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Hunting for Sharks' Teeth


Golf on a breezy ocean links course, afternoon tennis and a sunset gallop along the shoreline will have to wait. A carriage ride through a parade of Victorian homes in a friendly seashore village, shopping in resort boutiques, and feasting on the catch of the day must be postponed.

 

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Amelia Island's varied terrain attracts golfers from around the world.	Though all these are irresistible attractions on Amelia Island, Florida's northernmost barrier island, they are not at the top of my list of things to do when I arrive from the Jacksonville International Airport, 29 miles away. I have heard the island is world famous for wahoo, and that, too, sounds intriguing, though I have no idea what wahoo is. If it is a form of entertainment carried over from the days when 50 bordellos lined the bluff overlooking the San Carlos Military Site, it could make a racy story to tell back home. But my investigation of wahoo must be delayed. Bar hopping by kayak, sandbar-to-sandbar, and sailing to Cumberland Island to get a look at wild horses and the Baptist Church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married in 1997 will also be delayed.

The first thing I must do is comb the beach for fossilized sharks' teeth to add to my collection of fist-sized oyster shells, ammonites as big as tricycle tires, and other marine fossils I've picked up on beaches from Morocco to Maine. I've heard it doesn't take long to find sharks' teeth on Amelia Island. In fact, if you aren't careful the teeth will find you. The largest teeth come from the giant Megalodon, predecessor of the Great White Shark. If I'm lucky, I could find a prize specimen 5 to 8 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide.

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Unhurried beachcombers sometimes reap museum-quality sharks' teeth on Amelia Island's white sand beaches."Where is the best place to find sharks' teeth?" I ask Christina Nelson, a resident naturalist at Amelia Island Plantation Resort, who unlike some naturalists I've met, is as patient with people as she is with critters. I hope she will send me to some secret corner of the 13-mile-long island as yet undiscovered by other beachcombers. Instead, I hear her say: "You can find them on the beach right outside your hotel. That's one of the best places to look."

Up at dawn, before sunlight paints the low-lying clouds the color of pink hibiscus, I trundle from my room in the Amelia Inn and Beach Club to the crystal white sand I can see from my balcony. I want to scour the pristine, tide-washed beach before swimmers and surfers mark it with their footprints.

Two hours later, still empty-handed, I chat with other beachcombers who proudly show me their caches of nautilus, conch, clam and scallop shells that have washed up in the gentle, corrugated tide. One couple is traveling up from Miami on the way north to Savannah. Their route is a reminder to me that Amelia Island is just a few miles, as the heron flies, from the Florida-Georgia border. A young woman I talk to moved to the island permanently from Chicago a few weeks before and is still awed by the tropical beauty and slower pace of life.

Later that morning, I join naturalist Nelson and a small group of natural history enthusiasts on a bicycle tour of the 1,350-acre privately owned resort and residential community. She is surprised to hear that I didn't find any sharks' teeth that morning and encourages me to keep looking. Meanwhile, there is living, not ossified, nature to discover in this complex ecosystem of saltwater marshes, oceanfront, fresh water rivers, and interior island habitats. "Saltwater marshes are the ocean's nursery," she tells us, but the first babies we see are birds, predators of marine life.

Copyright Edward Boner and www.amelia-island.net. Some of the wildlife of Amelia Island.We stop at a rookery of nesting blue herons, one of some 250 species of songbirds, shorebirds and raptors that live on the island or visit it during their migration along the East Coast flyway. We watch devoted parents fly in with a fresh fish breakfast for their open-mouthed offspring. Their nests are concealed in giant hardwood trees laced with Spanish moss, trumpet vines and mistletoe. A little farther along, we play peek-a-boo with fiddler crabs scurrying in and out of their burrows in the sand. I learn how the male's macho increases with the size of his large claw. A creature equipped with one oversized claw and one regular sized claw looks asymmetrical and a little awkward to me, but female fiddlers see things differently. Alligators, whitetail deer and other large animals refuse to put in an appearance on demand, but Christina assures us there are plenty of them nearby.

 

I get a different view of Amelia Island's natural history on a boat trip with Captain Ben Evans of Hot Ticket Charters, Inc. Captain Ben grew up on the island and holds a master’s degree in wetlands ecology. Living up to his credentials, he proves to be a fount of knowledge, all of it delivered with dry wit.

Courtesy of Edward Boner and www.amelia-island.net. Amelia Island's Tiger Point Marina.I learn from him that wahoo is a fish, not a form of entertainment, so wahoo gets scratched off my list of things to do and see. I'd rather fish for snapper, sea bass or barracuda, all of them plentiful in this sports-fishing paradise. It is aboard Captain Ben's boat that I see the wild horses on Cumberland Island and huge brown pelicans floating on the waves like small rowboats. Now a part of the U.S. National Park Service, Cumberland Island was once the summer playground of Vanderbilts, Carnegies and DuPonts.

By now I am ready to let nature rest while I take a stroll through Fernandina Beach, a city with the aura of time forgotten – like Key West was several decades ago. The next claws I see will be those on claw-footed bathtubs in Victorian bed and breakfast inns scattered throughout what was once the island's Silk Stocking District. Later there will be plenty of claws on the blue crabs I order at Beech Street Grill, one of the island’s premier restaurants.

My ramble through downtown Fernandina Beach, where a 50-block historic district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is enlivened by Ron Kurtz, director of the Amelia Island Museum of History. Ron is a slender, bespectacled fast walker and talker who has the most esoteric details at the tip of his tongue. By the time we have covered Centre Street, he has made me feel like I've lived on Amelia Island all my life, a feeling that is further enhanced when we stop at Florida’s oldest tavern, the Palace Saloon (1858), for an afternoon break.

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Fernandina Beach retains the aura of a vibrant Victorian seaport village.Locals in the crowded and colorful saloon are as likely to strike up a conversation with itinerant travelers as they are with their drinking buddies, and all are eager to answer questions or tell me their life's story. When I ask them where to look for sharks' teeth, they direct me to a boutique up the street. I follow their advice, and visit the shop, but resist the temptation to buy a tooth until I've done more hunting. Buying is a bit like cheating for hunter-and-gatherer types like me.

On my last day's visit, the weather has changed and the sea breeze is edged with a penetrating chill. Traci Templeton, another naturalist on the staff of the Amelia Island Plantation Nature Center, escorts me and a few other diehards on a sharks' tooth safari along the beach in front of the inn. Perhaps because it is breezy, we give up too soon and start to walk away empty handed. Traci reaches in her pocket and holds out her palm. It is filled with teeth she has found on previous excursions. She invites us to pick a tooth.

"You're giving these away?" I ask in wide-eyed amazement at her generosity. In the end she lets me have three teeth. I go home satisfied. Although I didn't find the teeth myself, I didn't buy them either. Next time I visit Amelia Island I'll bring along my husband. He's the family's resident geologist and paleontologist and if the teeth are there, he'll spot them.

When you go:

 

General information is available from Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, Tel: 904-277-0717 or 800-2AMELIA. Web site: www.ameliaisland.org.

For more information on everything from weather conditions to local newspapers, visit www.amelia-island.net.

Where to stay:

Amelia Island Plantation, Tel: 904-261-6161. Web site: www.aipfl.com. Also has restaurants for every taste and style of dining.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island boasts ocean views from each guestroom, plus all the luxuries you'd expect at a world-class resort. Tel: 904-277-1100.

Florida House Inn dates from 1857 and is the state's oldest hotel. Recently restored by owners Bob and Karen Warner, it features 15 guestrooms and a boarding-house-style restaurant plus an English pub that are favorites with the locals. Tel: 904-261-3300. Reservations: 800-258-3301. Web site: www.floridahouseinn.com. For an electronic tour of Amelia Island Bed & Breakfast Association inns, visit www.ameliaisland.inns.com.

Where to eat:

Beech Street Grill, 801 Beech St. in Fernandina Beach, showcases the area's freshest seafood seasoned with fresh herbs and homemade sauces. Award-winning wine list. Tel: 904-277-3662.

Brett's Waterway Café, 1 South Front St. in Fernandina Beach. Overlooks Fernandina Harbor Marina at the foot of Centre Street. Great food and casual, southern hospitality. Tel: 904-261-2660.

The Golden Grouper Cafe, 201 Alachua St., Fernandina Beach, is a family owned and operated downtown favorite. Tel: 904-261-0013.

Spirits, potable and ghostly, are found at The Palace Saloon, 113 Centre Street. Tel: 904-261-7378.

Sightseeing and recreation:

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Volunteers at Fort Clinch State Park give visitors an idea of what life was like during the Civil War.Amelia Island Museum of History, Tel: 904-261-7378; www.ameliaisland.com/museum. Florida's only oral-history museum where docents and staff experts bring the past to life both inside the museum and on tours of the city. Fort Clinch State Park is a pre-Civil War fort displaying unusual French-style brickwork. The fort is located inside a 1,068-acre state park at the northern end of Amelia Island with excellent views in all directions. It is the only place where camping is allowed on the island. Best time to visit is the first weekend of any month when costumed rangers and park volunteers reenact scenes from daily life circa the 1860s. For information, call 904-277-7274.

Kayak Amelia's owners Ray and Jody Hetchka can teach even novices how to dip and sway with the best of them to get a closer look at marine life. Tel: 904-321-0697 or visit www.KayakAmelia.com.

Kelly Seahorse Ranch provides the perfect way to walk the beach: on a guided ride atop a well-trained horse. Call Jim Kelly at 904-491-5166.

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Vacationers trot along the beach.Hot Ticket Charters' Captain Ben Evans guides nature tours and sportsfishing charters. A local with a master's degree in marine ecology, he can answer all the questions about Amelia Island and its surrounding waters that you could ever think to ask, including where the fish are biting. Tel: 904-321-1668. Web site: www.hotticketcharters.com.

Voyager Ventures in the Fernandina Harbor Marina offers sailing charters on a 100-foot gaff rigged 1840s schooner replica. Tel: 904-321-1244.

BEAKS – Bird Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary is a sanctuary and wildlife rehabilitation center located on Big Talbot Island, six miles south of Amelia Island. Open for tours. Tel: 904-251-2473.

Copyright Edward Boner and www.amelia-island.net. Some of the wildlife of Amelia Island.We stop at a rookery of nesting blue herons, one of some 250 species of songbirds, shorebirds and raptors that live on the island or visit it during their migration along the East Coast flyway. We watch devoted parents fly in with a fresh fish breakfast for their open-mouthed offspring. Their nests are concealed in giant hardwood trees laced with Spanish moss, trumpet vines and mistletoe. A little farther along, we play peek-a-boo with fiddler crabs scurrying in and out of their burrows in the sand. I learn how the male's macho increases with the size of his large claw. A creature equipped with one oversized claw and one regular sized claw looks asymmetrical and a little awkward to me, but female fiddlers see things differently. Alligators, whitetail deer and other large animals refuse to put in an appearance on demand, but Christina assures us there are plenty of them nearby.

I get a different view of Amelia Island's natural history on a boat trip with Captain Ben Evans of Hot Ticket Charters, Inc. Captain Ben grew up on the island and holds a master’s degree in wetlands ecology. Living up to his credentials, he proves to be a fount of knowledge, all of it delivered with dry wit.

Courtesy of Edward Boner and www.amelia-island.net. Amelia Island's Tiger Point Marina.I learn from him that wahoo is a fish, not a form of entertainment, so wahoo gets scratched off my list of things to do and see. I'd rather fish for snapper, sea bass or barracuda, all of them plentiful in this sports-fishing paradise. It is aboard Captain Ben's boat that I see the wild horses on Cumberland Island and huge brown pelicans floating on the waves like small rowboats. Now a part of the U.S. National Park Service, Cumberland Island was once the summer playground of Vanderbilts, Carnegies and DuPonts.

By now I am ready to let nature rest while I take a stroll through Fernandina Beach, a city with the aura of time forgotten – like Key West was several decades ago. The next claws I see will be those on claw-footed bathtubs in Victorian bed and breakfast inns scattered throughout what was once the island's Silk Stocking District. Later there will be plenty of claws on the blue crabs I order at Beech Street Grill, one of the island’s premier restaurants.

My ramble through downtown Fernandina Beach, where a 50-block historic district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is enlivened by Ron Kurtz, director of the Amelia Island Museum of History. Ron is a slender, bespectacled fast walker and talker who has the most esoteric details at the tip of his tongue. By the time we have covered Centre Street, he has made me feel like I've lived on Amelia Island all my life, a feeling that is further enhanced when we stop at Florida’s oldest tavern, the Palace Saloon (1858), for an afternoon break.

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Fernandina Beach retains the aura of a vibrant Victorian seaport village.Locals in the crowded and colorful saloon are as likely to strike up a conversation with itinerant travelers as they are with their drinking buddies, and all are eager to answer questions or tell me their life's story. When I ask them where to look for sharks' teeth, they direct me to a boutique up the street. I follow their advice, and visit the shop, but resist the temptation to buy a tooth until I've done more hunting. Buying is a bit like cheating for hunter-and-gatherer types like me.

On my last day's visit, the weather has changed and the sea breeze is edged with a penetrating chill. Traci Templeton, another naturalist on the staff of the Amelia Island Plantation Nature Center, escorts me and a few other diehards on a sharks' tooth safari along the beach in front of the inn. Perhaps because it is breezy, we give up too soon and start to walk away empty handed. Traci reaches in her pocket and holds out her palm. It is filled with teeth she has found on previous excursions. She invites us to pick a tooth.

"You're giving these away?" I ask in wide-eyed amazement at her generosity. In the end she lets me have three teeth. I go home satisfied. Although I didn't find the teeth myself, I didn't buy them either. Next time I visit Amelia Island I'll bring along my husband. He's the family's resident geologist and paleontologist and if the teeth are there, he'll spot them.

When you go:

General information is available from Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, Tel: 904-277-0717 or 800-2AMELIA. Web site: www.ameliaisland.org.

For more information on everything from weather conditions to local newspapers, visit www.amelia-island.net.

Where to stay:

Amelia Island Plantation, Tel: 904-261-6161. Web site: www.aipfl.com. Also has restaurants for every taste and style of dining.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island boasts ocean views from each guestroom, plus all the luxuries you'd expect at a world-class resort. Tel: 904-277-1100.

Florida House Inn dates from 1857 and is the state's oldest hotel. Recently restored by owners Bob and Karen Warner, it features 15 guestrooms and a boarding-house-style restaurant plus an English pub that are favorites with the locals. Tel: 904-261-3300. Reservations: 800-258-3301. Web site: www.floridahouseinn.com. For an electronic tour of Amelia Island Bed & Breakfast Association inns, visit www.ameliaisland.inns.com.

Where to eat:

Beech Street Grill, 801 Beech St. in Fernandina Beach, showcases the area's freshest seafood seasoned with fresh herbs and homemade sauces. Award-winning wine list. Tel: 904-277-3662.

Brett's Waterway Café, 1 South Front St. in Fernandina Beach. Overlooks Fernandina Harbor Marina at the foot of Centre Street. Great food and casual, southern hospitality. Tel: 904-261-2660.

The Golden Grouper Cafe, 201 Alachua St., Fernandina Beach, is a family owned and operated downtown favorite. Tel: 904-261-0013.

Spirits, potable and ghostly, are found at The Palace Saloon, 113 Centre Street. Tel: 904-261-7378.

Sightseeing and recreation:

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Volunteers at Fort Clinch State Park give visitors an idea of what life was like during the Civil War.Amelia Island Museum of History, Tel: 904-261-7378; www.ameliaisland.com/museum. Florida's only oral-history museum where docents and staff experts bring the past to life both inside the museum and on tours of the city. Fort Clinch State Park is a pre-Civil War fort displaying unusual French-style brickwork. The fort is located inside a 1,068-acre state park at the northern end of Amelia Island with excellent views in all directions. It is the only place where camping is allowed on the island. Best time to visit is the first weekend of any month when costumed rangers and park volunteers reenact scenes from daily life circa the 1860s. For information, call 904-277-7274.

Kayak Amelia's owners Ray and Jody Hetchka can teach even novices how to dip and sway with the best of them to get a closer look at marine life. Tel: 904-321-0697 or visit www.KayakAmelia.com.

Kelly Seahorse Ranch provides the perfect way to walk the beach: on a guided ride atop a well-trained horse. Call Jim Kelly at 904-491-5166.

Courtesy of Amelia Island, FL TDC. Vacationers trot along the beach.Hot Ticket Charters' Captain Ben Evans guides nature tours and sportsfishing charters. A local with a master's degree in marine ecology, he can answer all the questions about Amelia Island and its surrounding waters that you could ever think to ask, including where the fish are biting. Tel: 904-321-1668. Web site: www.hotticketcharters.com.

Voyager Ventures in the Fernandina Harbor Marina offers sailing charters on a 100-foot gaff rigged 1840s schooner replica. Tel: 904-321-1244.

BEAKS – Bird Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary is a sanctuary and wildlife rehabilitation center located on Big Talbot Island, six miles south of Amelia Island. Open for tours. Tel: 904-251-2473.