|Peanut Island - At Last|
|By Bill Frank|
|Strombus alatus form sloani from Peanut Island|
The weekend of 21-22 June, 23 shell enthusiasts including members of the Jacksonville Shell Club (JSC), their friends, and relatives traveled to Palm Beach Shores to shell Peanut Island, just inside the Palm Beach Inlet. Headquarters for the trip was the Tropical Isle Resort on Singer Island, a reasonably priced and friendly establishment managed by the Fuhrmans.
Making the trip were Bill & Betsy Lyerly, Craig & Audrey Thorn (St. Augustine), Kathy Hughes (Bristol), Teresa St. John and sister-in-law Sharon (Port St. Lucie), Selma Thigpen, Andy Hutchison (St. Augustine), Rob & D.D. Jewell, Billie & Paul Brown with grandson Ryan, Caryl Plata and sister Pat (Naples), Charlotte Lloyd with granddaughter Ty (Gainesville) and sister-in-law Gail Motes (Tamarac), Joella & Kelly Barnes and friend, and your Editor.
A number of the group arrived at the resort early Friday afternoon with plenty of time to spare before the day's minus tide at 3:00 PM. However, upon arrival at the Sailfish Marina (location of the water taxi to the island), it was learned that the taxi operated only on weekends. It was with great disappointment that part of the group stood on the marina dock gazing at the emerging sand flats, with shells clearly visible, just 100 feet away with no means to get there.
Swimming the distance was suggested. However, a very swift current in the channel separating the marina from the flats made that option somewhat of a risky proposition for less than an expert swimmer. So, reluctantly it was back to the resort.
As luck would have it, Billie & Paul along with Ryan soon arrived and had brought a "small" boat. As soon as preparations would permit, the trio along with your Editor, Charlotte, and Ty rushed to the nearest launch ramp and put the boat in the water for the short trip to the flats. The boat was rated for 6 people or 600 lbs and with six of us aboard along with all our gear, it was indeed a full load.
Because of the rapidly flooding tide, little of the originally exposed flats were still above water. However, in the limited time available everyone found Strombus pugilis x alatus and Charlotte secured a Tonna pennata (Atlantic Partridge Tun) destined to be photographed that evening.
With time running short, it was quickly back to the resort to prepare for the evening's meeting of the Palm Beach County Shell Club where Charlotte was to give the monthly program entitled "Caribbean Shells Alive." Eleven JSC members subsequently attended the meeting and enjoyed Charlotte's excellent program as well as the opportunity to meet the members of the Palm Beach Club and some Treasure Coast Shell Club members also in attendance. Following the meeting, the eleven, accompanied by three Palm Beach members to include President Phyllis Diegel and Vice-President Carole Marshall, adjourned to Shells Restaurant for the evenings repast.
The next morning, after a much needed nights rest, it was off to the Sailfish Marina for our scheduled 10:00 AM appointment with Captain Ron and his water taxi. Several five minute trips later, the whole group was at last on Peanut Island and were later joined by veteran Palm Beach Club member Harald Drake and Phil Poland of Clearwater.
As luck would have it, the weather was absolutely beautiful and the island offered collecting opportunities to suit each individuals needs/preferences. Some spent the entire day snorkeling (Charlotte, your Editor, etc.) while others walked the beaches, waded, and turned rocks (Betsy, Craig and Audrey, Selma, Andy, etc.). After a wonderful six hours, fatigue and the effects of the burning tropical sun convinced the group to call it a day and summon Captain Ron via cellular phone for the return trip to the marina.
That evening Charlotte and your Editor reviewed the days finds and selected Craig Thorn's live Tritonoharpa lanceolata (Arrow Dwarf Triton) as the shell of the trip. Later during dinner at the Crab Pot Restaurant, Craig was presented a Spondylus americanus (Atlantic Thorny Oyster), donated by Charlotte, as a prize in recognition of his find.
A tremendous thunderstorm and heavy rain greeted the group on Sunday morning. This sudden change in the weather convinced some who had planned to stay yet another day to cut short their visit. So the entire JSC group dispersed to their respective destinations having thoroughly enjoyed their short visit to this unique south Florida shelling locale.
Shells seen or collected during the trip include:
Editor's Notes: It would appear that the molluscan fauna inside the Palm Beach Inlet (and in similar south Florida environments) is severely stressed, and many species are literally dying off. In the shallow water north of the sand flats adjacent to Peanut Island, literally piles of fresh dead S. pugilis x alatus were seen during the trip, some with the decomposing animal still present. Veteran shellers of similar intracoastal south Florida habitats have also observed massive die-offs of Strombus species within the past three or four years. It may be that this mortality is the result of decreased salinity caused by above average rainfall.
During the current trip, less than 40 live Strombus pugilis x alatus were observed. However, during the club's last organized visit to the same locality on May 26th of 1990, an estimated 5,000 live specimens were seen (see Shell-O-Gram, Vol. 31, No. 4, Jul-Aug 1990).
The Palm Beach Inlet (Peanut Island) is one of a limited number of locations in Florida where both Strombus pugilis and Strombus alatus occur together. A close examination of the some 30 shells retained by your Editor and Charlotte (most collected dead) indicates that the two species are actively interbreeding. Virtually all of the shells exhibited characteristics of both species. Those shells which most closely resembled a typical S. alatus had the shoulder of the outer lip turned upwards as in S. pugilis. Those shells which most closely resembled a typical S. pugilis, including the cream-orange dorsal coloration of that species, also possessed some of the darker banded coloration reminiscent of S. alatus.