From insect galls to beach balls...have a peek at some of the balls we like to find on our beach walks in Sicily. We encountered the first type at Vendicari Nature Reserve (one of our very favorite spots on the island). As we wandered along the trails admiring all of the birds and beetles along the way, we began to notice these strange little fiber balls. One here, another there, and then as the trail led us to the beach we stood in awe as we realized the beach was covered with millions of them of varying sizes. It looked like a surreal landscape, a modern art installation project, or some sort of Pier One display gone wild. There were mounds of them drying on the beach and others bobbing on the surface of the water. We couldn't seem to wrap our minds around what we were seeing. How did these perfectly round orbs come to be? And before we could do anymore questioning or pondering, we quickly starting playing with them (they are perfect for tossing and tagging!), collecting them, and even creating with them. It is hard to resist a beach full of balls. Imagine one of those indoor ball pits, enlarged several times and perched on the edge of the water.
When we got home I did a little research and discovered the official name for these fibrous beach balls is: Posidonia Speroids. Their fibers come from Neptune grass (Posidonia Oceanica) which is native to the Mediterranean Sea. Neptune grass actually plays a very important role as indicated by it's nickname as the "lungs of the Mediterranean". It grows in dense meadows or colonies in the Mediterranean Sea. Home to many different types of fish and ocean animals, especially fragile sea horses, these Neptune grass meadows play an important role in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean. In addition to providing housing and coastal stability against erosion, the neptune grass plays a similar role to plants on dry land. It absorbs carbon dioxide and helps to slow down the impact of global warming. Sadly, these ocean lungs/meadow areas are decreasing due to pollution and human disruption (trawler boats, fish farms, marina construction,etc).
Which brings us back to those fiber beach balls...the presence of Posidonia Speroids on the Vendicari beach indicate that there must be a meadow area not too far from shore. When the Neptune grass dies back in the fall, the fibers become caught in the ocean currents and the motion of waves help to form them into their amazingly round shapes. They are tossed and tumbled and eventually wash up on beaches. Pretty cool to see what some wave action can produce, isn't it?
Stay tuned for Part 2 when we share a different kind of beach ball fresh from the Mediterranean. What are you finding on the beaches near you? Please share!