I found the narrow launch in a small opening in the mangroves and pushed out through the gray mud past the scattered oyster shells. The water was shallow and returning at dead low would have been difficult - like many other launch sites around the keys. Here in the protection of the mangroves, the water was clear and warm. The wind pushed the nose of the kayak out into the center of the bay as I paddled north.
It was my last day of kayaking in the keys. I was looking for a short day paddle before packing up and heading north. A protected shallow bay on the southeast end of Big Pine Key called Coupon Bight looked like just the thing. Nearly completely enclosed, the mangrove lined low lying hook of land provided protection from the wind that continued its week long blow.
On the gray-white bottom covered in varying degrees by turtle grass were many jellyfish. With the bell of their bodies flat against the bottom, they stuck their feeding parts up into the water column filtering out the small edible items that drifted by in the current ebbing off the flats. Disturbed by the swirl of water off the bottom blade of a paddle, they tumbled over the sand revealing their true nature as free floating animals, not fixed to the bottom like anemones. The variations were fascination. Some had dark brown tendrils, others looked like cauliflowers.
In the deeper channels of the flats that never went dry, the white sand bottoms were replaced by fields of turtle grass. Mangrove roots reached into the water from above. Oysters clung to older roots, providing habitat for small fish of all types.
After several hours of floating around in the shallow water, I returned to the launch site before the ebbing tide stranded me far out from shore. My time in the Keys was over. Just a brief visit to the Okefenokee swamp on the way up and my winter trip was done.
These ubiquitous grass beds, easily scarred by outboard props of passing motorboats, grounded flats boats (kayakers too), are absolutely essential to the ecosystems of the flats. They are nurseries and habitat for many of the species found in the waters of the keys. Full of seahorses and shrimp, they provide protection and food for all types of small critters. It is thrilling to just let your boat drift over the beds, looking down into the swaying blades.
Arrival at Bahia Honda and circumnavigation
Day trip to Snipe Key
Rest day playing tourist on Islamorada and Bahia Honda Keys
Day trip to Content Keys
Day trip to Looe Key
1/2 Day trip at Bahia Honda
Day trip to Johnston Key
Day trip to Coupon Bight