Tennessee to Open Seas

I love sharing my ocean with people. Obviously. LMAO
But bringing kids on the boat – is something that excites me beyond measure. Not only does it mean teaching future generations to care for the ocean – it means there will be others onboard as hyped about animals
AND waves
AND shells
AND FISH
AND SHARKS
(I can go on forever) as I always am (rare).

Shelly, my mom’s best friend, came to visit us in the keys from Tennessee with her kids.

My family is VERY rough and tumble (understatement of the year). We are wild, nonstop, and will make fun you until you cry. It’s all out of love though. I think.

Exhibit A: my dad dive bombing my brother as he’s struggling to swim back to the boat in heavy currents

Exhibit B:

Shelly and her kids not only took the heat, they dived right in.

We took them out to deep, open waters…

someone did get tini-bit sick

In his defense, it was a very choppy day. So we headed to the Gulf side.

His sister is a mermaid in the making. She wanted to be where the action was at all times – takes after her mom.

I found this sea cucumber… convinced her to hold it for a picture… then told her it was poop. Poor thing went for the ride of it’s life when she flung it over her head.
Mother & Daughter
Magical Shelly

After checking out some mangrove islands we hopped back on the boat for lunch

We started to head back but found a gorgeous patch of sand that needed to be jumped in… like a lot.

Always going with the flow.

The mommies watching the chaos from a distance.

You know you’ve found your passion when you have the patience to teach kids about it.

… especially if you aren’t very patient to begin with.

Mission make kids love the ocean & have fun doing it: success.

Stay Fascinated

Manatee in Our Canal

I never feel so blessed as I do when a wild animal approaches me.

My dad snapped this pic

This gorgeous thing made it’s way to the canal in front of our house in the keys seeking warmer waters during the winter (if I can call what South Florida has ‘winter’ anyway).

Indiana – the world’s most jealous mammal – having an absolute heart attack this thing was potentially receiving any kind of love from me

If you know anything about manatees, it’s that they move slow and eat seagrass.

You may not know how gentle they are. Once, I followed a bull manatee for just a bit too long and he abruptly stopped to stare me down.. I won’t lie to you, I was momentarily scared. I stopped the gentle pulsing of my fins and let the current carry me backwards as I tried to guess it’s next move. Silly me. Manatees are not fighters. Before I could do anything else he was gone. A thousand times the swimmer I will ever be.

Quick fact, manatees were downgraded from endangered to threatened in 2017. Some of the laws that helped achieve this also state that if I laid a hand on or gave fresh water to this viejita (= little old lady) I would face hefty fines and possibly jail time. 

I would be reprimanded for helping another animal. 

Yeah, ANOTHER animal. You are animal.

People tend to forget that – no matter how capable our thumbs or shiny our gadgets. 

I understand the goal is to not let animals get used to human interaction because – albeit, humans are occasionally evil and destructive; but I think our logic is flawed.

I think we should fix the humans… not turn our backs on the animals. What do you think?

Stay Fascinated

Dying Stars

These are relatively health coral heads:

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(That clearly do more squats than me)

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They are starlet corals.

Growing up I would stand on the rails of the boat with my eyes squinted looking into the blue horizon as my dad drove the boat. Each of us waiting for a signal from the other. We were looking for these massive heads. Sometimes we would be fishing, sometimes lobstering, most times just wanting to be surrounded by the animals we love. Starlet corals such as these provide homes for many marine species just as most corals do.

The ones in the pictures above were enormous and gorgeous.

The ones below are also enormous and gorgeous… but dying. They are a short swim away from the ones above but just that small change in depth (and therefore temperature) makes all the difference for these sedentary creatures.

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This is the first in what I sure will become a whole series of posts about coral bleaching. It is short because I don’t want to overwhelm you with facts. Growing up in Miami… or probably near any coast, we hear it all the time. We learn about coral bleaching in school, hear about it in the news, well here is my first hand account of coral bleaching.

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As coral polyps overheat they expel colorful algae that live in their tissues which changes them from the orange brown, to this light purple, and eventually their transparent tissue reveals the white skeleton beneath. Death and decay follow soon after.

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Beauty in death?

 

 

Stay fascinated.

Rainy Labor

I judge people based on how they feel about rain. Everyone likes sunshine and tan-lines. *hard eye-roll* Let’s hear it for raindrops and muddy feet !

JK I don’t judge anyone (or I try not to #2016Resolution)

This past Labor Day weekend was a rainy one. These are some of my normal rainy day activities:

  1. I walk my dogs.

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Indiana Jones (Indie) on the port, Bongo on the star.

Yeah… I don’t know my rights and lefts. So my blog, my rules we use port & starboard here.

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Collectively, I call them the Titi’s. (tea-teas) Or The Tiis (teas).

A single Indie is ‘The Ti’ or the ‘El Titi’; while a single Bongo is ‘A Ti.’

One day I’ll give you the etymology of the Titi’s but this is a short post and it’s a long story. I make up words. You like it.

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Unleashed once the kayakers passed… ^

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The Ti ^

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A Ti ^

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If you ever catch me walking the Tiis… DO NOT APPROACH. Indie will have none of another human coming near me when we are walking alone and Bongo only looks derpy.  If I am in a large group… you’re straight.

2. I act like I’m 12 with my brothers.

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& usually regret it ^ (he wouldn’t let me out… and kept crashing me into things. Note the seriousness in my face)

But I don’t really regret anything ❤

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He wears it every day to school now.

3. I explore the shore.

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Tide pools = ❤

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I love seeing tiny fish dart away and streams of water rushing to and fro.

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Idk why I bring my shoes mostly anywhere. #PiedritaFeet (‘little rock’ feet)

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Not a lot of wildlife since the wind, current, and rain was ripping but this guy was looking for a fight. CRABS amirite? Why don’t lobster stand their ground like this?

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He kinda calmed down and started blow bubbles. He cute…

I love him.

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^^^ See ladies? Angles are everything. Found the exact perfect shot to make it look like it was a beautiful day.

Beyond the scope of my lens: darkness and rainfall.

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The hut I will *happily* live in if this blog doesn’t work out and all goes to shit.

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So I basically walk around the shore for as long as I can keep myself out of the water… then just find a good tide pool and submit to my urges. #cantkeepmeoutofthewater

Don’t tell my abuela I was sitting in the water… in the rain. It’s a sin.

4. I go in the pool.

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… & drink…

don’t tell my abuela

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Quick with that trigger finger getting those rain drops.

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Which one do I look scarier? That one ^

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or this one ^ ?

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Honestly I just go down and snap a million times and look at footage later. I live my life and just kinda hope the camera catches some of it…

LMK if there is a better way to live.

But don’t because there’s not ❤

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Indie loves the rain too… Bongo, however, remains outside out of obligation. He stays under cover and squishes himself as much as he can to the door. It’s adorable.

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Moral of the story: enjoy the rain guys.

Stay Fascinated.

I Found a Pole

If you read my about me you know that I “[find] wonder in the ordinarily mundane” (#wordmagic) and this post & pole will serve as proof.

I found a pole in the ocean and I loved it.

Two poles to be precise. All ocean-goers know the excitement of finding any big structures in open water. It means marine life will flock to it… just as we do. Guess we aren’t so different from animals after all.. ARE WE???

Swimming next to them made me feel so small. Here’s my tail for scale:

Sirenas(Spanish for mermaids) are actually very real and have legs and elongated carbon fiber fins… as seen here. In this picture. Of me. Specifically of my legs\tail.

Look I’m a mermaid. So whatever I am is what a mermaid is. That logic is sound and if you can’t follow I can’t help you.

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Young bar jacks and a few sergeant majors circumnavigated the pole top to bottom the entire time I was near, picking off little morsels and staying just a few cautious feet away.

At one point I took note of this big snook and chased him around… snapping pics with crossed fingers. I got a few good ones.

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See him down there? ^

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Is a pole on the ground still a pole? Yes, obvío.

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Inside of dead pole:

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Up & back down again following my little blue bar buds.

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Hiding under the big pole were some parrotfish and a cute pork fish.

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I hear parrots are delicious but you shouldn’t eat them… Does anyone know whyyyy?

I’ll give you the time it takes to admire and scroll past this pic to think about it.

Parrotfish are ravenous. They eat a lot of algae… and yes they eat coral too but the benefits outweigh the costs… they basically clean up reefs. When a rock (or coral skeleton) is covered in algae, coral polyps (baby coral) cannot grow on it. So these parrots basically demolish algae and provide safe landing for highly endangered coral pups. Actually, some studies show that overfishing of parrotfish has been more detrimental to corals than climate change. In Florida, I am pretty sure it is illegal to eat them\kill them.. I know for certain that you cannot spear them but I couldn’t find anything about fishing for them. However, people with proper licenses can collect them for aquariums but just because something is legal doesn’t make it right… RIGHT? Right. How scientific do you want me to get on this blog? Because…

*wipes nonexistent dirt off shoulder* I can get real scientific ❤

There was a hog too. Chased her around for a bit.

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Question. Hogfish are more closely related to which of the following:

A) Wild Hog (lechón)

B) Snapper

C) Parrotfish

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Yes, we call them hog “snapper” but hogfish are actually wrasses which make them most closely related to wild hogs like the ones out in Africa.

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JUST KIDDING… just wanted to make sure you were awake. Wrasses are very closely related to parrotfish ❤ They both are very colorful groups of fish and honestly do look alike.

The give away is that parrots have those big buck teeth to scrape up coral and algae while wrasses have something a little different going on. You know that saying thick lips sink ships? It’s was about wrasses… probably not but let me live my life. Their lips are thiiiiick…  because they have protractile jaws which allow them to very quickly extend their mouth outward to snap up prey. Thick lips kill fish more like it. #science

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This is just height of “me-time.” Me & Bullet taking pics and chasing fish.

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Those orange patterns of life are made up of sponges, fire coral, Christmas tree worms, and other such sedentary cuties. Yes, fire coral is cute… and ANNOYING.

SUPER IN THE WAY.

LEAVES SCARS FOR DAYS

But cuuute.

I imagine my future husband will describe me similarly.

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The patches remind me of that perfect crispy layer on the top of homemade brownies… umff. Hay hambre (= “there is hunger” in Spanish)… (= send me brownies)… I make some bombass brownies guys… *currently thinking if I have all the ingredients to make some real quick*

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Alas, no. I do not. I push forward devoid of chocolatey satisfaction.

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Isn’t life stunning?

If you aren’t convinced yet check out these two they’re my favorite from this dive:

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Try to tell me there isn’t magic there.

I’ll tell you to go see a therapist…

 

(which is what I call boat dealers)

 

 

Stay Fascinated.

Jerry & Grover

Goliath groupers can be terrifying.

To be fair every animal on Earth (including humans) can be dangerous… especially humans. Anything with a mouth can bite, okei guys?

Goliath groupers can weigh up to 800 lbs and grow to over 8 ft long. These babes are protected and it is illegal to harvest them in Federal or State waters. It’s actually illegal to even lift them out of the water once they are big since they can crush themselves with their own weight (like most large fish\marine mammals). Goliaths can swallow sharks whole (google it) and they make a deep barking noise that has had me drop Bullet (what I affectionately call my GoPro) more than once.

But they are cute and have adorable bulldog faces. Don’t fight me on this.

There are two Goliaths I am particularly fond of in the lower keys.  Jody & Jessica Westbrooks of Livin’ the Keys Life (subscribe to their channel it is aaamazing) let me know that the locals call them Jerry & Grover ♥

Here is a shot of them from the boat:

Goliath groupers approaching boat

Jerry is very friendly.
Here he is saying hi to each member of the family:

Grover is much bigger and much more shy (the big fish always are, amirite?)

The first time I met these two it was a really bad weather day. Not sure how I convinced my dad to take us all the way out to the reef… #daddysgirl ♥

Rough chop, awful visibility, and the current was roaring… needless to say I was the only one in the water. I know, I know my mom tells me all the time… I’m a problem.

It’s never not been worth it.

Anyway, I am going up & down fighting all elements of nature – happily – and as I am heading into the boat I see two big brown masses hanging out underneath her.

My little heart drops for .5 seconds. If you couldn’t tell already from my first post I am 10/10 dramatic. But I bounce back faster than I fall so it’s fine.

So heart drops and I pop my head out of the water and yell for Bullet.

Most of my videos of Grover are me chasing him down and quickly giving up… because they only look slow and lethargic…

Can you tell how murky it was?

SIDE NOTE: did you catch this little piece of fire coral in the video? Rewatch. He stung me to high hell. He deserves his 5 min of fame. Does anyone else ALWAYS get hit by fire coral or just me?

They were both apprehensive the first day we met. Even Jerry kept a safe distance. However, every time after that he has been all up in my face & making my mom scream through her snorkel because she swears he wants to eat her toes. I’ve read they like crabs the most and I know they will swallow a fish whole while it struggles on a line… I should look into their affinity for toes.

big Goliath grouper swimming away

One of the more recent times we ran into the duo, Grover gave me another heart attack. I was swimming along minding my business when he barked from behind me. I promise I felt my brain rattle. We probably scared each other . I grabbed some air real quick and dove down again to catch this little video:

Forever avoiding me but Jerry is at a point where he begs for pets. He rubs up on our legs and fins and gets all up in our faces. It’s endearing… Friends and family we have taken do not initially agree.

I think that was roast beef one of my little cousin threw over the boat. He didn’t like it either. He needs a taste bud adjustment. I love roast beef.

Jerry is a total babe though so he is forgiven:

Goliath grouper face
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adolescent Goliath grouper next to boat
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Keep coming back and together we will vanquish all your preconceived notions about the “monsters” of the sea. Sharks, Goliath groupers… what do you guys want to see next?

Stay Fascinated.

My First Shark

Shark week is upon us. 

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& although I watch very little TV and am not a huge fan of Shark week (forgive me) … I will happily jump on the bandwagon – or dive into it.

Sharks are most likely my favorite animal. Don’t quote me on that.  I love alligators too… Don’t quote me on that either – I love all animals OKEIII. I remember my first time running into a shark in the wild (that I can recall anyway).

I was a tiny little thing, maybe 4 years old (don’t quote me on that either), in the middle of the ocean kicking away with my ranas (pata ranas… fins in Spanish… ranas for short) when someone yelled “shark!” & even though I sympathized with the shark in the movie “Jaws” (“he’s just hungry mommy” I would say through streaming tears), I was struck by fear… I still didn’t want to be dinner. That fear redirected me to the boat ..and COMPLETELY paralyzed me about 5 seconds later when suddenly something took hold of my little fin and pulled me backwards.

I thought I was dead.

Shark won.

Nicole dead.

Luckily, it was my dear old dad. He grabbed my fin, swung me around and pointed.

I will remember that hammerhead for the rest of my life.

It was enormous. His dorsal fin was as tall as I was. It moved so slowly, so gracefully towards us. I looked at my dad through my mask, his one arm wrapped around my torso held me in place. He pointed again to the shark. I was so grateful to my father in that moment.

PAUSE: Before I continue with the story you should know something about my father and I. We have quite the unspeakable bond, we understand each other… & I am telling you that so you understand that what my father did next… I knew he was going to do… and he knew how I was going to react…:

As this giant glided below us he grabbed the back of my bathing suit and pushed me towards it, (the shark was a good 10 – 15 ft under us so CHILL) and I used the momentum to dive down as far as my little sausage legs would take me. He pulled me back up by my tiny fin.

We watched the shark fade into the blue, it swam away with all my nonsensical fear.

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Haven’t seen a hammerhead in the wild since but here are some other sharkicle encounters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also proof that I am part shark:

 

 

 

Stay Fascinated