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A letter from Sebastian Snook
Hi! I’m Sebastian Snook and I live in the Indian River Lagoon, one of the most unique places in the United States.
My lagoon is home to lots and lots of different kinds of animals and plants — more than 4,300 in all — including more than 2,000 species of plants, 600 species of fishes and 300 species of birds. Scientists call places where many different species live “biologically diverse,” so I guess you could say that the lagoon is one of the most biologically diverse places in the United States; and that’s pretty special!
All lagoons are shallow bodies of water separated from the ocean by a series of barrier islands. Inlets, either natural or made by people, cut through barrier islands and allow tidal currents to transport water into and out of lagoons. Rivers and streams also empty into lagoons, so the water in a lagoon is brackish, a mix of salt water from the ocean and freshwater from rivers and streams.
The Indian River Lagoon is part of the longest barrier island system in the United States and takes up about 40 percent of Florida’s east coast. It spans 156 miles from Ponce de Leon Inlet in the Mosquito Lagoon to Jupiter Inlet near West Palm Beach. For most of its length, the lagoon is less than 4 feet deep and ranges from one to five miles wide. Three water bodies make up the Indian River Lagoon system: the Mosquito Lagoon, which originates in Volusia County, the Banana River in Brevard County, and the Indian River Lagoon, which spans nearly the entire four-county area of Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the lagoon, and the one that makes it so special, is that it spans a transition zone between the colder, temperate climate and the warmer subtropical climate. Here, species from both cold and warm climates intermingle and thrive in the many different habitat types of the lagoon region.
Although my neighborhood has more than 600 species of fish, we snook are considered celebrities in the lagoon. Our picture is on a license plate!
If you think all fish look similar, let me tell you that we snook stand out from the crowd. I’m a large, sleek, powerful fish, like a sports car with fins, at least I will be when I’m older. My body is a shiny silvery color, but the top of my head and along my back get greenish and darker. My fins are bright yellow in color. My lower jaw sticks out like a shovel, and I have a long black racing stripe on my side that runs from my gills to my tail. OK, it’s really called a lateral line, and it helps me to sense things in my environment, but to me, it’s a racing stripe! Once you see my stripe and my funny-looking jaw, you won’t likely mistake me for any other fish. We snook are distinctive, just like the lagoon!
When I was smaller, I used to like to spend time in quiet rivers and creeks protected by overhanging vegetation. I also spent time near rocks or pilings that provided cover. These calm, shady areas sheltered me and helped me capture dinner. Now that I'm older, I like to spend more time in saltier water, especially during the summer months. Seagrasses and mangroves in the lagoon are an ideal place for me to grow up and get strong. There’s always plenty to eat in the seagrass, and the roots of mangrove trees help protect me from bigger fishes that might try to eat me.
What’s for dinner?
For me to grow up big and strong, it takes a lot of food, and I’m not a picky eater. Fortunately, the Indian River Lagoon is like one big grocery store for me. Pinfish, bay anchovies, mullet, mosquitofish, pigfish shrimp and other small crustaceans are among my favorite foods. I will catch food all day long when the opportunity arises, but I really concentrate on feeding about two hours right before sunrise (the early snook gets the shrimp, after all) and a few hours after sunset. If you’re thinking that I must grow up to be one of the biggest fish found in the lagoon, you'd be absolutely right. My hearty appetite allows me to grow more than four feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds. However, it’s going to take me a few more years before I get that big.
Catch me if you can
When I do get big, one thing I'll have to watch out for are anglers — people who like to go fishing for fun or recreation. Anglers consider us snook “game fish,” that is, big, strong fish that put up a good fight to not get caught on their fishing lines. Game fish like me are one of the biggest challenges to people who fish in the lagoon, so we tend to attract lots of anglers to the lagoon each year.
Back in the 1950s, the problem of too many people trying to catch us caused our family to be nearly wiped out in Florida’s waters. Commercial fishermen and anglers took too many of us, and lots of our crucial mangrove and salt marsh habitat was lost to human development. Fortunately, the government of Florida stepped in and banned commercial fishing for snook throughout the whole state. That meant that snook could no longer be bought in markets or sold in restaurants. As you might imagine, that took a lot of the pressure off our population and allowed our stocks to replenish.
Other rules were put in place for recreational anglers that limited the size and number of snook that could be legally taken. Scientists say that these rules have helped our population numbers to rebound, which means there are a lot more of us around today. Phew! That’s good news for me!
Well, I hope you learned a little about me and my lagoon. Of course, it’s your lagoon too, so treat it gently when you come to visit and be careful not to pollute it. My friends and I would sure appreciate that!