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CANOEING EDDY CREEK

CANAVERAL NATIONAL SEASHORE

by Dean Richard Pettit


   
Eddy Creek at Canaveral National Seashore is not really a creek at all. From discussions I've had with Biologists with the National Park service at the seashore headquarters in Titusville, Eddy Creek, the mangrove covered shoreline and islands around it are actually the remenants of an ancient inlet that connected the Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean over a thousand years ago. Tidal action through this inlet brought sand and sediment into the mosquito lagoon, creating the shoreline, islands, and shallow flats that make up the Eddy Creek area as you see it today. Mangroves and other species of shoreline vegetation took root creating an ideal habitat for wading birds, while seagrasses coverd the shallows, creating ideal fish habitat.
On December 27th, 2000 I decided to launch my 15 foot canoe, which I have named the "Redcanoe Titanic" (I'll save that story for another page!), at Eddy Creek to do a little exploration and photography.
To get to Canaveral Seashore and Eddy Creek from Titusville you have to go through the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, another of my favorite places to explore, fish, and do photography. I left my house right before sunrise and as I was driving out through the wetlands of the refuge the sun broke the horizon and cast it's glow on the water. I just had to stop and shoot this photo.
Shuttle Launch Pads from Canaveral National Seashore The Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge lands are actually owned by NASA and used for shuttle launch operations. This photo of the Shuttle Launch pads was taken on the way to Eddy Creek along the beach access road after the pay station ($5). There are several pull offs that you can stop along to look at the wetlands of Canaveral and the launch pads. The closer pad is designated as 39B while pad 39A lies farther in the background off to the right in this shot.
One of the hardest things for me to do in life is driving by the ocean and not stopping for a look. I grew up in Satellite Beach to the south of here and have been drawn to the beach ever since. So today I decided to stop and shoot a few frames of film before launching my canoe. Canaveral is unique on the east coast of Florida in that it is the longest stretch of undeveloped beach. From just north of the launch pads, Canaveral National Seashore stretches 24 miles north to New Smyrna Beach. Many miles are accessable only by foot along the beach.
The protection provided by NASA and the National Park Service has allowed the unique dune habitat to remain virtually undisturbed. The vegetation native to this habitat is vital to the dune as they prevent wind erosion, provide a buffer during hurricane season, and provide wildlife habitat. I've seen many species of perching birds in here, several raccoons and on one occasion, a bobcat.
Sea grapes are found in abundance along Canaveral Seashore, and are resistant to both wind and salt. Its fruit is edible though reportedly acidic. When mature, the grapes become red-violet in color. Several species of birds utilze them as food. The Timucaun Indians, who inhabited this area long ago may have used these as a food source.
Sea Oats 1 Sea Oats are named for their oat like appearance and are critical in stablizing the dunes of Canaveral Seashore. Their roots grow into a wide tangled mass that helps to protect the dunes from erosion. In fact, some oceanfront commuties are attempting to rebuild washed out dune lines by replanting with these. Sea Oats 2
This is one of 15 species of sargassum, a brown algae that floats due to the little round air bladders, and lives out in the open ocean. During periods of rough weather offshore large quantities of this algae can be blown up onto the shore of Canaveral. The weather had been pretty rough a few days before Christmas and on this day as I was walking over the boardwalk to the beach, three fishermen were leaving while complaining to me that huge quantities of this algae was making it impossible to fish.

Offshore, Sargassum provides critical habitat and cover to juvenile fish and to some other species that are uniquely adapted to life among it.

One thing I have done when swimming at Playalinda on calm days was to find a patch of this algae floating and grab it and slowly drag it through the water sideways. If you do this and look carefully, you will sometimes see small fish the same color as the algae chasing it through the water trying to regain their cover. The green thing in the photo is not part of the sargassum but a type of seed that earned the name "sea bean". Sea beans are basicly nuts or fruit from trees commonly washed into the ocean from rivers and then travel extensively on oceanic currents. What it really is? I don't have a clue!

Sargassum
FINALLY! I made it to Eddy Creek. After Loading the canoe into the water I started to paddle to the mouth marked by two small mangrove covered islands. For me there is no greater pleasure than to be able to paddle along shorelines in their natural state, to be able to witness first hand the interaction of native wildlife and the natural world. Paddling along the backwaters and natural shoreline of this estuary it's easy to allow yourself to imagine an earlier time. A time when the Timucaun Indians made their living on the bounty provided by the Mosquito lagoon which was their source of substinance. They harvested shellfish and fished the shallow seagrass beds. They hunted game in the wetlands and hammocks that are a part of this ecosystem. They left evidence of their lives in the Indian Middens such as the one to the south of the lagoon. For me, paddling here allows me to relax, forget the turmoil of everyday existance and reflect on what's truely important in life. In a sense, it's a form of freedom.
While paddling I noticed a group of brown pelicans diving time and time again into the water around the canoe. They put on quite a spectacular show and I felt privileged to be seeing this from my vantage point. They would be flying in groups of two ot three, about 30 feet above the surface of the water, and then suddely drop into the water, beaks open. I tried to shoot several photos of this but it would happen so suddenly that getting a clearly focused shot was difficult at best.
This male brown pelican has acheived his breeding plumage phase. Normally throughout the rest of the year he would be a much more subdued brown color. In many species of birds the males go through this phase in order to attract attention from potential mates.
Still inside the cove I saw this pair of white ibis probing the shallows for food. Their bills are especially designed to probe into the bottom sediment for food. In the background is one of two mangrove islands that lie at the mouth of Eddy Creek. Beyond is the Mosquito Lagoon.
A little closer to the lagoon I was fortunate enough to have this flock of white ibis fly by and let me photograph them
The shoreline of this island is covered with mangroves, one of the most important habitat types in the entire lagoon system. This type of shoreline habitat is being lost across the state of Florida at an alrming rate. Fortunately, the existence of refuges like Merritt Island and Canaveral will help to ensure that not only this habitat continues to exist, but that future generations will have the opportunity to experience it first hand.
Out in the main lagoon from the mouth of Eddy Creek, This boomerang shaped island is likely the result of sediments brought in when Eddy Creek was an inlet. Islands like this evolve into excellent bird and wildlife habitat while the associated shallows become prime growing areas for vast seagrass beds. The west facing leg of this island, which is shown here, is covered with a mangrove thicket whilethe south end culminates into a long, exposed sandbar which is a good area to search for shorebirds of many species. While paddling to this island I was able to observe a pair of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins chasing mullet over the flats to the north of me. Unfortunatly I wasn't able to get close enough for a photograph.
As I approached the southern tip of the island I came upon this view of one of the space shuttle launch pads. Here you are very near the southern end of Mosquito Lagoon. In the background can be seen launch pad 39B.
As I rounded the tip of the sandbar on the south side of the island several flocks of double crested comorants flew over. Other sightings while circling the island include an osprey diving for fish, a pair of white pelicans in the distance, several great blue herons, one tricolor heron, and numerous smaller shorebirds. While paddling over the shallow flats I startled several large redfish. Other possible sightings include West Indian Manatees, an occasional alligator, otters, Sea turtles, and numerous species of birds. By stopping and silently observing the seagrass beds under the canoe, a whole new world opened up to me. Small fish that become prey for larger fish could be seen swimming through the blades of the grass. Careful observation also revealed many small shrimps, crabs, snails, and other small invertebrates that make the seagrass beds their home, and in turn, form the basis of the Indian River Lagoon systems food chain.
This is a view of the Mosquito Lagoon, facing north from the western tip of the island. From here the lagoon extends North to New Smyrna Beach where it becomes the Halafax River.
As the wind was beginning to pick up, I decide that it might be a good idea to head back to the car. Of course the wind was coming directly from from where I needed to go. It took quite a bit of paddling to make it back into eddy creek and to the launch site. As I pulled the canoe up onto the shore at the car, I was tired, yet I found it hard to resist the temptation to return to the canoe to the water and continue my exploration of the Eddy Creek area. I will be back.



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3/13/01.