Bahia Honda Earthcache
In Florida, United States
Size:  (not chosen)
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This earthcache will bring you to 7 locations to view and observe the geological and natural wonders of this park. The 7th stop, which is optional, brings you to the Bahia Honda Sand and Sea Nature Center where you can win a prize by answering 12 questions about the stations you have just visited. The Nature Center is open 7 days a week, 10 - 12 and 1-4. To get credit for this earthcache you will need to email the answers to the questions in ( parentheses ).
Welcome to one of Florida's most unique and beautiful parks! Bahia Honda is unique among other islands in the keys because it has extensive sandy beaches and deep water close to shore. The geological formation of Bahia Honda is Key Largo limestone. It is derived from prehistoric coral reef similar to the present day living reefs of the Keys. Because of a drop in sea level several thousand years ago, portions of this ancient reef emerged from the sea forming islands. Bahia Honda is the southern most key where this formation is exposed. (Why do you think the Key Largo limestone does not appear south of Bahia Honda?)
Bahia Honda also has unique sand dunes. These consist of gradually rising sand that has entangled green vines, grasses and shrubs. The slight elevation of sand is formed by the almost constant wind blowing in from the sea. Some of the dune plants are pioneer plants. These are the first plants to establish themselves in the nutrient poor sand.
We would like to give credit to Park Ranger, Maria Puentes, who developed the Nature and History Quest that we used as a guide to set up this Earthcache. This Earthcache has been set up with the approval of the Park Manager and is appropriate for all ages.
You will have to pay a fee at the Ranger Station to enter the park. If you do not have all the earthcache information printed, you can borrow a copy by asking for it Nature Center. The listed coordinates will take you to Station One. You are ready to begin your quest!
Walk down to the end of this boardwalk ramp and look for a patch of seaweed. Use a stick or your foot to flip over some of the dead seaweed. You will see a large number of critters jumping about. Although they resemble insects, they are actually 1/8th inch crustaceans called amphipods, or beach fleas or sand fleas. They do not bite. Amphipods have 7 segments and can jump up to 20 inches. They are related to shrimp and lobsters but they do not live in the ocean. Instead they live on the beach in the damp sea grass where they feed on the decaying plant material. While here observe the 'rocks'. Are they really rocks? The coordinates for Station Two can be found on the sign at Station One.
Who benefits from the amphipods? The answer is they are food for many of the shore birds. Every year over 70 species of shore birds migrate south in the winter and north in the spring. Many arrive exhausted and very hungry. The Florida Keys are one of the first stops they make to rest and feed. You will see some of them flipping seaweed to find amphipods in either the seaweed or the sand. If you want to observe this behavior, they usually feed in the morning or the evening. Please observe them without disturbing them. You will find the coordinates for Station Three on the sign at Station Two.
Now you will find yourself on the edge of a dune. (Explain how the dunes protect the island. What keeps the dunes from washing out to sea?) Look at the pioneer plants. Their root systems are shallow but extensive. They create a net-like mass that traps the sand and holds it in place, helping to stabilize the beach and prevent erosion. The dunes are also the first line of defense during hurricanes, protecting the plants on higher ground from high winds and waves. Some of the dune plants you see are the Sea Oats, Bay Bean, Railroad Vine, Sea-Ox eye Daisy and Sea Lavender. Many critters make these dunes their home. Please do not walk on the dunes and disturb the shallow root system and the delicate environment. Please use the boardwalks. You will find the coordinates for Station 4 on the sign at Station 3.
Look around for the thorny Nickerbean Plants. They are the adopted host plants of the tiny Miami Blue Butterfly. This very rare butterfly is only 7/16th of an inch wide and found in the coastal areas of Florida. These butterflies had disappeared after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They were thought to be extinct. It's host plant (the place where it lays its eggs and the caterpillar spends its life cycle before becoming a butterfly) was the Balloon Vine. But in Bahia Honda there are no Balloon Vines. Yet in 1999, 7 years after its disappearance, a colony of 50 Miami Blue butterflies were discovered in a patch of Nickerbean plants.
Look closely. You may see the Miami Blue, Cassius Blue or Ceraunus Blue flitting around the nickerbean. More information about them can be found at the Nature Center.
Now look at the ground. Pick up some of the loose material. (What do you think this material is made up of? What evidence can you find of of ancient organisms? How do you think they got here?)
Coordinates for Station 5 can be found at the sign for Station 4.
Look through the bridge and see the original structure of the Florida East Coast Railway. This was the most difficult part of the railway construction because this 5,553 foot bridge is located in the deepest water and fastest currents of the Keys, the Bahia Honda channel. The Spanish originally named the island Bahia Honda which means “deep bay”.
At the Nature Center you can see a short movie about Henry Morrison Flagler who built this railway down the East Coast of Florida all the way to Key West. Train travel throughout the Keys was halted after a destructive hurricane on Labor Day, September 2, 1935. . Find the coordinates to Station 6 on the sign at Station 5.
Now walk all the way to the end of the bridge. From here you have a view from what used to be the highest point along the Overseas Highway. This is also the deepest bay in the Florida keys. The average depth is 25 feet deep. After the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 several miles of railway tracks were wiped out and the train never ran again. The State of Florida then purchased the railway right of way for $640,000 and began construction of a roadway. This roadway, called the Overseas Highway, was completed in 1938. The Bahia Honda bridge was quite a challenge for many reasons. The railway was too narrow for cars and the bay was very deep. The road was built on top of the bridge.
Now turn around and look at Bahia Honda Key. Observe the exposed land. ( In your opinion, do you think that over time, (years) more of the island will be exposed? Do you think the sea level is rising or falling? Why?)
You have now completed the 6 stations of the Earthcache. These last coordinates, located on Station 6 sign, will bring you to the Nature Center where you can see a video, view all kinds of local plants and animals that can be seen around Bahia Honda and win a prize if you answer the Nature Center's 12 questions about the 6 stations. Be sure and submit the answers to the following questions by email to get credit for this Earthcache.
Bahia Honda is the southern most key where this formation is exposed. (Why do you think the Key Largo limestone does not appear south of Bahia Honda?)
Now you will find yourself on the edge of a dune. (Explain how the dunes protect the island. What keeps the dunes from washing out to sea?)
Now look at the ground. Pick up some of the loose material. (What do you think this material is made up of? What evidence can you find of ancient organisms? How do you think it got here?)
Observe the exposed land. ( In your opinion, do you think that over time, (years) more of the island will be exposed? Do you think the sea level is rising or falling? Why?)
We so hope you have enjoyed this quest.
And again we would like to give full credit to Park Ranger Maria Puentes, who created a Nature Quest for visitors to further investigate the wonders of Bahia Honda State Park.
(No hints available.)
Last Updated: on 4/7/2016 4:35:11 PM Pacific Daylight Time (11:35 PM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum