Reflections of Labor Day Weekend

 

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Colorful Reflections from Summer. Photo published by The Island Moon Newspaper who shared this lovely photo by Steven Pituch.

 

When I think of Labor Day weekend I think of…

-Last hoorah

-School in full swing

-Put away the white sandals

-September rains of South Texas

-Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”

-Our beaches and waterways clear out and quiet down.

What does Labor Day weekend remind you of?

A Snorkeling Surprise in Port Aransas

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Port Aransas for a few days for a teacher workshop at University of Texas Marine Science Institute. While there we were learning a bit more about our coast. During a break, another teacher and I went for a stroll next to the Port Aransas Ship Channel. We met a guy with scuba gear on. I asked him if he could see much. He said sure, as long as the boat traffic remains low. Once that happens, sediments get stirred up, and the water gets a little murky.

The next day, a couple of teachers and I bring our snorkeling gear with and vow to go check things out for ourselves either during lunch or after the workshop was over. We snorkeled by the rocks and by the UTMSI pier and found some fun stuff:

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Checking out a Sergeant-Major fish gliding past a barnacle-encrusted rock.
We found our state shell: the Lightning Welk.
We found our state shell: the Lightning Welk.
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Admiring the delicate colors of the corals and barnacles.
Toward the end of my underwater adventure, I encountered a tangle of bait fish.
Toward the end of my underwater adventure, I encountered a tangle of bait fish.

After a decent session of snorkeling, the boat traffic picked up and the waves were rocking us toward the rocks. When getting out, I just had to be wary of the sharp barnacles.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to see what I did. Now, it is not Caribbean snorkeling, but it was still pretty good for our area.

A Decent Place to Run on the Beach: North Padre Island

Hard, packed sand at low tide makes for a pleasant run.
Hard, packed sand at low tide makes for a pleasant run.

Running. For me, it is a necessary evil. I am not a natural runner, but I run to try to stay somewhat fit, and to try to keep up with my young children.  So there are times when I rather not do it, but if I don’t I wished I had.

One way to make running a pleasurable experience is to run outdoors. If you are lucky as I am, it is great to go run at the beach. However, some beaches are better for running than others. While I was in the Caribbean, I got the pleasure to run the beach, but I really had to watch out where I was going since there were occasional rocks, anchors for boats,  and uneven spots.  I sprained many an ankle, and trust me, it is not fun.

North Padre Island is a pretty good spot for running. For the most part, the sand is usually well packed which helps for a decent run. I say try to go during low tide, so consult the tidal reports on the news or internet. Also, there is usually not a huge slant near the shore which helps if you tend to get hip or knee problems. Just watch out for the occasional hole dug for the mote of a sandcastle or the sandcastle itself, for that matter.

Running at the beach also gives the body more resistance, so you get a better workout. If you are really wanting a challenge, run in the loose sand or in the shallow part of the water. You will feel the burn in your legs.

Speaking of burn, be sure to slather the sunscreen, wear a hat, and sunglasses so you will want to go for it next time.

What I like about running at the beach is that you can run pretty much any time of day, and not feel too hot. If I run mid-day, I will carry a bit of water just in case.  I wear Fila “toe shoes” that can get wet, so sometimes I run into the very shallow part of the shore. There I make my own “a/c” with the wind and the sea spray I kick up while running.  What is great is that if you dressed in quick dry clothing, you can just jump in to the waves afterward!  A great reward for a good run!

So, to make pleasure from a chore, run by the shore!

 

Out of the Clear, Blue Yonder

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The beaches begin to clear up this time of year from seaweed.
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The sediments settle down revealing blue water that approaches the shore this time of year.

 

Late July until sometime close to Winter is my favorite time on the beaches of North Padre Island. Why? This time of the year is when the clear, blue water finally comes onshore. Early Spring and Summer, you can see the blue water off shore, but the waves churn up the sediments and the water is murky. Also early Spring brings the mats of seaweed or Sargassum onto the shores of Texas beaches. Late summer the Sargassum seaweed begins to abate to reveal clean beaches.

However, this year we had a long invasion of this golden-brown weed all the way into July here in the Coastal Bend. Yes, it can be downright gross on the beaches for tourists and locals, but sea turtles and fish love it. The floating mats of it offshore provide a mobile habitat for marine life as drifts to shore.

So this is the time to enjoy the pretty blue water on the shores of North Padre Island. The winds tend to let up unless there is a hurricane or tropical system and the seaweed gives us a break from fuzzy beaches of Spring. Just last weekend I spotted a few snorkelers checking out the fish by the rocks of the jetties by the north side of Packery Channel.

So take a little time and enjoy the beach this time of year! I know I will!

 

Happy 4th! Sea Turtles in the Morning. Fireworks at Night…

Photo courtesy of debordieukazette.blogspot.com
Photo courtesy of debordieukazette.blogspot.com

 

Happy 4th! North Padre Island National Seashore released more  turtle hatchlings  this morning, and gave a short educational program at the visitors deck.

To see the newly hatched Kemp’s ridley sea turtles: Kemp’s ridley eggs are just starting to hatch, and the hatching process can take several days.  The exact dates of the releases depend on how quickly the eggs hatch, and  how the hatchlings become ready for release. It’s all up to the hatchlings.  The park usually does not  know that they will have a release until the day before.

Public releases are held starting at 6:45 a.m. on the beach in front of the Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island. Call the Hatchling Hotline at (361)949-7163 for the latest information on the release oer visit their website at www.nps.gov/pais for the projected release dates.  The nesting season could continue for three more weeks.

If you get up early to enjoy the turtle releases, just don’t come back to the national seashore with your fireworks, firecrackers, or sparklers. The park announced that those items are prohibited on park lands and are subject to seizure. If you want to enjoy fireworks, Padre Island is having their own second annual display on the main canal by Three Fathoms Bank. Last year we could see the display all the way from the ‘Bluff, so enjoy the display tonight!! Happy 4th!

A Natural, Healthy Coral Reef off the Texas Coast?

Photo courtesy of KHOU.com. "If you go about a hundred miles offshore, you can dive in crystal clear blue water as beautiful as anything in the Caribbean and behold a natural wonder so stunning fishermen a century ago nicknamed it the Texas Flower Garden. "
Photo courtesy of KHOU.com. “If you go about a hundred miles offshore, you can dive in crystal clear blue water as beautiful as anything in the Caribbean and behold a natural wonder so stunning fishermen a century ago nicknamed it the Texas Flower Garden. “

Yes! Not only do we have one, but one of the few thriving coral reefs left in the world!

It’s kind of a well kept secret here.

…And who would guess off the coast of Galveston?

Photo courtesy of KHOU.com
Photo courtesy of KHOU.com

Some say traveling to Texas “is like a whole other country” with the biodiversity this state has. We may not have the most gorgeous state in the union, but we do have variety. Many people travel the world to see what we have in our own backyard. Growing up in Houston, I had heard of the Flower Gardens, but never had gone there. Also, not that many people really knew that much about it.  Going to Galveston as a kid, and playing in the murky water, it is hard to image a natural, lush tropical coral reef just miles off shore.

Pretty cool, huh?

Just as a side note, the Nearshore project has been working on man-made coral reefs by sinking ships and other objects to attract marine life just off the coast of Port Aransas and South Padre Island. So now you can dive Texas.

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Photo courtesy of KHOU.com

Read the article from KHOU 11 News:

by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News khou.com

 Updated Wednesday, Jun 11 at 10:46 PM

GALVESTON, Texas — When you think about Galveston, you probably picture sun and surf, maybe the Pleasure Pier or sometimes seaweed, but you probably don’t think about great diving.

Small wonder, when you consider what you see when stand on the seawall and look at the murky chocolate water splashing ashore. But if you go about a hundred miles offshore, you can dive in crystal clear blue water as beautiful as anything in the Caribbean and behold a natural wonder so stunning fishermen a century ago nicknamed it the Texas Flower Garden.

Photos: Go diving in the Texas Flower Garden

“A lot of people are surprised to find out that there is an exceptional coral reef off the coast of Texas,” said G.P. Schmahl, the superintendant of the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary. “When people come down to the shoreline in Galveston and other parts of Texas and see the kind of brown, muddy water, it doesn’t even occur to them that there could be a coral reef in these waters,”

In fact, the coral reefs in the sanctuary host a colorful collection of sea life divers travel the world to behold. Curious manta rays and spotted eagle rays approach divers. Colorful parrotfish share the ecosystem with moray eels. And the concentration of coral is larger than anywhere else in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean.

“What I love to see is divers who’ve never been there,” said Emma Hickerson, a NOAA research coordinator working on the sanctuary. “And the first time they come out of the water with these huge grins on their faces. And they said they have no idea what was out here. And mostly, they say, ‘Wow! There’s so much coral!’”

The sanctuary actually encompasses three separate areas, underwater salt domes that stand higher than the surrounding ocean floor. Snapper and grouper fishermen who saw the colorful sponges and other marine life under their boats are credited with discovering the ecological wonder in the late 19th century. The area was designated as a national marine sanctuary in 1992 and it’s now managed under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“People will travel the world to see what we have right here off the coast of Texas,” Hickerson said. “So people will travel the world to see manta rays, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, spotted eagle rays, and we’ve got them right here at the Flower Garden Banks.”

At a time when coral reefs around the world are in decline, Flower Garden Banks is thriving largely because it’s so remote it attracts comparatively few divers. National Marine Sanctuaries researchers who routinely visit the site in a specially designed $3.8-million vessel say they’ve found fragments of clay pigeons on the reef indicating visitors have shot skeet off of their boats in the area. But they say most of the thousands of divers who visit every year take care to avoid disturbing the ecologically sensitive site.

“The Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary is what the Great Barrier Reef used to look like.” said Bill Kiene, a NOAA scientist working with the sanctuary. “It is actually one of the healthiest coral reefs in all the western hemisphere. And it’s very close to Galveston.”

But even for experienced divers, an expedition to Flower Garden Banks can prove challenging. Strong currents churn through the gulf waters surrounding the reefs, which lie about 60 feet beneath the surface.

Still, the dive can be especially rewarding on the one night in August – seven to ten days after the full moon — when the coral spawn.

“It looks like an underwater snowstorm.” Hickerson said. “Every year we get witness the birth of a new reef. It’s a most spectacular event to see.”

Attractions in Port Aransas, Texas

One of many coastal birds in Port Aransas.
One of many coastal birds in Port Aransas.

Port A has always been a lazy fishing village since I moved here back in 1991. Now, it is a bustling small town with its own fun, laid-back vibe for anyone at any age.

Of course they have the usual things such as deep sea fishing going to the beach. I enjoy going to the park next to the fairy landing. There is plenty of people watching, fishing, birding, bike riding, kite flying, or any other outdoor activity to do there, especially with the kids.

The Park next to the ferry landing in Port Aransas is a good place to take the kids on a nice day.
The Park next to the ferry landing in Port Aransas is a good place to take the kids on a nice day.

Another thing I like to do on a slow traffic day is to take the short fairy ride to Harbor Island and watch the dolphins playing in the waves. We usually try to see how many we can spot. Once you get the idea on how to see them, they get easier to find. One hint: they are usually playing in the wake of an oncoming barge. Port Aransas is a great little fun spot in our Coastal Bend.

The following is an article from USA Today that discusses a few fun things about Port A:

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/attractions-port-aransas-texas

Lauren Miller, Demand Media

 

 

 

 

 

“Port Aransas is popular vacation destination in southwest Texas. The city is on Mustang Island on Aransas Bay with ferry service from the mainland. College students in Texas swarm to Port Aransas during spring break, and vacationers visit the town year-round because of its subtropical climate. There are a wide variety of attractions in the Port Aransas area.

Lydia Ann Lighthouse

Construction on the Lydia Ann Lighthouse began in 1851 to light up the Aransas Pass between Mustang Island and nearby San Jose Island. During the United States Civil War, Union and Confederate troops fought for control of the lighthouse. The lighthouse operated for decades, but began to decline in use after the mid-20th century. Private owners took control and restored the deteriorating landmark. The lighthouse is accessible only via a tour from Kohootz Boat Excursions.

Kohootz
440 East Cotter Avenue
Port Aransas, TX 78373
361-779-3188
kohootz.com

Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center

The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is rated as one of the top ten boardwalks by Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine. The center includes a large area of fresh and saltwater marshes, which are havens for over 100 species of birds. Its well-known boardwalk is 500 feet long and extends into a brackish marsh, giving visitors prime viewing of birds and the center’s resident alligators. There is also a 25-foot observation tower on the property. Admission is free.

Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center
Ross Avenue
Port Aransas, Texas 78373
361-749-4158
cityofportaransas.org/Leonabelle_Turnbull_Birding_Center

The Tarpon Inn

The Tarpon Inn is a historic hotel in Port Aransas known as the birthplace of Texas sport fishing. The restored building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. There are many local legends associated with the inn, many of them linked with the hard-to-catch trophy fish tarpon or “Silver Kings,” which were abundant in the area when the original inn was built in 1886. The walls of the inn have scales of tarpons caught by guests, including famous guests like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, actress Hedy Lamarr, circus owner Clyde Beatty, and cake mix maker Duncan Hines, who spent his honeymoon at the hotel. Guests who stay at the inn are encouraged to relax, therefore, the antique-filled rooms do not have televisions or phones.

The Tarpon Inn
200 East Cotter Avenue
Alvarado, TX 76009
361-749-5555
thetarponinn.com

The Beach

The beaches in the Port Aransas area draw visitors year-round. The 18 miles of unspoiled beach are a part of the world’s longest barrier island. Popular vacation activities included surfing, Jet Skiing, parasailing, sea kayaking, windsurfing, fishing, and taking scenic cruises. The city is the home to over a dozen fishing tournaments during the year.”

Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau
403 West Cotter
Port Aransas, TX 78373
361-749-5919
800-45-COAST
portaransas.org

 

Fish Lips Sink Ships: Adding to the Nearshore Reef Project

Fishing and diving playground planned 10 miles from Packery Channel and Port Aransas.

"This 155-freighter could become part of an artificial reef for fishing and diving offshore of Packery Channel if the Corpus Christi City Council agrees to pony up $100,000 toward the $500,000 effort." Photo courtesy of Caller.com
“This 155-freighter could become part of an artificial reef for fishing and diving offshore of Packery Channel if the Corpus Christi City Council agrees to pony up $100,000 toward the $500,000 effort.” Photo courtesy of Caller.com

Sometimes treasure can be found around sunken ships, only this treasure is of the marine-life paradise kind. As part of the Ships-to Reefs Project, these submerged ships and structures provide a foundational surface for marine life to attach. After a while, the surface builds up with coral and other marine life and the submerged ship or other structure provides shelter and a strong ecosystem for overfished reef fish species such as snapper and grouper. This project will help replenish some habitat that was destroyed when several offshore oil and gas platforms were removed in recent years. If the City of Corpus Christi agrees to foot $100,000 of the bill, the ship could be in place by the end of summer 2014.

Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Artificial Reef Program

The reefs and marine life attract other forms of treasure, fishermen and divers. This ongoing, Near Shore Reefing project has had plenty of bang for both the local and the Texas economy since off shore and recreational fishing generates 2 billion per year for Texas.  The Coast Bend, namely, Port Aransas has been known as the “fishing capital of Texas.”  The Caller Times reported that according to Mike Hurst, who chairs the offshore committee, Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA),”This will be one of the best dive and fishing sites long the mid-Texas Coast. We have secured the ship and are in the final stages of permitting.”

This project is set to enhance the local ecosystem for both marine treasure and human treasure, So, fish lips really do sink ships. Who knew?

Sources: The Island Moon Newspaper; KIIITV.com; Corpus Christi Caller Times; Texas Parks and wildlife

 

 

Want a Beach Where You Can Avoid Spring Breakers?

Page by Michael Zamora - Andrew Baggett, a senior at Westlake High School in Austin, uses beads as bait Tuesday as he casts his line during spring break on the beach. Photo courtesy of http://www.caller.com
Caller Times by Michael Zamora – Andrew Baggett, a senior at Westlake High School in Austin, uses beads as bait Tuesday as he casts his line during spring break on the beach. Photo courtesy of http://www.caller.com

If you are like me, you have young kids who want to go to the beach as soon as warmer weather kicks in. However, throngs of crazed, hormone-filled Breakers descend to our beaches mid-March. So, I have a couple of suggestions…

The entrance at Rockport Beach Park.
The entrance at Rockport Beach Park.

1. Rockport Beach in Rockport, Texas
Rockport Beach in Rockport, Texas  one of my favorite beaches for people with young kiddos. Why? The beach is one of the safest in my opinion. The surf is non-existent which makes it a relatively safe place for young ones. The water is super-shallow for a long way. You can wade out for a long time and not get past knee deep. Behind the beach there is a road with parking for the length of it, so there are no cars actually driving on the beach. Also, the beach there is extremely clean since they rake it daily. It also helps that visitors there seem to respect that, and tend to leave it the way they found it. So that you know, there are no pets allowed. That rule is there to keep the beach clean from little messes.

Rockport Beach Park offers clean, safe beaches which are great for kids!
Rockport Beach Park offers clean, safe beaches which are great for kids!

Another cool thing is that there are many palapas where you can shield the young ones and your ice chest from the sun. However, you need to arrive early to get one, otherwise, just bring your own umbrella or canopy.

If the kids actually want to get out of the water (really?), there are multiple playgrounds dotting the length of the beach. The play equipment is maintained well, so it tends to be safe. Plus, the playgrounds are there on the beach, so you can park your beach stuff at a nearby palapa, and watch them play right next to you or you can go play with them! Oh, a word to the wise, be sure to bring shoes or sandals since to the play areas since there are sticker-burrs there where the grass grows. Those pesky things can be painful to toes. If people actually take a moment to throw them into the trash, instead of throwing them on the ground, then they won’t take root.

Finally, when nature calls as it usually does, there is a pavilion with restrooms. The centrally-located pavilion has showers and changing rooms too, so you can clean up and not have to get into the car and drive home all sandy. This is a plus if you have kids who tend to fall asleep in the car after a vigorous day at the beach!!

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2. North Padre Island National Seashore: Malaquite Beach

This is another favorite beach of mine for a good beach for families. Here you can grab a covered picnic table if you arrive early and enjoy a picnic lunch. Cars are not allowed on the beach, so it is very safe and clean for kids. Also, at Malaquite, there is a Visitor’s Center with a gift shop, educational center, covered deck, observation decks, and a small snack shop, restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. (yippe!)

A view of the Gulf from the boardwalk at Padre Island National Seashore.
A view of the Gulf from the boardwalk at Padre Island National Seashore.

There are events year round such as guided beach walks, educational talks, and classes are held at the Malaquite Beach Pavilion Visitor’s Center. Beginning late Spring into Summer, the famous Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Hatchling releases happen at various times during the early morning hours.  Evening talks are held to learn more about the stars and constellations as well as other activities held by park rangers who discuss the natural flora and fauna and the coastal ecosystems.

You can spend a full day here or several and have quite an educational and fun-filled experience with the family. This place is on the way to literally nowhere, so it is very quiet and a great natural place to have fun with the family.

These two beaches are my favorite places to have  a great time with the kids with no Spring Breakers!

Our Little Rockport is a Contender for “America’s Coolest Small Towns”

Rockport’s got it going on, but we in the Coastal Bend knew that. Even Budget Travel among other sites are saying the same thing.

The entrance at Rockport Beach Park.
The entrance at Rockport Beach Park.
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Boats along the waterfront in Rockport,
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Rockport Marina area

By Noelle H. Lowery noelle@coastalbreezenews.com

“BudgetTravel.com has put the call out for folks to vote on “America’s Coolest Small Town” in 2014, and Everglades City is in the running. For the next [several] days (through Feb. 25), voters can go online to cast their ballot for one of the 15 small towns listed. The winner wins bragging rights. Everglades City has some stiff competition, though. There are towns that have been settings for movies; that are historical gems; that are recreation havens; that are part of national parks; that were homes to former U.S. Presidents; and that are culinary delights. Among the contenders are: Berlin, MD; Elkin, NC; Huntington Woods, MI; Pahoa, HI; Buckhannon, WV; Estes Park, CO; Kelleys Island, OH; Rockport, TX; Cazenovia, NY; Mathews, VA; Travelers Rest, S.C.; Deadwood, S.D.; Galena, IL; Nevada City, CA; and our very own Everglades City. Populations range from 313 (Kelleys Island, OH) to 9,133 (Rockport, TX). Still, Everglades City has something that none of the other towns do — access to the Ten Thousand Islands of Everglades National Park and to some of the best backwater fishing in the U.S. Combine these elements with the amazing wildlife — both in and out of the water — that thrive in the mangrove estuaries of Everglades City, and it is a shoe-in to win. So cast your vote now at: http://www.budgettravel.com/contest/vote-for-americas-coolest-small-town-2014,16/#vote-21477. The clock is ticking!”