|Park and Ride|
|Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor|
A kayak trip to Picnic Island turns into a feast for the eyes
“Wasn’t that amazing! I’m so glad you saw that!”
These enthusiastic words from a woman in the park were certainly unusual, as most strangers in parks have nothing to say to me. But the event that sparked her outburst was something spectacular, and I’m so glad that she saw what I saw, too.
On the return trip from paddling my kayak out to an island in Biscayne Bay, I was about 200 yards from the mainland when something large suddenly burst out of the water: A dolphin! It was the fifth dolphin of the day, as earlier I had seen a pod of four circling around a central part of the bay.
This six-foot-long bottlenose dolphin put on a show of leaps. It burst out of the water at about a 75-degree angle, did a half-twist to expose its pink belly, and crashed down into the water on its back. And then it did it again, and again. At least three good back-flops.
Then, just like that, the show was over, and the dolphin swam north toward the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
The woman who also saw this show was sitting in Margaret Pace Park, located on the bay in Edgewater. She called out to me as I was paddling back to the kayak launch in the park. I’ll probably never see her or that dolphin again, but I thank them both for that incredible Miami moment.
The dolphin was not performing for us, of course, because the bay is not Miami Seaquarium. The leaping was likely an attempt to free its skin of parasites. Still, when you add all the elements together -- the still water, the skyline backdrop, the midday sun -- its impact was much greater than that of a typical de-lousing.
The object of the day’s outing was to visit Pace Picnic Island. As it is only accessible by boat, my partner and I carried our kayaks across the grass of Margaret Pace Park (careful to avoid the dog doo, an issue covered recently by the BT) and, on the park’s southern side, found a small opening in the barrier of coral rock. It’s not much, but it’s there.
In this section of the bay, between the Julia Tuttle and Venetian causeways, the singular island is easy to find, lying about a half-mile east, and slightly north, of Margaret Pace Park.
The City of Miami’s website, listing the site as one of the city’s eight nature parks, calls it “Pace Park Picnic Islands,” with an “s,” yet only one island was visible. Perhaps the city includes the sandbars to the north of the island, which might become exposed during low tide. There are other, similar islands north of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, but they are far from Margaret Pace Park.
Triangular in shape, the spoil island has two sides of continuous beach and shallows, great for splashing around. The island’s southern shore is less hospitable, with its buttress of coral rock.
Fairly heavy vegetation includes sea grape trees, mangroves, and palms, and the lack of trails discourages exploration. The fringing beach is clearly the main draw, and that’s where you’ll find the picnic tables of Picnic Island.
Sad, sad picnic tables. One bench, sprayed with graffiti, was held together by rope. Two of the island’s three picnic tables appear to be on their last legs. The sturdier one perches on a narrow isthmus of sand, with great views of both the mainland and the bayside of Miami Beach.
Upon approaching the island by kayak, a rustle of sea grape leaves revealed a three-foot-long green iguana. On the island’s more rugged southern side, a few more of the lizards could be heard scampering in the underbrush and, in one spot, it appears they have constructed several sandy pits.
Remember when all the iguanas froze to death a few years ago? Well, they’re back, and they’re living the island lifestyle.
Also on display are herons, ospreys, and the aforementioned dolphins. Peer into the water to find juvenile barracuda hovering over sand and seagrass. Look carefully and you may also discover shelled and shell-less invertebrates, such as the bulbous sea hare. The sea floor is teeming with hidden life.
You might want to avoid looking too carefully on land, as that is where the trash accumulates. With the constant flow of the tides, and no crew to clean up -- as happens on the popular beaches every morning -- the plastic bits and beer-related paraphernalia accumulate here in large numbers.
Visitors contribute their waste as well. On this day, we found an abandoned, flattened tent. It appeared to be a recent discard, as around it were cooked pieces of chicken, with meat still on the bone. One older-looking bone was picked clean and had a hoof, like that of a goat.
The island has several trashcans, including some maroon tubs with labels identifying them as 265 pounds of “Greek Golden Peppers.” This is a smart way to reuse a resource. Now, if we could only get people to toss their trash into these cans. (For more on the subject, see Crystal Brewe’s “Kids and the City” column.)
Once I saw those four dolphins offshore, however, nothing else mattered. I hopped in my kayak to follow them, watching the water spray from their blowholes as they exhaled a deep “whoosh.” I got close for a moment, and then they simply “dolphined” away.
I thought that a day on the bay couldn’t get much better than that. And then it did, when the single dolphin breached no more than 50 feet away from me -- a massive gray body clearing the water, arching forward in an elegant arc, then landing hard on its back. Splash! Splash!
That was amazing. I wondered if anyone had seen it from the land. Someone did, and called out to me. That was pretty amazing, too.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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