Dr. Robert Norman, Clinical Professor, Dermatology, Nova Southeastern University
Let’s explore a freshwater region of Florida while learning how to read the landscape.
On a recent field trip to Caladesi Island State Park with the Friends of Pinellas Master Naturalists, I once again enjoyed the magic of this national treasure. We gathered and took the ferry over with leaders Jeanne Murphy, Brian Lane, and guest instructor Marty Main, the founder of the Florida Master Naturalists Program.
Once we all got off the boat, we listened to nature talks and explored this unique coastal park. The upland habitat is maritime hammock with live oaks, cabbage palms, and wax myrtle and is entwined with mesic flatwoods of slash pines and saw palmettos. We found beach elders, sea oats, flowering cacti, and robust mangrove trees. We saw ospreys and gopher tortoises, all part of the Caladesi Island wildlife community.
We were eager to head to the beach and we moved on to explore on a pristine May morning. Once we arrived, we explored the wrack, formed when natural material washes onto the beach and includes sea grasses, algae, and some invertebrates such as sponges and soft corals. The wrack serves as its own ecosystem within the greater coastline, providing a food chain of nutrients for our fellow inhabitants to live and feed and prosper. As the wrack decomposes, it goes back into the surf and serves as a nursery for a variety of fish species. The wrack that is deposited higher may play an important role in the creation of dunes.
Each of us discussed various items we found during our explorations, from turtle fossils to egg casings. Several of the participants offered their expertise in birding and migration patterns, tidal influences, and natural history. Reefs formed by oysters and extensive beds of manatee, shoal, and turtle grasses could be seen offshore.
You can get to Caladesi Island State Park by passenger ferry launching from a dock on Honeymoon Island to the marina, take a private boat or kayak, or walk via Clearwater Beach from the south. Once you arrive, you can enjoy the picnic pavilions, use the bathhouses, and visit the park concession stand. Maybe you want to explore the island’s pristine white beaches composed of crystalline quartz sand and go for a swim, snorkeling, or shelling. If you like to kayak, take a trip through the mangrove forest. You can also walk the three miles of nature trails and visit the historic Scharrer Homestead.
Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island were originally part of a large barrier island until 1921 when a hurricane created Hurricane Pass and split the barrier island into two parts. Although Caladesi is still referred to as an island, Hurricane Elena filled in Dunedin Pass in 1985 and now Caladesi Island shares its island geography with Clearwater Beach.
On Caladesi you have a great chance to visit one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in the state. With a total of 650 upland acres, more than 1800 acres of surrounding mangroves and grass flats, and over 3 miles of sandy beach, you can fill up a day with all kinds of activities or just sit on the beach and read a good book and listen to the gentle sound of the waves. What are you waiting for?
Before you leave, consider going to the park concession for a cold drink or hot dog. You can buy copies of the delightful memoir (written at the age of 87) and unique cookbook by homesteader Myrtle Scharrer Betz (Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise: The Story of Caladesi Island and Caladesi Cookbook: Recipes from a Florida Lifetime, 1895-1992).
Get out and enjoy the Great Florida
Dr. Norman is an advanced master naturalist graduate of the FMNP program from UF and a board-certified dermatologist based in Tampa and Riverview. He can be reached at 813-880-7546.