By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
“We find all kinds of weird stuff in there,’’ the man at the Broward Waterway Cleanup said, nodding toward the mangroves at Mizell-Johnson State Park in Dania Beach. “And I mean,” he added, leaving so much to the imagination, “weird stuff.”
I lifted the weird piece of junk I’d just pulled out of the mangroves that morning – later identified in a Google search as a “Vestil Extruded Bumper” – and dumped it into the man’s cart.
“Good job,” he said, hauling away my first load to a bulk-trash bin. “Watch out for banana spiders in there.’’
Banana. Spiders. In there?
I learned that day that banana spiders are not called banana spiders because they eat bananas, nor because they live in banana trees, nor because they’re particularly banana colored. No, banana spiders are called banana spiders – with a leg span of five inches – because they’re the size of bananas.
I looked back at the mangroves along the Intracoastal Waterway, took a deeply arachnophobic breath, and pushed back in – on full alert now for spiders the size of bananas.
A mangrove stand may look pretty from a distance, but I found a mess in the tangle of roots beneath the branches. Over four hours, I hauled five 55-gallon trash bags out of a 30-by-30-yard stand just south of the park marina. Boat ropes, beer bottles, fishing nets, fishing line, platform shoes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic caps, plastic bubble wrap, plastic, plastic, plastic…
I didn’t find anything that weird (except the Extruded Bumper, apparently off a truck), but, the sad news is, you could probably haul a thousand 55-gallon trash bags of non-weird stuff out of the mangroves and still need more.
You’d need more time, too. I could have hauled out more junk if I hadn’t had to spend so much time unwrapping strands and strings and shreds of plastic from the red-brown roots.
Once all the plastic was unwrapped, though, once it was hauled down from the branches and carted away, it was wonderful to stand in the deep shade and listen to the tide lapping up across the mocha-brown mud. (And to the pursers giving instructions to the passengers of the cruise ships in another world across the waterway).
All cleaned up, the closeup view of a mangrove stand rivals its appearance from a distance. I liked the feeling, for days afterward, that at least one 30-by-30-yard piece of the Earth looked something close to natural again.
If only for a moment. I took a photo, realizing my cleanup probably wouldn’t last long. Too much garbage in, not enough out.
“You can’t think like that,” one of the volunteers said at the picnic pavilion. “Every little bit helps.”
You may wonder what this has to do with a HOME issue, full of stories on living stylishly in South Florida. But all I could think about that morning in a mangrove stand is what we’re doing to our home.
And how we can still fix it up.
So I’ll be back this month on Earth Day, April 22, and again for the 41st annual Broward Waterway Cleanup, March 3, 2018.
I’m not sure it’ll do any long-term good, but I liked the feeling – and I learned three things:
1. I’ll never use a plastic bag again.
2. You can burn a lot of calories, stepping up over mangrove roots, reaching down and picking up trash, reaching up to pull plastic out of branches, and untangling yourself from mangrove roots. I normally burn 750-900 calories on a Saturday-morning bike ride. That Saturday, according to my fitness tracker, I burned 1,447.
3. Always try to fall back on the soft mocha-brown mud – not the hard red-brown roots – when you walk face first into a banana-spider web. I burned most of the 1,447 calories there.
Editor’s note: We’re not including any photos of banana spiders here. But, if you’d like to see what I saw – if you dare – go to facebook.com/CityAndShoreMagazine