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Cool Sea Creature Encounters!!! Manta Ray!

Hi Everyone!!! Welcome Back!!!

I’m finally just sitting down to write last weeks blog. Thought I would never get a chance to get to it! Was busy doing birthday party adventures over the weekend and a little bit of fishing and before I knew it, this weeks adventure was under way! Oh well, what can you say? Time flies when your having FUN! Last week we had a small group of adventurers, only 3, but we had a blast all the same. We had some last minute cancellations the night before the week started, and I didn’t bother to make any calls to try and fill the spaces at the last second. I thought it would be kind of nice to have just a few of us going for a change. And I’m happy we did! I know AdventureRachel, Neil and Hagan sure had fun checking everything we found and caught, up close and personal. Like this really cool mantis shrimp we found crawling around outside its burrow on the Big Sandbar.

A cool mantis shrimp

This was the very first time I have ever seen one out and about in the day time and it was a really great find! You have to be extremely careful when picking these up, best not to at all, as they can give you a painful stick with their sharp dagger like claws. We always see their burrows in the sand around the sandbar but rarely do we ever see them peeking out at us, much less crawling about. Wish I could find one like this on every weekly adventure! Like all shrimp, mantis shrimp also have the capability of slapping their tails closed. The big difference with this species is that they also have sharp razor like edges along their hard tail with a few big needle like spines to boot. Commercial fisherman who catch these shrimp sometimes call them “thumb splitters” for good reason. Either way, I was happy to find it, and we checked it out up close before letting it go.

Mantis shrimp close-up

Every morning we spent an hour or so walking the Big Sandbar and exploring the shallows like there was no tomorrow. We had a full moon coming up and the tide was exceptionally low. The bar was exposed for hundreds of yards in every direction and it didn’ take us long to find some big Cushion Starfish that were bright red in color. You could see them in the shallows at least 100 yards away. The Kids would race to get them, sometimes stopping along the way to check something else out they didn’t see at first. It was just great and we had a blast finding one big starfish after another. I know AdventureRachel sure had FUN sporting her new starfish “hat”. It seemed to fit just right!!!

Rachel's new hat

Every single day we stopped at the Sandbar to explore. We found fighting conchs, box crabs, blue claw crabs and hermit crabs galore. We even found some really cool shells and living scotch bonnets that I rarely see. Netted olive shells and bubble shells were every where leaving long burrows thru the sand. But the kids always seemed to love finding the starfish best, and every morning we found a bunch!!! We found two different species of beaded starfish, a few small brittle starfish, some nice big Cushion Starfish and quite a few 9 armed starfish that we all loved to hold. A few of the 9 armed starfish had previously lost the tips of some of their legs and you could see where they were all growing back. We all thought that was cool! I know AdventureHagan had Fun wearing a few starfish stuck to his shirt, before he let them go.

Hagan and starfish

Every afternoon we would take a swim at the Rock Garden and check out all the fish and search under rocks for swimming crabs, rock crabs, brittle starfish, blennies and what ever else we could find. Occasionally we would discover a really big swimming crab that would dart out from the rocks right under our feet. AdventureNeil and Hagan would give chase and eventually catch it in their hand net. It was a fun and exciting thing to watch as they tried to get it out of the net by the back leg without getting pinched. Half the time I would come to the rescue, but more often than naught they would get it on their own. Even Rachel would come up with a big crab in her net as well!

finding crabs and conchs

After a while we would take a break from this and swim about and look for some big queen conchs and see who could find the biggest. They can be found in a variety of sizes though most are in the 4 to 6 inch range. Every now and then one of us would come up with a mature conch that had a beautiful pink and yellow interior and we all loved that. This past week we found dozens of conchs right up next to the rocks feeding on algae and it wasn’t long before AdventureNeil came up with a really nice big one that won the contest. Nice job Neil! I thought I was going to win it for a while!

Neil finds a nice queen conch

Thursday was our fishing day, and as usual we had non-stop action the minute our lines were in the water! And I mean from the very first second! If you didn’t have a fish on within 3 seconds of hitting the bottom then your bait was gone. We all caught fish one right after the other and sometimes all at once ! And that’s just the way I love it! Over and over and over. Fish Fish Fish!!! It just doesn’t get any better than that! We started out fishing the artificial reef north of Phil Foster Park and it wasn’t long before AdventureRachel, Neil and Hagan were standing side by side, each with their very own fish! It was just great!!!

trio of fisherman

After an hour here of catching grunts, tomtates, sailors choice, porgies, seargent majors, long-spined filefish and a few cuban hogfish we decided to move the boat a bit over and try a new spot. The very first fish that AdventureHagan hooked was a nice big Ceasars Grunt and as he was fighting to bring it in to the boat a great big barracuda decided to have part of it for lunch. The line went screaming off his reel for about 10 seconds and then the fight was over. He reeled in what was left of his big grunt and we all checked out what that nice big hungry barracuda had done. I could tell AdventureHagan thought that was about as exciting as things could get! We all did!

Hagan's half eaten grunt

A few minutes after this we started catching lane snappers one right after the other until the group was tired of reeling in so many fish! From here we spent the last hour going out to the beach to do some beach combing and a bit of snorkeling along the shoreline. On the way down the beach we found a small boat that had run ashore some time in the past week. It was totally filled up with sand and sitting high and dry on the beach. The kids wanted to stop and check it out so we did. We anchored our boat and swam in to the beach. A few seconds later the kids were sitting in the old boat pretending they were driving and getting ready to run aground. No doubt they were having FUN! They were screaming with laughter the whole time!

boat aground

The last few minutes of the day we took a quick walk down the beach to do some beach combing and check out the tracks left by big sea turtles coming up on to the beach to lay eggs. There were quite a few around and some of the tracks were tremendous. On the way back to the boat a ghost crab went scurrying down the beach in front of us and we all gave chase. It took a while for us to catch up with it but we finally tired it out and it sat still just long enough for AdventureRachel to pick it up. It was great to watch. Nice job Rachel!

Rachel with a ghost crab

The next morning we went down to Little Munyon Island to collect some sea urchins and see what else we could find. We came up with quite a few different color combinations and some really nice big bright pink ones. Most of the ones we found were of the green variety and it wasn’t long before every one of us was holding them by the handfuls. In some places there were so many you had to be careful to look first before you sat down in the shallows. I learned that the hard way. They make a tough cushion to sit on! Ouch! Either way, we had a blast and it was great finding so many.

sea urchin trio

From here we decided to do some seine netting in the shallow grass flats. After just a few pulls of the net we had come up with some nice juvenile barracudas, a cool juvenile flounder, some small needlefish, a couple of pipefish, a sharpnosed and a checkerboard puffer, a bunch of filefish, mojarras, pinfish, juvenile lane and yellowtail snapper, a small hogfish, pink shrimp and grass shrimp and best of all, a dwarf sea horse. It wasn’t much bigger than a dime. We always love finding these! It was just great and we all loved checking them out before letting them go.

We find a Dwarf Seahorse!

With the very last pull of the net we came up with one really nice big blue claw crab that sat and waved its claws menacingly at us just daring us to try and pick it up. I carefully slid my hand along the backside of its carapace and picked it up by the base of its swimming leg. I showed everyone the proper technique without getting pinched, and asked if anyone wanted to pick it up for a photo op. AdventureNeil was the only taker brave enough to give it a try. I watched carefully to make sure he didn’t get pinched and a few seconds later he had it firmly in his grip. You can tell that this crab is sure capable of giving you one heck of a pinch! Nice Job Neil! Way to go!

Neils big blue crab

The last morning we spent snorkeling at the Rock Garden and chasing pufferfish and then as the tide went out, we motored over to the Big Sandbar, hopped out and began to explore the bar. The tide was so low we could walk for hundreds of yards in any direction. It was just great and we found all kinds of cool shells, sea urchins, box crabs and more. We found two different species of beaded starfish and a pile of 9 armed starfish. Every where we looked we seemed to find another starfish! We moved most of them into deeper water and kept a few just long enough to take some pictures before letting them go. We had a ball finding so many and having FUN all the while!!!

starfish trio and group

We decided to spend the last hour of the day going back out to the beach. Over the past few weeks I had seen some really nice big and beautiful Manta Rays swimming just a short distance from the beach. I was hoping that we might see another one and if we were really lucky, have a chance to get in for a wonderful manta encounter. Though they may be big, they are totally harmless, have no venemous barbs and feed mainly on small fish and plankton. Lucky for us, today was our day!!! A short distance ahead was a nice big manta ray, maybe10 feet wide from wingtip to wingtip, swimming in about 4 feet of water. We motored the boat ahead and quietly got in. A few seconds later we had this wonderful creature swim right up and past us and did we EVER LOVE THAT!!!

swimming with a manta ray

We did this over and over until it was time to go. I can tell you nobody was ready to call it a day when it was finally time to head home!!! We just never wanted it to end!!! We had such a great time and such a great week!!! I just wish it could have lasted for ever!!! None of us was ready for Summer to be over!!! Good thing for me I have one week left to do it all over again!!! I have a small group coming all the way from Hungary, and I know its going to be Great!!! I just can’t wait!!!

See you soon!!!

Let’s Go Have Some Fun!!!


Sea Creature Encounters, Big and Small !!!

Hi Everyone! Welcome back!!!

We’ve just finished up another week of FUN and Adventure and let me tell you it was one of the best! We had so much FUN I don’t even know where to begin!!! It does seem that every week just gets better and better or maybe we are just getting lucky, but either way I LOVE IT!!! All week long we had the coolest encounters with all kinds of sea creatures both big and small! No matter where we went or under which rock we looked, we found something COOL! I think AdventureMandy summed this week up best when I asked the group at the end of the day, ‘Well, Did you have Fun?” And her response was, “This was AWESOME!!! This is the BEST camp I’ve ever been too!!! ” My thoughts exactly Mandy!!! I couldn’t have said it better!!!

Jack with a ghost crab

We began the first day stopping by the Big Sandbar. The tide was dead low and we all wanted to jump out and explore the bar to see what we could find. We hadn’t been out of the boat for more than a minute before we found something we liked or were fascinated with! Wherever we walked we found blue crabs scurrying by, or baby’s ear mollusks burrowing in the sand. As we walked we would occasionally stop to check out the Mantis shrimp and tube worm tunnels or pick up a handful of fighting conchs to watch for a bit. We kept our eyes open for starfish and before long we found a few. We came up with two beaded starfish, one big Cushion Starfish and shortly after that, we found a nice, medium sized 9 armed starfish that we loved! Some of the legs were shorter than others and we could see it was in the process of regenerating and growing new legs which we all found to be really neat! I know Mandy, Mac and Jack had a good time finding this one!

Mandy, Mac and jack

As we loaded up in the boat to head over to the Rock Garden to snorkel, we noticed a thin wispy water spout coming out of the very edge of beautiful cloud bank a ways offshore. We stopped and watched it develop a bit bigger than disappear in a blink of an eye as the cloud bank moved to the south. We thought that was just great too! No trouble for us! The minute we got in the water we were seeing fish by the thousands. Every where we looked there were FISH, FISH, FISH!!! And did we ever love that! While watching a school of parrotfish swim by one of the kids found a big slimy sea cucumber which we all took turns checking out. And did we ever enjoy that too! I know AdventureMandy sure did!!!

Mandy with a slimy sea cucmber

As we snorkeled along the edge of the Rock Garden we saw dozens of short-nosed puffers and quite a few checkerboard pufferfish. As usual, we all wanted to try and catch one to watch it “blow up” with air or water to more than twice its normal size. Chasing after and catching pufferfish has to be one of the most favorite things the kids love to do! We don’t always get them, but we sure LOVE trying! Sometimes it takes a combined effort to be successful. I know AdventureBobby was sure happy when it came his turn to get one in the net! We all were! Nice job!

Bobby with a checkerboard puffer

As some of the kids chased puffers or watched the thousands of fish swim by, others would search or turn over small rocks looking for crabs, shrimp, brittle starfish or anything else they could find. Every now and then someone would come up with a few small stone crabs or porcelain crabs or a nice big queen conch or two. But the prize they were after was a nice big swimming crab! Every now and then I would hear a squeal of glee and turn around just in time to see some big crab dart about scurrying from rock to rock or underneath a nearby foot. You have to be quick of foot and hand to get a big one in your net. All the while not getting pinched! Check out the impressive pincers on this one that AdventureJack was lucky to catch!

Jack catches a swimming crab

Another day we went to Little Munyon Island to search along Sea Urchin Shoals to see how many different color variations of short-spined urchins we could find. The ones most commonly found are the dark green varieties, but my favorite color phase is the bright white ones with rich dark purple spines. We found sea urchins in every size and color! There were so many urchins you could collect them by the armfuls. And by the armfuls we did! It looked like it had rained urchins all night long! On this day they literally covered the bottom and we picked them up one after another checking each one out! We loved when they would stick to our hands using their tiny little tube feet, and we would all share when a smaller one or new color variety was found.

Raining sea urchins

The latter part of the day we spent seine netting the shallow grass flat to the east. The tide had gone out and the flats were exposed like never before. This gave us a rare opportunity to seine in areas that were normally too deep. Here the sea grass was thick and luxuriant. The perfect home for fish! With the very first pull of the net we brought in some wonderful “treasures” that we placed in our tank of sea water to check out a bit later. They came in all sizes. You name it and I think we found it! The group loved to sort through the net the minute it reached the beach! And me too of course!

Low tide seine netting

The second pull of the net thru the grass flats brought in the typical assortment of juvenile fish ranging from tiny barracudas to filefish, mojarras, striped grunts, ceasars grunts, lane snappers, yellowtail snappers, pinfish, sea grass shrimp, pink shrimp and lucky for us, some striped burrfish! This fish are in the blowfish family of fishes and are striped to match the sea grass and covered in short spines. They can be handled easily from underneath if you are careful to keep your hands and fingers out of the way of their mouths. AdventureJacob, Harper and William loved taking a close-up look at these!

Jacob, Harper, William and striped burrfish

It seemed with every pull of the net we would come up with something different. It is amazing how many species of fish and juvenile fish depend on the grass flats to provide food and shelter until they are big enough to live on the reef. Many species of fish will never leave the grass flats their entire lives. This is the perfect habitat for slow swimming pufferfish and on this day we were finding them by the dozens. And were we ever happy with that! AdventureMandy, Mac and Bobby sure had FUN checking out this checkerboard pufferfish up close and personal!

Mandy, Mac, Bobby and checkerboard puffer

On the last pull of the net we came up with a juvenile long-spined porcupinefish and that was the very first one we have ever caught here. The minute the net came in to the beach this two inch long porcupinefish puffed up in all its glory and turned itself into a round little ball of quills. We absolutely loved that! This species of porcupinefish has the longest spines of any around, and even though it was tiny, we had to be very careful to hold it gingerly. All in all, we found 4 different species of blowfish or pufferfish in one pull of the net, and let me tell you that was just GREAT! AdventureHarper and Mandy loved the striped burrfish and long-spined porcupinefish best!

Harper, Mandy and porcupinefish

Of course, Thursday was our fishing day and it is mighty hard to beat the FUN and EXCITEMENT that we have on this day!!! Most days the kids will have a fish on within a few seconds of their bait hitting the bottom! On this day it was no different!!! We spent a little bit of time fishing the artificial reef and caught porkfish, grunts, snappers, tomtates, porgies, parrotfish and more! I took them to my secret snapper hole a bit later and we caught lane snappers non stop till we were almost too tired to bring any more in!!! And that’s just the way I love it!!!

Great day of fishing!

It always seems on most trips the smallest person in the boat catches the biggest fish, and on this day it was no different. This was AdventureMandy’s first day of fishing and I think she stopped counting how many fish she caught once she reached about 40 or so. She seemed to be catching big fish one after another and sometimes I was wondering whether she would get them in or whether they would pull her out of the boat. She had quite a tussle with a few big fish but eventually got them in! I absolutely loved watching that! Great job Mandy! Nice big grunt too!

Mandy catches a ceasars grunt

The last half hour of the day we went back to the Big Sandbar and romped around in the shallows. The boys dug trenches in the sand like they were building an irrigation project and the girls played in the warm pool of water we call the Hot Tub. As we headed back to the boat to call it a day we came upon a large Cushion starfish at the edge of the bar. We all had a chance to check the starfish out and take some cool photos along the way!

sandbar starfish

When we arrived back at the dock we were met with Icecream bars to celebrate AdventureJacobs birthday, and the cool thing about that was not only did we love that ice cream, but AdventureJacob and I celebrate the very same birthday! That’s July 8th, so Happy Birthday again Jacob! You ROCK! Nice sharing a birthday with another Adventurer!!!

We began the last day going back to the Rock Garden to enjoy the fabulous snorkeling and of course spent a good bit of time chasing and netting fish and crabs. We always love that!!! I noticed the ocean was absolutely flat calm so I decided to take the kids for a short jaunt offshore looking for some loggerhead and green sea turtles to show them. On the way out we passed over a nice sargassum seaweed line so we stopped to dip net a bit to see what we could find. With the very first scoop we caught a half dozen filefish, numerous shrimp and crabs and a lovely juvenile long spined porcupinefish that filled itself with air as if right on cue! Harper was the first to check it out and I could tell she loved it!!! We all did!

Harper with a long spined porcupinefish

We all took turns checking out the porcupinefish and watched how cool it was to see it fill itself up with air to more than double its size. Being able to double its size and protrude hundreds of tiny sharp spines is a great way of preventing oneself from being eaten. Makes it also difficult to hold even if all you want to do just take a quick peek before leting it go! When fully grown this porcupinefishes spines can be over 2 inches long and needle sharp, making it almost impossible to be eaten or held! I know AdventureJason sure enjoyed checking it out when it came to his turn. Me too of course!

Jason with a long-spined porcupinefish

While all this FUN was going on a great big loggerhead sea turtle surfaced right by the boat and we all got a chance to see one right up close! And let me tell you, We Loved That Too!!! After this we went to the beach and anchored a few feet offshore. Most of us snorkeled while AdventureJoseph dug a huge hole in the sand to sit in. A second or two later I heard a yelp and watched as Joseph jumped up out of the hole with a huge Ghost Crab following closely behind! And “behind” is the key word! I think he even left a mark! How about it Joseph? I laughed so hard I could hardly take a picture! In a wink of an eye, Joseph quickly chased it down and held it up carefully for us to see. Nice Find Joseph!!! Well, I’m not really sure who found who, but it was great entertainment all the same! I loved it. 🙂

Joseph with his ghost crab

Just as we were getting ready to call it a day and slowly swimming back to the boat, a huge friendly manatee swam right up to us as if to say ,”hello” and gave us another BIG THRILL!!! He hung around for a little bit, then moseyed off down the beach. We loved that so much we had to get in the boat and go by and take one last look before heading home! I can tell you none of us wanted to go back that day!!! It was GREAT to have such a wonderful encounter! I wish a big friendly manatee would come by for a visit everyday!!!

Coming by to say hello

On the way back we saw another big manatee swimming right down the beach in crystal clear, shallow water. And of course, we stopped to take a look at that one too. The amazing thing about what we saw that would have knocked our socks off if we were wearing any…. Following closely behind was a huge Manta Ray that swam right up to us looking like a Bomber coming in for a landing!!! Let me tell you, WE LOVED THAT TOO!!! So much so that I forgot to take a picture! Oh well… It was just unbelievable! What a way to end the week, any week!!!

We had Sea Creature Encounters, Big and Small, all week long!!! It just doesn’t get any better than that!!! How LUCKY we were!!! One things certain, I just can’t wait till next week to do it all over again!!! Hope you’ll join us and be a part of the ADVENTURE!!! I know its going to be GREAT!!! See you soon!!!

Let’s Go Have Some Fun!!!


Manta Ray Adventure!

Welcome Back All,

We just finished up the first half of another fabulous adventure session and like all the rest, we had a really great time! The water clarity this week has been poor thanks to all the fresh water runoff being drained into the intra-coastal waterway from the left over remnants of Tropical Storm Fay. This gave us an opportunity to do something different instead of spend most of our time snorkeling at the Rock Garden, even though I would have absolutely loved it!. Visibility just isn’t there right now! Oh well… first time all summer it didn’t look like a swimming pool. But this sure didn’t prevent us from having a wonderful fun filled time!!! Not this gang of adventurers!

Group Photo

I have a whole new group this week and everybody is absolutely GREAT and totally at home in the water! It just doesn’t get any better than this! Groups like this make me truly love and appreciate my job! Right on…You guys can swim!

I arrived bright and early at the dock and was joined by AdventureZach, Matthew, Max, Doug, Ben and Preston. Everyone was excited and ready to go, including me! We loaded up, stashed our gear and headed straight to the sandbar to see what we could find. The tide was really low and made it perfect for exploring. We had no sooner gotten out of the boat before we found some nice large Cushion Sea starfish. Big bright red ones too, really great! Shortly after this we found some nice juvenile mantis shrimp crawling around outside of their burrows which is unusual in the day time and cool to see. There were plenty of blue crabs around to keep us all busy having fun catching them!  Occasionally one would latch on and give me a really good pinch which everybody loved watching. Of course nobody wanted to help me get it off my fingers when the time came to let it go… On the way back to the boat we stopped and jumped in the Deep Hole and found a really large Beaded Sea Starfish which was a nice find. Largest I’ve seen all summer. We all checked it out then released it and swam back to the boat and loaded up to go to a new spot.

We motored out the Inlet and around the south jetty and dropped anchor in 4 feet of clear water.  There were large schools of anchovies and glass minnow just inches from the beach swimming right in the trough. They blackened the water for 200 hundred yards down the beach. They were so thick you couldn’t see though them. Every now and then a big snook would go by and take a mouthful which was great to watch just inches from your face. Really exciting! We grabbed some dip nets and waded in to see who could catch the most with a single scoop. I think I took the cake with 26 in just one swipe. Everybody was having fun and catching fish. Even the sea gulls around us were loving it, grabbing our escapees fresh out of the net. I’m not sure who was having more fun, us or the birds, but we were all making nose trying to catch fish! Every now and then we would come up with a big lady crab in the net to add excitement to the chase. We found a nice big one with no claws and this gave us a chance to take turns holding it and check it out. Its really neat to see how well they camouflage in the sand. Can hardly see them once they dig down a bit. Nice find.

Today there was a nice little swell coming in that was perfect for body surfing and we spent an hour or two having an absolute blast surfing the waves into the beach. Was great exercise too. After this we had about an hour left so we called it quits and went back to the boat for some snacks and refreshments and decided to motor along the beach down towards the Breakers Hotel. We never got there!!!  And boy were we lucky!!!

Body Surfing

About half way there I spotted 3 big black shapes in shallow water swimming in formation heading right at us. They were about 12 feet wide and looked like stealth bombers moving down the beach! They were Manta rays, and BIG ones at that! Just unbelievable!!! Big, beautiful, totally harmless, gentle giants that were just waiting for us to get in and take a look! Many times they would swim right up to the boat, take a look at us, then slowly pirouette and glide away. Just incredibly beautiful to watch and such a lucky opportunity! When I asked if anybody wanted to get in and check them out, you know the answer to that! AdventureZach was ready in a heartbeat and the first one in. My kind of Adventurer!! On the first encounter he had a nice cobia come by and look at him that was swimming right next to the ray! It didn’t take long for AdventureDoug, Ben, Preston, Max and Matthew to follow. Talk about having fun!!! We were having it by the truck loads now! It just doesn’t get any better than this!!! What an opportunity for us to experience!

Manta Ray!

How an hour could go by so quickly I will never know, but we were having fun like there was no tomorrow! When I looked at my watch it was past time to go, so we hurriedly got aboard and headed back. I can guarantee you no one wanted to go back now! We were just too busy having FUN! This was the first time all summer for an unbelievably wonderful Manta Ray encounter. On the way back I felt like we were living life right, AND LOVING IT!!! Been thinking about it all day and smiling non stop! Thank you!!! Leaves me longing for more, more fun that is!!!

I just can’t wait till tomorrow! Going to have 2 more adventurers join us and we’re going to go out and Have Some Fun!  Stay tuned…  Who knows what we may discover, but I can guarantee you one thing, we are going to have a ball and loads of fun along the way!!!

See you on the return…