Tide In, Tide Out: Life Among Flotsom

Water streams past you, pulled by the tide. Flowing along side the shore, it carries with it whatever floats or is lightweight and unanchored. Natural flotsam casually passes by, a collection of mangrove seeds, fallen sea grape and mangrove leaves, a sea bean or two, random loose sea grasses and the occasional stick or branch. Each receding tide pushes the procession from the bay, through the passes, and out into the Gulf.  Then the returning tide pulls the water back into the bay and much of the flotsam is carried back once more along the shores.  It seems there’s nothing to see but organic debris.

Wait…what is that?

Below that leaf…

Leaf Fish

…a small fish is hiding there!

Parts of the procession are alive!  There is a collection of creatures that use the flotsam as protection.  Hiding behind leaves or blending in with floating seeds and grasses, they travel along with the tides.

Remarkably hard to photograph, these often tiny creatures are always moving.  Some that cling to the flotsam, such as grass shrimp and small anemones, are moving only at the speed of the tide waters.  Others are free swimming and, once they sense they are discover, will dart to the next sheltering leaf.  Young filefish will pretend to be part of blades of sea grass.  Small burrfish pass as stuffs of seaweed.  Some fish species take mimicry to an extreme.  I have seen one small, yellowish-green fish that actually hangs tail-up and slightly bent, as if is were a true leaf.

Then there was this piece of sea grass…that darted away from me twice.


I would never have noticed this young fish, if it had not moved so quickly.

I’ve seen a few of these wonderful spider crabs swimming along with the current.  The first time I spotted one I had to do a triple-take to make sure of what I was seeing.  It could have easily passed as a small clump of dead grass.

Planktonic Spider Crab-01

Next time you’re at the shore and things are floating by, look a little closer and you may see something wonderful!

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  1. I’ll have to remember this the next time I’m walking along on the beach (hopefully up at Monterey) Wonderful, informative blog.

    • Florida Fandango

      Thank you!
      I’m not completely sure what the current does there, but it would be interesting to find out.

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