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© Dianne Faucette


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On and Off the Beach
by Dianne Faucette, Master Naturalist
September 2010 Palmetto Perspective

As I write this article beside our beautiful lagoon system, I’m seeing several natural elements: a deer crossing a neighbor’s yard, being approached by a Great Blue Heron…a beautiful Belted Kingfisher flying over looking for something to eat…a Snowy Egret with its bright yellow feet wading in the lowered lagoon in hopes of some nibbles…Carolina Chickadees chirping all around the yard…and an Anhinga on a dead fallen limb soaking in the sun. A hummingbird is flying from flower to flower sampling the different nectars. 

Odd Beach Creature

On the evening of May 22, a large object washed up onto the Palmetto Dunes beach near the Marriott. Upon arriving at the scene, we noticed some French writing on the 20’ hull-shaped object that we were told was from some type of aircraft. The FAA arrived the next day to inspect the object. We returned to the site to take better photographs. Upon close observation, we noticed a lack of barnacles, which we thought indicated it had not been in the salt water very long. The initial report was that it was the casing of a satellite in an Ariane rocket that had been launched the day before at French Guiana, South America. But it later turned out to be a classified project developed by the US Air Force and coordinated by the United Launch Alliance. The object was then identified as part of a payload fairing from the Atlas V 501 Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), launched from Cape Canaveral on April 22, one month before washing up on our beach. This fairing is the casing that protects the OTV and was jettisoned four minutes 24 seconds after liftoff. It landed 95 miles northeast of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. It was designed to break into pieces and sink, but instead washed up 575 miles away—on our beach. I asked a United Launch Alliance official why there were no barnacles after a month in the salt water. He said the fairing was most likely caught up in turbulent waves.

This is the first time an object of this type has come ashore on Hilton Head Island. The decision was made to place this piece of space history on display at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. If you missed seeing it on the beach, you should visit Honey Horn! You can also see a video of the launch of this rocket as well as a simulation of the fairing jettison about four minutes into the video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdCpuv9RCwE or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAQ179awrcU 

Barnacle—every boat owner’s best friend

You just don’t see salt or brackish water without barnacles attached to something—natural or manmade. In the larval stage, they cement themselves to docks, pilings, boats, sea turtles, whelk shells, anything that stays still long enough. Barnacles are crustaceans whose cement glands produce an extremely strong adhesive to provide a permanent attachment to its subject. We have two common types of barnacles here—gooseneck and acorn barnacle. Both kinds have feathery legs that extend out of its carapace and wave in the water, searching for microscopic plankton to eat. A collection of barnacles on a boat bottom will cause drag and additional fuel consumption.

Symbiosis

Barnacles are examples of animals that live in a symbiotic relationship with other animals such as sea turtles and whales, or inanimate objects such as pilings, docks and boats. An animal in a symbiotic relationship depends on its partner from another species (or non-species) for food, shelter, or survival.  

I’ve observed many examples of symbiosis:

…praying mantis eggcase hidden in a long-leaf pine cone… 
…menhaden and small crabs tucked into a cannonball jellyfish for protection from predators…
…epiphytes like Spanish moss and resurrection fern harmlessly living on live oak trees…
…parasites like mistletoe living on and taking nutrients from trees…
…plants pollinated by bees…
…woodpeckers carving their homes in dead trees…
…cattle egrets feasting on insects that cows stir up in the field…
…butterflies laying eggs on plants that the caterpillars will eat…
…finches grooming Galapagos tortoises by pulling parasites from their nostrils and underparts…
…Sally Lightfoot crabs eating dead skin, algae & parasites off marine iguanas…

Miscellaneous Sightings in PD

…7 deer heading toward Highwater…
…feisty blue crabs being caught in the lagoon
…injured juvenile anhinga on Fazio course—rescued, treated and released…
…juvenile bluebirds leaving the nest…
…a pair of bluebirds using the same bluebird house nest for 3 broods in one season…
…green herons flying over the lagoon to and from their nest…
…deer drinking from a birdbath…
…juvenile cardinals growing into maturity, learning to eat from bird feeder and clumsily practicing short flights
…ospreys plunge-diving into the lagoon and returning to flight with a nice fish…

And just a short distance away from PD…a Coopers hawk standing on a yield sign in Hargray’s parking lot as we drove past.

Loggerhead Turtle Update

As of 8/30/2010, 235 nests had been laid—a new record for Hilton Head Island. One of the nests is that of a leatherback turtle. This has been an extraordinary year for our loggerheads. The Coastal Discovery Museum reports their ongoing turtle activity to the following website, and you can check it for the up-to-date count: 
http://www.seaturtle.org/nestdb/index.shtml?view_beach=73 




Piece of Atlas V payload fairing washed up on PD beach 5/22/2010


Gooseneck barnacles attached to shoe sole


Acorn barnacles attached to Mottled Purse Crab


Cannonball jellyfish containing menhaden and crab


Blue Crab caught in PD lagoon


Juvenile male Cardinal


Sally Lightfoot crab grooming marine iguana in the Galapagos