Category Archives: #RatherBeInCourt

Giving Thanks

I suppose as a college student on her Thanksgiving holiday break I could be excused for wanting to sleep in a bit late today. Catch up on the “Z’s”, rest and all of that.

And, yet, I woke up just after 5:00 AM today and sure am thankful that I could not go back to sleep.

No Name Key was cool and quiet in the pre-dawn darkness. With a cup of coffee and my phone in hand I enjoyed the early morning from our back porch overlooking the mirror-like calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as the sun’s first light edged above the horizon. And what a sunrise it was! Filled with bright red, orange and yellow pasted against the black, blue and purple of the eroding night sky above and water below. No matter the reason for waking so early, I am most certainly thankful to have witnessed today’s Thanksgiving sunrise.

And I am thankful for the peace and quiet here on No Name. There are many reasons to protect places like No Name, a Federal wildlife refuge, and to keep them different from the developed places that increasingly surround us and the quiet is one of them. The frequent silence here is incredible and as dawn broke, it was only interrupted by the sound of the breeze blowing through the palm, mahogany and mangrove tree leaves. Literally not one other sound but the breeze blowing through the trees for nearly an hour.

I am also thankful to have seen No Name’s nature vividly come alive right before my eyes as that sun crept even higher. The first sign of life was a Key Deer walking quietly along the peninsula that is part of our property. My view was her reflection in the still water through a window-like opening in the mangrove trees. No sooner than I saw her reflection I could see the rest of her family, a buck and a doe, farther up the peninsula where they had spent the night under a star filled sky. I sure am thankful that we have laws protecting animals such as the Key Deer and the places that they live in like No Name.

As those deer disappeared in the distance I began to hear the unmistakable sound of a bird’s claws walking on the porch’s metal roof above me. I’ve heard that “tip-tap” many times before and knew it was the turkey vulture that so often is perched there so as to keep watch over the land below and anything that might move along it that qualifies as prey. Not long after hearing his claw steps he was airborne right in front of me, swooping back and forth perhaps 20 feet away. It was an incredible sight, his flight one way and back the other, but also an equally incredible sound as each turn led to a deep audible “swooping” as his wings caught the air while turning in the opposite direction. To have dawn’s silence broken by the sound of his flight, much less to see it up close, was a humbling reminder of nature’s perfection.

And perfectly fitting for a Thanksgiving morning is what led that bird to so elegantly swing back and forth; his unmistakable hunt for food. As the sun light became brighter I could see that the turkey vulture had spied his morning meal: a dead raccoon floating at the water’s edge under the mangrove branches.

It was a remarkable sight, the type of thing one could never fully experience buried in our phone or computer-driven virtual worlds. And as that thought sank in, another turkey vulture joined the meal. And then another and another and another yet again. By then the birds had dragged their meal up the bank and onto land to enjoy their feast together in a circle of life display that was simply perfect on Thanksgiving.

And that’s when the American alligator showed up to begin its Thanksgiving.

No Name is filled with many magical creatures including the American crocodile and its “cousin” the American alligator. This one in particular is a juvenile, about 4 feet long, and lives under our mangroves on the peninsula. I see it virtually every day in the early morning light and just before dark as it patrols the waters next to our home in search of food. And this morning it found a bounty worthy, well, of Thanksgiving. The turkey vultures, as numerous as they now were, did not have a chance against the young gator as she crawled up the bank and pulled what was now her meal into the murky water as you can see in the video below.

So many things to be thankful for again this year, and that starts with our amazing natural environment. From the peace and lively nature that is No Name Key, from my family and me, to you and yours, here’s to hoping that your Thanksgiving is filled with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving.

Why Did The Shark Cross The Road?

Sailed off to Antigua, It took her three days on a boat
Looking for some peace and quiet, Maybe keep her dreams afloat
But now she feels like A remora, With the school still close at hand
Just behind the reef are the big white teeth, Of the sharks that can swim on the land

“Fins” by Jimmy Buffett

It’s like that old joke and question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

We all know the answer: to get to the other side.

The fun and games aside, the real question is why and how is a shark swimming over a paved road on a perfect day here in sunny South Florida and what does that mean to the future of our economy, to millions of people who live and work here and to perhaps trillions of dollars of real estate?

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The picture you are looking at was taken September 26th, 2019 on Sugarloaf Key in the Lower Keys, less than 20 miles from Key West and less than 5 miles from my home on No Name Key. That’s salt water from the ocean covering much of the road at high tide. That should not, of course, be happening. When the road was built salt water never, ever rose to such a level as now happens more and more frequently.

Oh, and despite tons of hurricanes in the tropics this summer, there was not a storm in sight. Just a lovely sunny day in paradise that provides you with a picture of what South Florida’s future will look like as seas rise higher and higher. Today South Florida suffers from sunny day flooding six days a year. By 2045, we could see 380 sunny day flooding events per year, sometimes twice per day.

How much water covered the road you ask?

Well, it was enough salt water that the man who took this picture said,

“an 18 [inch] nurse shark swam across the road. Then realized water got much deeper and backed out and turned around.” – Walker M. Sr. (What’s Up Florida Keys? Facebook Group)

And while that might sound silly to some, it should strike us as alarming.

No, not the shark itself. Sharks are amazing creatures and the juvenilles like the one he saw are adorable. Just like the one I encountered this past summer while on board the R/V Garvin conducting research with the Field School in Biscayne Bay.

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What is alarming, or should be, is that we all know that sharks and other marine life are not supposed to be able to swim above and over our paved roads. Sadly, that is South Florida’s fate unless our society acts quickly and rids itself from the use of fossil fuels like coal and gasoline.

Sure, we can all stand around and act like this is normal. We can, and I suspect likely will, spend hundreds of billions of dollars on raising roads and sidewalks, using eminent domain laws to take property that can no longer be accessed or used and on and on under the flags of mitigation and resiliency. And, to be clear, we will need to work to mitigate the damage that our society’s use of carbon has already instilled into our atmosphere and oceans, an impact that science tells us will cause seas to rise at least two to three feet over the next few decades.

BUT unless and until we remove carbon emitting products from our daily lives (coal, gasoline and so forth) and rapidly shift to sustainable solutions, then this problem will only get worse and worse. And one day soon we will not be able to get to Sugarloaf Key. Or Miami Beach. Or the Everglades. Or the City of Miami. Or fill in the blank with your favorite place.

The politics of the past, protecting those that make, use and distribute fossil fuel oriented products (car makers, oil companies and public utilities) will only fatten the businesses and politicians wallets while the rest of us suffer. And when the suffering nears its end millions will be forced elsewhere and the sharks and pretty much everything else in the ocean that’s not been killed by then will swim freely everywhere.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

As the esteemed Caroline Lewis, founder of The CLEO Institute, said as she looked out over the massive crowd of young people attending today’s Climate Strike in Miami Beach, “we are going to need a bigger tent for all the people.” Mrs. Lewis has been on the vanguard of the climate change movement for at least a decade and, like myself, has rarely, if ever seen such a large, young and enthusastic crowd as was the case at Miami Beach City Hall, a community that is at risk of extinction from climate change.

Children from all over South Florida, public and private schools, those from schools that excused their absences and those from schools that did not, were in unison in demanding that adults in leadership positions, whether private industry or public office, take action to eliminate fossil fuels from our society.

And it was breathtaking to see.

With the old phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,” along with a brief video, I hope you will find inspiration in the faces and messages from people from all over South Florida.

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On Sunday I’m off to Tallahassee to continue fighting for our climate, but I’ll be traveling with the hope that I saw in the faces of young people at today’s strike. I have no doubt that the children here in South Florida and the millions that gathered around the globe today are up to the task of changing the polluted politics and solving our climate change crisis.

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