Friday, July 26, 2013

MLK and the Magic of the Mangroves

The mangroves of Bimini never cease to amaze me, with each exploration exposing a new sense of awe and appreciation for the heart and soul of these little islands. On our most recent visit we took good friends who visit the island frequently. They have been coming to Bimini longer than we have and like most people, they have never ventured into the realm of the mangrove forest.

For the majority of visitors the stunning blue water off shore is what draws them to these islands. Fishing, diving, snorkeling and boating are all really the best ways to experience the true beauty of Bimini, but the mangroves are most often overlooked. To understand why the waters around Bimini are teaming with life, one must go to the source. It is there, deep in the mangrove forest, where lobster, conch, fish and even baby sharks grow before they move to deeper water and life on the reefs. It is a nursery and one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, supporting life above and below the surface.

As we cruised along with the current our friends commented on how it seemed like we were in a, “fantasy land.” It doesn’t take long before you are in a quiet place with only the occasionally airplane overhead to remind you how close to civilization you are. This forest is literally bursting with life; fish are spilling from the roots and birds are perched on branches. Sharing this paradise with friends and family is always an incredible experience and this day was no exception.

Not very far into our journey I spotted a juvenile lemon shark swimming in front of the boat. We followed it for a while and it swam in the crystal clear water. A tiny little shark is not what most people expect to see in this forest, so I love how excited people get. It also serves as a reminder that sharks, despite being apex predators, start out small and vulnerable. These lemon sharks will spend the first part of their lives in this nursery before they move into deeper water and the top of the food chain.

Snorkeling in the mangroves is also something everyone should do at least once. Most people focus their attention on coral reefs or the Sapona shipwreck if they venture out in Bimini, but the mangroves can rival any coral reef in my opinion. Bright colored sponges attached to the roots, lobsters tucked underneath poking their antennas out in curiosity, thousands of snapper, delicate seahorses and stingrays buried in the sand along the edge; all this is found in this remarkable forest.

On our ride back we planned to stop off at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. This bust and viewing platform were placed in the spot where local bonefishing legend and boat builder Ansil Saunders took MLK three days before he was killed. It is in this spot they shared a precious moment and Dr. King actually wrote his eulogy. As we came around the corner Ansil was actually tied up alongside the platform with two guests. He invited us over so we could hear what he was saying, Duncan has spent time in the mangroves with Ansil, but this was my first encounter.

We sat there in the sun as he recited a psalm he wrote, psalm 151, a psalm he shared with Martin Luther King Jr. at that very spot in 1968. Ansil spoke about the bounty of life and pure beauty God created in the mangroves. He spoke He spoke about the fish, the birds, and the mangroves with such passion and love, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. My trips to the mangroves have always been about the animals and the life we could see, but this one became entirely different. Hearing him speak, reminded me of the simple beauty of just sitting quietly in nature. He Ansil finished and motored off in a boat he handcrafted from the wood of the horseflesh tree.

One of the reasons I love Bimini is because each time you head out on the water you never know what you might find. Coming across Ansil at the memorial will be something I always remember and hold in my heart about this incredible place, a random and beautiful moment that could only happen in Bimini.

To help preserve the mangroves of Bimini check out Bimini's MPA Campaign