One of my favorite day trips in Florida was our visit to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It was our first opportunity to see the fascinating West Indian Manatee up close.
Manatees are one of the animals most associated with Florida. Some times called sea cows because of their habit of grazing on plant life as they slowly move along their way, these gentle giants are a sight to behold. With its crystal clear water, Homosassa Springs is one of the places where you can get a good look at these creatures.
The park puts on a Manatee Educational Program several times daily. You learn about these gentle giants, and get to see them interact with a park ranger. For instance, manatees are quite intelligent and are capable of learning complex tasks. Their ability to learn is on par with dolphins, and they have pretty impressive long-term memory.
It also turns out that they have a love of sweet potatoes. When a ranger enters the water with a bucket full of cut up sweet potatoes, it’s a sure bet that she’ll have a cadre of manatees gather around in short order for their treats. You haven’t lived until you see a manatee poke its mouth out of the water and ask for a sweet potato.
The water at Homosassa Springs is perfectly suited to the manatee, who require a water habitat within a quite narrow range of temperatures. The park is home to several manatees who, because of health issues, cannot be re-released into the wild. They also care for injured or ill manatees until they can be released back into the wild. I loved being able to walk along the canal and watch the manatee graze their way past.
Because of their size there are no real natural threats to the manatee. Unfortunately, they’re considered endangered because of loss of habitat, increased contact with motorized boats, and climate change. Most of the manatees at Homosassa Springs were injured by contact with boats. There have also been several instances of manatee deaths related to algae blooms, a result of rising water temperatures.
There are an estimated 13,000 West Indian Manatees, with about 6,100 of them in Florida.
I took this photo years ago when we went to Homosassa Springs. I love the way the colors of the flamingos pop among the greenery and the way the water seems quite abstract. It almost seems like a painting.
Located at the Sponge Docks, this beautiful monument honors the sponge divers of Tarpon Springs.
The sponge industry has been one of the leading industries in Tarpon Springs since the 1880s. Prior to 1905, sponges were hooked. That changed when John Cocoris introduced the traditional Greek method of sponge diving. Cocoris recruited divers from his home country and soon, Tarpon Springs was home to the largest percentage of Greek Americans in America.
This beautiful stained glass image is part of the tiny St. Michael’s Shrine in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
The shrine was built about 80 years ago after a young boy, Steve Tsalickis, lay near death. The young was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His vision and hearing was already affected and the doctors told the family there was no hope. Bedridden for months, one day the young boy asked his mother to bring him an icon of St. Michael the family kept in the living room. When she brought the icon to him, Steve said he had seen St. Michael.
Steve made a complete recovery and, in honor of the miracle, his parents built the small shrine. Today people come from around the globe to visit the shrine.
In Roman Catholic teachings St. Michael is known as the leader of the Army of God, and he is frequently depicted with a sword and armor. In the Book of Revelation, St. Michael defeated Satan during the war in heaven. Interestingly, Michael is an Archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam; in all three faiths, Michael is the protector of the faithful.
I love to photograph lighthouses. When we travel, if there is a lighthouse nearby we’ll take a ride to visit the site. Here are a few we’ve visited over the years.
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outer Banks, NC
The Hattaras Light is probably the most famous Outer Banks lighthouse but I think the Bodie Island Light is much prettier. The light was built in 1872 and stands 156 feet tall. It’s one of the few brick tower lighthouses and has an original first-order Fresnel lens.
Crooked River Lighthouse, Carrabelle, Florida
Also known as the Carrabelle Light, this cast iron skeleton lighthouse was built in 1895 to replace the Dog Island Light, which had been destroyed years before in a hurricane. The light stands 100 feet tall and housed a fourth order Fresnel lens. The light has been decommissioned and the Fresnel lens has been replaced with an acrylic replica.
St. Augustine Light, St. Augustine, Florida
This beautiful brick lighthouse was built in 1874 and stands 165 feet tall. It contains a first-order Fresnel lens. In 1980 The women of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a 99-year lease on the house and grounds and began restoration. Shortly after they began the restoration the League signed a 30 year lease of the actual lighthouse and began restoration. At the end of the 1980s the League had the original Fresnel lens restored.