By Pat Foster-Turley
October 7, 2022
Just as regular as clockwork, my orange hurricane lilies popped up out of the ground in full bloom right before the predicted arrival of Hurricane Ian. I excavated a few bulbs from a friend’s yard behind her historic home in St. Augustine a number of years ago, and planted them around the front of my home. They have reproduced tremendously, and ever since I’ve been dividing the bulbs and passing them to friends. I planted a bunch of these divided bulbs in my backyard a while ago and forgot about them. But suddenly they appeared, and so did the warnings about the impending hurricane. Perfect timing.
As soon as Fort Clinch State Park was opened after its hurricane closure I rushed over there to assess the consequences. This storm was not nearly as devastating to the park as a few previous recent hurricanes that spawned tornados that felled trees in swaths through the park, and salt winds that killed a large copse of cedar trees at the east inlet area near the fort. No, this storm missed us by a mile, so to speak.
But it still caused some changes in the park, albeit relatively minor ones. Yes, a few trees were blown down that temporarily closed off the road to the youth camping area and parts of the multi-use trail that perimeters the main road. The end of the boardwalk to the beach eroded away and is being fixed as I write this. And there was a lot of clean-up of smaller debris on the roads but not much else, luckily.
On the weekend after the storm when the park opened again what I really noticed were the scads of people parking in the parking lot and all along the side roads bordering the fort that headed to the jetty/fort shoreline. I’ve never seen it so packed and it was easy to determine why. Fossilized shark teeth collecting has become a hobby of the masses, both locals and tourists, and the best time and place to find them is after a storm near the fort jetties. Now, partly thanks to social media, the word was out. The Facebook site “Shark teeth hunting on Fernandina Beach” has 10,500 plus members and even includes instructions to remain courteous by leaving ten feet of room between hunters to avoid infringing on each other’s territory. Wow, times have changed from the days when just a handful of us locals braved the foul weather to look for teeth. That ship has sailed.
Afterwards, still in the park, I found parking in the main beach parking lot and walked down the only open boardwalk there, where the fishing pier used to be. Here too, people were looking for teeth and shells. And outside the park at Fernandina Beach’s north beach access I watched more shell and shark teeth collectors there as well, although not as many. The word among them was “if you don’t find enough here, head to the Fort Clinch jetties.” Well, good luck with that.
After the crowded storm-aftermath weekend was over, Bucko and I went to Fort Clinch to check out the beach area near the east inlet by the fort to view the aftermath for ourselves. Only a few people were here this time. Family members were starting to gather to view an incoming submarine with their relative on board but the preliminary guarding vessels were just coming into view and it would be awhile before a sub was visible. We’ve seen this amazing spectacle many times before so we didn’t care to wait. While Bucko chatted with a family member, I wandered down to the edge of the surf, where the wrack from dead marsh grasses was piled up on top of the sand, obscuring any teeth and shells from view during high tide. This was not a time to look for shark teeth. But what I did see was lots of flotsam including chunks of painted wood. All I could think of was the poor people who lost their homes elsewhere in Florida with all that remained floating in the sea like this.
It was late afternoon by now, so we stopped at the overlook to the lighthouse to take in an early sunset view. I really don’t need any more shark teeth in my collection now. Instead I collect memories and photographs like these. And I await my hurricane lilies sprouting up again next year.
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org