are not related to crabs but to spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites. Horseshoe crabs require sandy beaches to bury their eggs where it isn’t unusual for one female to lay between 60,000 and 120,000 eggs. Only the tiniest number of those eggs hatch and grow to maturity, since they are an important food source for shore birds. A horseshoe crab has five pairs of eyes, one pair of small pincers and five pairs of legs. The long tail is used for steering and to flip itself over if stuck on its back. Another curious characteristic is seen in their blood. Because of the copper in their blood, once exposed to air it is blue. Females are often twenty-five to thirty percent larger than the males. The appearance of these rather large prehistoric holdovers can be intimidating but horseshoe crabs are not at all dangerous.
Out for a bike spin on the beach Sunday morning, after riding south for about two miles the sand became less than hard and I cut up to the paved road for an easier ride. Decided for a change to ride on the much more picturesque Saxon Drive, one block west and that same street with the big, tall flowers that look so much like sunflowers. The street was never before familiar to me from the prospective of a bicycle and I was surprised by the charm of a shaded street nestled in the mangroves between the Atlantic and the Halifax River. Little traffic, wide sidewalks under an overhang of green, a bird sanctuary and a handful of beautiful homes make for a very pleasant Sunday morning bike ride. Very likely that my next bike outing will retrace the route along Saxon Drive.