Zane Gray Creek, better known as an offshore mangrove island and channel, is located slightly off Long Key, ocean side. Along with an abundance of mangroves, there was an amazing amount of biodiversity throughout. Starting from the bottom of the food chain, we found numerous amounts of algae and seagrass. To name just a couple, we spotted Caulerpa sp., a feathery-like strand of invasive green alga, and Udotea sp., a more fan-like alga that moves with water current. Moving on to seagrasses, two species were identified. Thalassia was seen in abundance around the mangrove island and was clearly a dominant species on the sea floor. Mixed throughout, there was a good amount of Halodule sp., or shoal grass. Moving forward, there was a small amount of hard coral and sponges lined throughout the sea floor and in the mangrove roots. What really caught our eye however, was the vast amount of fish and invertebrates. A range from juvenile mangrove snapper all the way to about a 5 foot nurse shark. From Casiopea, or upside down jellyfish, to parrot fish and scrawled cowfish. Even the smaller organisms were spotted, such as hydroids, tunicates, and spaghetti worms. A majority of the wild life here was seen to be either juvenile or in intermediate stages. This may be caused by the protection and nursery-like structure formed from the intricate tangling of the mangrove roots. Overall, it was an interesting place to snorkel due the vast amounts of not only animal life, but also plant life.
When we snorkeled Zane Gray, it was our 5th site and was conducted on May 17th. It was later afternoon, around 3:30-4:00 p.m., and partly cloudy overhead. The water depths ranged from roughly 2 feet deep down to about 10 feet in depth around the mangrove island. We were very fortunate in the fact that our water visibility was very clear and that we could see roughly 20 feet ahead into the water. It was also nice that the water was calm and there was almost no wave action or turbulence to cause turbidity.
There was another mangrove island that we visited on the Florida Bay side, called Koch Key. There were a few differences and similarities between the ocean and bay locations. To start with the differences, we noticed different water qualities. The ocean side had better water clarity and greater depth. Where Koch Key stayed very shallow, Zane Gray dropped down to roughly 10 feet. Another difference was the amount of biodiversity and size of it. The bay side presented a small variety of very young fish and up and coming juveniles. The ocean side presented mostly juveniles and growing fish, along with a great variety of mangrove fish, including a nurse shark. Moving forward, there were a couple of similarities as well. To start, the two islands were composed of mostly the same type of mangroves, that being red. Also, there was a similar showing of seagrasses, Thalassia being the most abundant. Finally, it was seen in both sites that the fish like to stay near or within the mangrove roots for either protection or feeding. If we had to decide between a site to visit again, it would be Zane Gray Creek due to its depth variance and the great amount of biodiversity.
Photo credit: Corey Corrick
By Ryan Lusardi and Gage Wilson