by Tim Kozusko
Cocoa Beach’s Thousand Islands are a flood tide delta deposit, formed in the past by a breach in the barrier island by a strong storm surge. The natural movement of beach sand has since closed the inlet, but the islands remain.
During the early 1970s ditching by dragline was used in an effort to eliminate salt marsh in order to control mosquitoes. Most of the productive salt marshes that once rimmed the Indian River Lagoon were degraded in a similar manner. One side effect of this dredging was the creation of a maze of narrow trails through mangrove islands and hidden hammocks that are spectacular for kayaking. The canals provide shelter for manatees, dolphins and a wide variety of coastal birds.
Once home to pre-Columbian Native American Indians, this area is rich in both tropical and temperate plant species, some of which are found not much farther north than the Thousand Islands. The vegetarian communities of the Thousand Islands include three habitat types: natural marsh, dredge-spoil, and tropical hammock associated with shell middens. Middens are trash piles of clam and oyster shells; all that remains of Florida’s original inhabitants. These unique tropical hammocks, in particular, provide resting space and feeding areas for Neo-tropical migrant bird species; the wetlands and ponds are a haven for many wading birds and migratory waterfowl. Salt marsh in the Thousand Islands is somewhat different than salt marsh found in other areas of the Banana River Lagoon. Instead of the typical temperate cord grass/needle rush plant community found on Merritt Island, Thousand Islands salt marsh is dominated by tropical salt marsh plant species such as glasswort and saltwort, and is fringed by all three species of mangrove.
Tim Kozusko is a native resident of Cocoa Beach. He received a bachelor of science degree in limnology and a master of science degree in biology from the University of Central Florida. Considered an “authority” on the Thousand Islands, to find out more about the ecology and history of the Thousand Islands of Cocoa Beach, Florida, please visit Tim’s website:www.thousand-islands.org.