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NFC: eulogy to a ditch


Eulogy to a Ditch

Robert Rice
robertrice at juno_com

It is a small insignificant ditch 100 or so yards long and at its widest maybe a foot or so. It empties it's insignificance into the Santa Rosa sound. It's head is a small stockpot sized boiling spring long since stuck in a pipe. Not the type of thing you would have noticed unless you were a fish, a bird or some other wild thing but I did. It runs in and out of maze of concrete pipes all along its stretch. By the Pak n Fax a pipe, By the Regions Bank a pipe, under the highway another pipe until now its biggest open stretch is 15 or so feet. It has been pretty effectively tamed. It causes no real concern for most folks. They drive over it or by it every day on highway 98 on their way to work, play, or other important things. All the while this tiny ditch in rain or shine, drought or flood has kept trickling on. I doesn't flood it doesn't dry out it just carries on. A fact the birds, fish and other wild things surely appreciate.

It surprised me a lot the first time I sampled it. It had at its head end it had a eclectic mix of fish including, everglades pygmy sunfish, a colorful strain of Hetereandria Formosa and Gambusia. A surprising diversity for a detached coastal spring. How they got there is anyone's guess. Maybe this little ditch was once attached to someplace else. Not anymore though it stands alone as the last of its type in my home town. At the sound end were a Seminole killies. Adena xenica, mullet, pinfish and an odd visitor from the sound. Pretty neat ditch for the aquarist or school teacher to dabble into. I don't know if there were any other dabblers out there as far as I know though me and my daughter Erin were it's lone visitors.

I changed my tense because you see it is gone now. The last time we visited it something significant happened. While stopping in at the Pak n Fax parking lot next to the roasted peanut lady to do some collecting a large truck came. It dropped off 36 inch plastic blue pipe and bulldozers and the like. Someone, somewhere decided it was progress to completely cover this insignificant little ditch. It would look so much neater to have asphalt all the way from parking lot to the highway. Not that it looked bad now, but someone thought asphalt would look better. Having seen asphalt I tend to disagree but my opinion was never ask. So the Heterandria with the cute redspot were sacrificed to the rechanneling and piping of the ditch. The evergladi had disappeared several years earlier after the installation of pipes for some new business. Turbidity, isolation and rechannelling took care of those small egglayers. Then only the live bearers were left. Now they also are gone. I ask why, it was explained as flood control. I wondered aloud at 30 yards from the sound how much flood control could it be? It did not matter ultimately. It all basically came down to control. People in control are not satisfied with the way things are and they want to fix it. Not that most of us ever thought it was broke. In this case it didn't matter much. The non broken ditch was removed much the way a surgeon removes an offending mole.

So I sat alone one afternoon in the Pak and Fax parking watching them scoop out a new channel. In no time the ditch became a muddy mess loaded into the backs of trucks and hauled off to the landfill or where ever old ditches go. I decided progress has no heart or much good science. I don't think the people who did this are bad people, I don't think they even considered that little ditch at all. It was an object to be moved, shaped and terminated at their leisure. It never was to them anything alive. It was just in the way. To the wild things that lived there it mattered greatly to me it mattered less and to those in charge it mattered not at all.

A few of the Heterandria with the red spots exists still today in isolated colonies around the country but they are pretty much gone. I keep a colony up in my garage. Sooner or later I will move and have to give up my colony. That local strain will interbreed with other domestic Heterandria and add their genes to the greater pool. That strain, that ditch, that place is gone now. The fish, the birds, the wild things miss it much more than I do. That was their home, water source and perhaps their life. It's all gone now though. Its not easy for a wild thing to get a clean drink of water on the Gulf of Mexico and now in my neck of the woods it just got a bit harder. I know today the price of "progress", it costs a small insignificant ditch next to a highway, now covered in plastic blue pipe and 6 inches of asphalt.

I strongly encourage aquarist to get involved in local conservation issues. Please take the time to share with your friends/children about local species. Take an afternoon, a jar an aquarium net and a Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes and see what you see. It's the best way to learn about our wonderful native fauna! Consider getting involved in conservation of, aquarium rearing or studying your local species. You might be the first one to successfully breed and rear a common local species or even discover a new one!

I am involved with the Native Fish Conservancy (NFC) a not for profit aquarist friendly conservation organization. I recommend you check into the following resources NFC, NANFA and your local state natural resources department they have many cool books about the wild things in your state at very reasonable cost. If you would like to reach me try email robertrice at juno_com or by SASE at

Robert Rice
Save those Fishes,  Join the Native Fish Conservancy
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