While most people consider docks primarily as a platform from which to board a boat, many docks also serve as unique micro ecosystems teeming with marine life.
Take, for example, my own wharf. The T-shaped structure itself is comprised of three rock-filled cribs that support wooden beams and planking from above the high-tide line out 60 feet to end in six-feet of low-tide water where the top of the T provides a brace and anchoring point for a 30-foot wide floating dock.
It’s a nice little piece of wooden real estate above the water. So nice that sea gulls like to use it at times for their dining room table. The local green crab seems to be their favorite dish, but every now and then I guess they dine a la dumpster as I’ll find chicken bones instead of shells. A bit annoying, yes, but they don’t abuse it too much and I keep a push broom under the stairs leading from the embankment to the wharf.
A pair of kingfishers also like the wharf. I believe they and their ascendents live in a large copse of trees on the hill above the wharf. While a bit skittish, they sometimes alight on the top of the pilings as if to survey their hunting grounds before darting over the harbor to scoop up minnows.
A mink, and his likely ascendents, has claimed the wharf as his territory for years, but as a part-time claimant. For whatever reason he normally doesn’t make his presence known until late July or early August. At first his presence is only noticed because of the scat he leaves on the floating dock, usually by the bow of my overturned dingy and near a cleat on the dock’s south end, perhaps a marking of territory. I generally catch my first glimpse of him by mid-August, and by mid-September he will have grown so bold that I’ll often see him slinking through the crib’s rocks, swimming around the pilings, and even prancing down the wharf and up the stairs to explore the embankment’s rock wall. Like the leavings from the seagull, the scat is annoying, especially because it smells so horrific and sometimes gets on a line. Oh well, it’s his home turf and nothing a bucket of water won’t take care of.
As for fish, they seem to come and go. Minnows of various sorts can usually be found flitting about the pilings, some eel-like and translucent, others looking like baby bluefish, and then the most common ones looking like, well, minnows. Every now and then a school of mackerel will come in and do a steady weave around the outer crib and floating dock, individual fish sparkling as refracted rays from the sun capture their silver bellies and dance across their metallic-blue, wavy zebra stripes. A neighbor once caught a large flounder from his dock, but I’ve never seen nor caught one from my dock.
Last week a small school tropical-looking fish hovered off one end of the floating dock by the bow of my boat. I’d never seen them before and can only assume that they were pulled up here by the Gulf Stream, escaped its grip, and somehow made it to the shallow waters of our coast. They seemed lethargic or in shock, perhaps dulled by the icy waters or exhaustion from their journey.
Green crabs would seem to be masters of the wharf’s seabed, and are easily spotted as they pick for food among the rocks. My son used to fill up a bucket within a half hour with just a chunk of hot dog dangled from a string. They’re not tasty like their southern blue crab cousins, though, and thus soon found themselves back in the water. Once my son caught a baseball-sized lumpy looking rock crab. They might be as prolific as the green crab, but one wouldn’t know it because of their perfect camouflage.
Mussels and some kind of sea snail dominate the pilings and crib rocks, though on occasion I will spot a rare starfish. When I was younger, starfish seemed to predominate the pilings, but they seemed to have died off, whether as food for the crabs, or through disease or environmental change, I do not know.
Of algae, seaweed and seagrass, I know nothing, but they make the wharf area their home as well, and add color to the brown hues of the rocks, pilings and crib works.
And then there are the dock spiders. I prefer not to see them, and generally they oblige, but sometimes they seek an upgrade to their accommodations, from the dock to my boat. Oh well, it’s their world, too, so I just have to put up with it.
So, the next time you go boating, pause on the dock, and take time to consider the small world teeming with life that surrounds you.
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