Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Elusive Sawfish in the Florida Keys

Sawfish, one of the rarest of marine oddities, are almost never spotted in the Florida Keys – even though the seagrass beds so extensive here are prime habitat.  But earlier this month, an Ohio family snorkeling in shallow waters off Sugarloaf Key, spotted an immature specimen that was estimated to be around ten feet long – and documented the close-enough-to-touch moment in photographs.  A juvenile at its size, adults of the species can reach 25 feet.
As part of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, scientists solicit reports from the public for inclusion in the first International Sawfish Encounter Database, hoping for insight into the elusive creature. 

The sawfish is actually a unique type of ray, sporting a distinctive saw-like snout with protruding tooth-like scales (which are not replaced if lost), called a rostrum.  Like both sharks and rays, it belongs to a group of fish called elasmobranchs, having cartilaginous skeletal systems, no swim bladders, and reliant on their oil-filled livers for buoyancy.
Though many species of sawfish are distributed worldwide, Largetooth and Smalltooth Sawfish are the only two inhabiting US waters.  Overfishing, habitat destruction, and naturally low reproductive rates have resulted in their decline.    In 2003, they were placed on the federal endangered species list.  Since then, researchers at the museum have made an active effort to educate the public to the database compilation program, encouraging every sighting to be reported. 

There is no estimate of the number of sawfish remaining in the wild, and harvest is strictly prohibited.  Southwest Florida and the Keys is significant habitat for the animals, and when captured, they are tagged by either traditional or more sophisticated – and costly – satellite-tracking devices.  George Burgess, Director of the shark research program, reports that the tagging of sawfish in the seagrass beds of the Keys “can be very important for the adult fish” – as borne out in this month’s sighting.
Commenting on the rarity of such an encounter, he said, "These guys have always been fairly rare because that's the way the marine world works -- larger predators are always found in lower numbers because they need more territory.  As scientists, we never did a good job recording where and when sawfish are found. Then we discovered they were disappearing on us."                 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Love Locks: a new Tropical Inn tradition

When we restored the Pineapple Lane Cottage, expanded the garden, and installed the hot tub a few years ago, we brought in lots of landscaping and covered the open spaces with brick pavers, blending the newer section with the older one, where the pool is located.  At the time, it still looked sparse, so we planted a Ficus tree (F. benjaminia, the common houseplant variety) that we "had on hand" between the cottage and the spa, to sort of break up the expanse and create some private areas.

Since then, the Ficus has outgrown its space, putting down aerial roots, its canopy spreading to shade out the understory plants.  It has truly "gone to banyan", as is said colloquially, prompting a re-thinking of its role in the lower garden.  (A banyan tree can grow up to about 100 feet tall and spread over several acres -- what were we thinking???) 

In recent days, we were discussing with our Czech “maintenance engineer”, Jiri, the logistics of bringing down the Ficus and replacing it with some "found art" elements that have been collected here and there, to create a garden sculpture, of sorts.  Upon noticing that one of the components, a rusty old parrot cage, had a lock but no key, he inquired as to whether to cut it off before repainting. 

He shared with us a quaint European tradition in his home country:  love locks.  Couples, in an endearing gesture of devotion to one another, attach padlocks to public edifices, most commonly bridges, fences, and gates.   In Europe, this is a tradition that emerged in the early 2000s, but the practice is said to harken back to China, many centuries ago. Symbolically, when the lock snaps shut, closed forever, it captures an emotion ... a location in time, binding that part of the participants' biographies, shared and sealed forever in that moment.

In Paris, perhaps the most romantic city on Earth, the custom persists, in spite of city officials’ repeated attempts to discourage it (removal by bolt cutters) in the name of aesthetics.  In Moscow, the legislative council has given up, providing couples with metal trees on Luzhkof Bridge to declare their devotion.  The practice has even spread to the Wild Pacific Trail, near Vancouver, Canada, where there has been some dissention between those affixing the locks and those declaring that the practice mars the natural environment.

So ... you can see where this is going.  Since the Tropical Inn is all about romantic getaways with that Significant Someone … it’s a “natural” -- the beginning of a new tradition!  From now on, guests at the inn are invited to symbolize their own everlasting love by attaching a lock to the newly renovated bird cage that houses a pair of “flying pigs” -- positioned "just so", to replace the banyan tree!  

Bring along the most distinctive, vintage or new padlock you can find.  We have some marking pens here, to affix your names.  Or you may prefer to attach one of those heart-shaped pet ID tags to your lock, engraved with your names and date.  You can make those on the spot at larger pet supply stores.  Some good places to look for unique old locks are and – or if you’re of a more contemporary inclination, a shiny new Yale might be more to your liking.   Any will accomplish the purpose and be a welcome addition.  See you in the garden!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

World Book Night is April 23!

Do you love books?  Me too.  Do you think it's a real shame that technology is taking reading in an electronic direction, rendering the printed word a relic?  I agree.  Do you feel as if one of life's simple pleasures has slipped away, as neighborhood book stores have shuttered, one by one? Decidedly.

I recently wrote a blog about losing our book stores, here in Key West. Now we're down to just one.  Used to be, guests asked about the town's book stores as a tourist attraction.  Sadly, no more.

But wait!  There's a glimmer of hope!  Have you heard of World Book Night, when the national effort (it's actually a worldwide event) to promote reading is slated to give away a half-million books in 5000 communities "from Kodiak to Key West"?  If your home includes a bookshelf, you'll want to know more ... and maybe even sign up to participate in next year's event. Until then, I hope one of the Givers finds you -- they have some great titles to hand out!

Have a look at the World Book Night website, like them on Facebook, spread the word ... and tell everyone that you READ about it on the Tropical Inn's blog!

Monday, April 16, 2012

World Sailfish Championship in Key West

Excitement is building, and locals have been “practice fishing” for weeks now.  April 17 through 21, Bass Pro Shops sponsors the World Sailfish Championship right here on the Key West waterfront. Featuring a million dollar prize purse, the privilege of joining the competition comes with a threshold entry fee of $7700.00.   Over 400 amateur and professional anglers are anticipated to take part in the contest.
The tenth anniversary of the world-class event kicks off Tuesday evening at Mallory Square, attracting a global array of anglers. With payouts exceeding $1,000,000 to the top tournament winners, it is the world’s richest fishing competition, benefitting not only the coveted prize winners, but a variety of worthy charities, as well.
The serious fishing kicks off with some serious partying.  As the sun sinks over the horizon, the Keys’ own beloved “troprocker”, Howard Livingston, and his Mile Marker 24 Band will take the stage to entertain the crowd with a “Free Concert for the Keys”.   The public is invited to join in the festivities.
Then, bright and early Wednesday morning, the anglers will be headed to sea to test their mettle, while event spectators indulge in a multitude of shoreside diversions.

You've been looking for an excuse for a spontaneous getaway to Paradise.  Check for last minute lodging and event details, then head for the Keys!