Kings Crown Week at Sanibel Sea School was filled with exploration and adventure, as we set out on a mission to learn about the mollusks that inhabit our island and its surrounding waters.
We began the week with a mud walk at Bunche Beach, where we braved the slippery, stinky mangrove mud to find fiddler crabs and small King’s Crown Conchs in their natural habitat. King’s Crown Conchs inhabiting intertidal flats feed mainly on detritus, so they remain smaller than their cannibalistic brothers living near the oyster reef. After learning about these creatures, we attempted to copy their lifestyle by slithering through the mud, but don’t worry, we jumped into San Carlos Bay to rinse off before heading home to our parents.
Continuing our quest to become bivalve brainiacs, we went snorkeling at Lighthouse Beach, where we came face to face with schools of fish and a cownose ray. We also found a live cockle shell, scallops, lightning whelks, banded tulips, and plenty of mollusk egg casings. Although many of the egg casings look similar to one another, we discovered that reproduction varies drastically between mollusk species. If you have ever cracked open a lightning whelk egg casing (those long, tan swirly things you find on the beach), you’ve probably noticed that there are perfect miniature gastropods formed inside, ready to begin life. King’s Crowns do things a little differently. About 25 days after eggs are laid, larvae veliger emerge and begin a brief swimming stage, where they float in the surface currents before developing shells and returning to life on the bottom of the ocean.
We wanted to understand what life is like for free-floating King’s Crown larvae, so we strapped on life jackets and made our way out past the third sandbar to the zone where our feet can’t reach the bottom. After we overcame the uneasiness of being sort of far from shore, we laid on our backs and allowed the current to move us along the beach, slightly jealous that King’s Crown larvae get to do this every day.
In the spirit of exploration, we broke out the metal detectors to search for treasure on the beach. We found metal boxes full of mollusk trivia and won points for correct answers and for picking up trash. We also worked together to create a giant King’s Crown Conch tile mosaic, which is now proudly displayed at the Sea School.
Even after all of this fun, we somehow managed to fit in our regular activities like surfing, seining, jewelry-making, shell-collecting, and a sandcastle-building fiesta at Bowman’s Beach. We gained a new appreciation for the variety of mollusks in the ocean and on land, and a better understanding of the challenges these creatures face and the perks they enjoy.
We could never have such a great time without the huge amount of support that we receive from the community. Bailey’s provides ice to help us quench our thirst after spending all day in the heat, Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club provides scholarship funding for island kids, and the Community House of Sanibel hosts our milk and cookies slideshow every Friday afternoon. Sanibel Sea School is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to marine conservation through experiential education. Visit us on the web at sanibelseaschool.org.