Thursday, December 29, 2011

When a Heart Break is a Good Thing

Photo by Carlos Miller. Bad hair by mother nature.

This blog is six years old. I feel like an old hag in terms of blogging years. It's like Jurrasic Park around here, minus the velociraptors.

And it has paid off.

2011 was an incredible year.

Nature Girl found herself again. I frolicked with Madagascar lemurs, went fishing and interviewed a python hunter.

My co-hosted radio show with Tonya Scholz, Social Chats, turned over a year-old. We interviewed some of the coolest people in South Florida and beyond.

I hung out with pirates.

I started practicing yoga at a studio again and lost some weight.

I presented a story at Lip Service with WLRN Under the Sun in front of a live audience.

I interviewed Ron Jeremy. Ron fucking Jeremy. LOL!

Oh yeah, speaking of saucy material, I also hosted a burlesque show in Fort Lauderdale and created a special cocktail for the blog.

I conducted two blogging seminars hosted by @gopreemo, spoke at WordCamp and the Women's Success Summit, led a panel and solo presentation on blogging at SheCon, attended the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference, moderated and organized a panel on South Florida healthcare and social media for a local ad agency ... the list goes on.

For someone who used to suffer from agoraphobia, all this is kind of a big deal.

Which is why, dear readers, I'm a bit burnt out, but in a good way. And I have some big news.

First of all, I won a car. Yes, a freakin' car. Thanks to Buick Quest for the Keys. (Rest assured, I will pimp you a photo.)

But that's not really the news.

The big whopper ... envelope please ...

I was chosen to be a partner on Project Open Voice with Comcast, which means I will be up to my ass in alligators making short video vignettes about Hialeah in the coming weeks. I actually won a grant for this and had to form an LLC.

Most of you don't know that I majored in motion pictures production in college, but this was back in the pre-digital era when you used Nagras on the field, actual 16 mm film and edited on flatbeds. My tech learning curve just went from zero to sixty. No more flip cams for me. I know the art. I'm learning the new tech. Boom mics, laveliers, shotguns? Oh yeah, that's like porn to me now.

But all this was in the cards in some form of beautiful serendipity. Remember my Ford Fiesta trips with Brad Schenck? And the coolest alligator wrestling video ever? I'm back to an art form that I love dearly. For me, film making, writing and editing are all the same. I'm so blessed to have this opportunity to follow my heart's passion. This change to get back to my creative roots literally fell on my lap within 48 hour's notice. Had I blinked an eye, I might have missed it.

And speaking of heart, I'm also following my dream of giving back to the community, organizing Heartcamp for February 4 in Fort Lauderdale. All matters of the heart will be discussed at this 'unconference' -- creative, spiritual, physical, sex, love, relationships and more. I encourage you to attend and be part of this unique South Florida event.

So readers, one woman can't wear all these hats and keep a blog running. I have been thrust into 2012 with much to do. It's not the 'end of the world' as those Mayan calendar people are saying. It's a new beginning.

I don't plan on keeping a regular editorial schedule here until further notice. Because of HeartCamp and my film production schedule, plus the possible regional Florida Tweetup (#floridatweetup on Twitter) mid-January, the blog is on hold for now.

Sex and the Beach is just taking a brief hiatus to stay sane. This is a good "heart" break, which I'm sure you all understand. If I pop in, great. If not, you know where to find me -- microblogging obnoxiously and relentlessly as @vicequeenmaria on Twitter or on Facebook at I Like Sex and the Beach. And of course, you know my Youtube and Flickr channels, right? Also, please keep up with @heartcamp ... I'd love to see all of you there!

Wishing all of you all the best in 2012! Stay real and listen to your heart ...

Silicone Bitch: South Florida Social Media Year 2011 Review

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too

year end tweetup miami Silicone Bitch wishes the South Florida and tech scene a great, prosperous and productive 2012. Seen here, year's end old skool tweetup at Monty's in Miami Beach.

It was a pretty good year for the South Florida scene. Here are some random notes in no particular order, stream-of-consciousness style ... if we missed anything, feel free to leave a comment!

SheCon (@sheconexpo), a blogging conference and new media expo for women but not limited to women, got its start. Bloggers from all over the country gathered in Miami Beach.

Speaking of conferences, Women's Success Summit hosted two kick-ass events -- Michelle Villalobos (@mivi), Jessica Kizorek (@jessicakizorek) and others inspired people to do and be their best right here in our own backyard.

WordCamp (@wordcampmia) was chock full of great panels.

Startup Forum (@thestartupforum) breathed some fresh air into the community.

Refresh South Florida (@refreshmiami @brianbreslin) continued on its usual course, bringing great tech info to locals and awesome speakers, including tech heads like the founder of PHP.

Mark Laymon's (@marklaymon) New Tech Community gathered the geeks in Palm Beach County as well.

Social Media Club South Florida (@smcsf) brought great speakers to town, including Rohit Bhargava.

Social Media Club Palm Beach (@smcpbc) was pretty active too and the ladies at Association of Women in Communications in South Florida (@awcsf) weren't lagging behind, either.

Tedx Miami (@tedxmia) simply rocked. It doesn't get better than that.

Sketchy Miami (@sketchymiami) turned the simple idea of a portrait into a social phenomenon.

The 4th annual SxSe (@sxse) in Key West was the most fun you could have while tweeting and drinking.

Sea Tweetup (@seatweetup) sailed away on its virgin launch.

Miami Beach 411 (@miamibeach411) went to SXSW. (Silicone Bitch wishes they would also keep up with local social media and tech events.)

A startup bus from Florida went to SXSW. (It's too bad Miami Beach 411 and them didn't connect.)

Carlos Miller (@carlosmiller) got pissed off on Foursquare Day, which, by the way, was a huge success, in spite of the drink problem. (Silicone Bitch wishes that Mr. Miller would revive @socialmediaputo.)

Miami Beach 411 hosted several wonderful social gatherings with locals, Miami rookie residents and out-of-town visitors. No company in Miami has a better online and IRL community for locals and visitors, period. If you want to learn how to manage an online community, 411 is a great model.

We love brands that love us back! GM Southeast (@gmsoutheast) won a prize for doing just that.

And speaking of awesome brands, don't drink and drive, but Martin Miller's Gin (@martinmillergin) gave South Floridians some thirst-quenching social media love in 2011. founder Craig Agranoff (@lapp) started writing for Huffington Post and became a Palm Beach tech TV star. Oh, he also published a book about social media and election campaigns, Socially Elected. He's so hawt, we dare not even look at him!

And speaking of books, Miami-Dade locals also published an internet security tome, Securing the Clicks. Additional kudos to Alex De Carvalho (@alexdc), Gary Bahadur (@garybahadur) and Jason Inasi (@jinasi).

Let's not forget Miami author girl Tedx Miami founder Gina Rudan (@ginarudan), who wants you to see the best in you via Practical Genius.

And because we all need sustenance, Christine Najac @sflfoodandwine published the Food Lover's Guide to Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

And speaking of foodies, if you're not following @wokstar, @4theloveoffood and @rjflamingo, you're missing out on some good social media nosh stuff.

Spearheaded by the very talented and dynamic @janiec, Miami Rat Pack emerged as a great group -- "drinkers with a social media problem," Silicone Bitch once remarked.

LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) got its own South Florida chapter, co-directed by @miamishines.

Some very cool hashtags sprang forth from the 305 with great success: #top10lies, #foodiechat and #biochat.

Social media darling Trish Forant (@dayngr) started working as Community Manager for social media monitoring company Radian6 (@radian6). Represent!

And speaking of groovy South Floridians who work in social media ...

Agustina Prigoshin (@agustinap) became the Social Media Publisher at Entertainment Benefits Group. Her online show, Meet South Florida (@meetsfla) also turned one year.

Emily Taffel (@emilyontheave) became the Social Media Coordinator for LXR Luxury Resorts. (Silicone Bitch particularly loves this appointment as it works with social media friendly @hyattpier66!)

Amanda Stewart (@amandastewart) founded a new cool lifestyle and clothing company called Water Zombie (@waterzombie) based out of Fort Lauderdale.

Sebastian Rusk (@sebrusk) was social media gone wild with his videos for Social Buzz TV.

Natascha Otero (@nataschaos) turned mofongo into a social object at Jimmy'z Wynwood.

James Echols and Annette Peikert of (@soulofmiami) continued to change the face of our community with their Life is Art events.

Who dares to say this isn't an innovative, vibrant community partaking of "social" for many interesting reasons? This list could go on forever! Silicone Bitch kindly requests that you leave a comment if we didn't mention you. What resonated with you this year in local social media and tech? What did you accomplish?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The 12 Step Become A Pirate Program

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

If you don't want to read this epic post, just watch this video.

A funny thing happens when you start investigating and writing a lot about a particular topic -- you get sucked in. And if that topic happens to be pirates, that's a good thing.

Nine years ago, Michelle Murillo was a reporter in Florida doing exactly what I did earlier this month. She was on assignment covering Pirates in Paradise in Key West and got hooked. Today, she's still a journalist but also a professional reenacter who goes by the pirate name of Diosa (Goddess), teaching folks about pirate history through plays, demonstrations and lectures at events around the country.

It has taken me a year to follow in her footsteps, traveling around Florida exploring pirate history and events. Since my first trip to Key West and my subsequent time in St. Augustine where I interviewed Murillo about her role as famous female pirate Mary Read, she has become a mentor of sorts.

I shadowed her during the Pirates in Paradise and Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion weekend and got an insider's view of the pirate community.

Don't mess with my mentor when she's in character as Mary Read!


It all started when I was sailing aboard the schooner WOLF and Braze, a reenacter from Atlanta, let me pull the trigger on his blunderbuss. I had never fired a weapon of any kind before and here I was holding an antique gun with an authentic lock from 1724.

After the gun powder went BOOM! I yelled "Jesus! Oh God!"

And you know those things that you categorize as better than sex? Oh yeah. This was one of them.

Diosa, who had been singing sea shanties on the vessel, very calmly stated: "You've had your first gungasm. You are now just a few steps to becoming a true pirate."

"Is that like a 12 step program?" I replied.

Hmm ...

And so we thought about it and discussed the matter in earnest for the next two days. What are the 12 steps to becoming a pirate? Most 12 step programs are about losing an addiction. This is about gaining one unabashedly, with no regrets, apologies or adverse health effects!

One of the most bad ass moments of my life.


You have to hit the seas on a proper sailboat that is actually sailing (none of this outboard engine stuff). And if you're lucky like me, you get to do this on board the schooner WOLF, run by His Ugliness Finbar the Terrible, who is also the Admiral of the Conch Republic. And if you're really, really lucky you sail with pirates who sing sea shanties and fire guns and cannons.

The schooner WOLF as seen from Fort Zachary Taylor.

Fire in the hole!


Speaking of weapons, nothing says pirate like firing a weapon and doing it on a sailboat is definitely icing on the cake. Braze was kind enough to assist my first "gungasm" as he explained the structure of a gun (lock, stock and barrel) all of this while the boat was in full sail and wind blowing through my hair.

Firing a weapon is serious business. There's actually gunpowder school and to be a reenacter in battle you need in-depth experience and training. Crews need permits. At the Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion, there were early morning weapons checks among pirates who wanted to participate in battle.

Braze's blunderbuss. A thing of beauty!

Braze and the lovely Liberté Sparrow.

Commodore Swab, based in Key Largo, takes reproduction guns and makes them reliable. Some of the parts on the guns are original.


Apple Pie versus grog.

Did you know rum and grog sucked back in the Golden Age of Piracy? Yeah, the polished, refined spirit we know today was still in its infancy, relatively speaking. Grog was nothing more than a seafarer's beverage -- rum mixed with water, moscovado sugar or molasses and some citrus -- the universal concoction that would later become a refreshing daiquiri.

(As an aside, check out this awesome interview with rum ambassador Ian Burrel on the subject.)

For pirates, the rum helped sanitize the stagnant and putrid water on ships, the sugar added sweetness and a bit of nutrition and the citrus aided in the prevention of scurvy.

If you want authentic grog, here's the recipe: 1 part sour (citrus), 2 part sweet, 3 part strong (the most God awful cheap-ass rum you can find) and 4 parts weak (water).

But modern pirates prefer the so-called Apple Pie, which is a secret blend of herbs, spices, apple juice and ehem, a strong 'water' of your choice. If you know a moonshiner, place your order now, wink wink. Every pirate family has its own specific recipe and if I reveal too much, they'll have to kill me.

Scarlett Jai was responsible for my first sip of Apple Pie. And that's the surgeon standing right behind her.


One of the things that I love about the pirate community is that even if you are a rookie, they welcome you and treat you like family. I got to participate in pirate events after hours that aren't open to the public. One such event was the dead man's chest auction, the proceeds of which benefit Friends of Fort Taylor. A raucous event led by rambunctious Cannibal Chrispy, the auction is a great place for pirates new and old to bid on donated items.

It was here I won a bid on a groovy necklace -- a skull and crossbones cross outfitted with a small, hidden dagger.

My first baby pirate weapon.


Oh, the pirate garb! This is no ordinary retail costume shop stuff. It's serious quality, down to the stitching and buttons, which I have already discussed in previous stories on Trail of the Pirates.

Well, my first humble foray into this sartorial world was a lovely blue flouncy chemise, which I also won at auction for a modest $5. I can wear this item under whatever future bodice or corset I decide to buy. Someday I will no longer be a made-in-china polyester pirate and will hopefully wear real fabrics with authentic design.

Absolutely every professional pirate I have ever met sports the most incredible garb. I wish I could post photos of all of them but I'm just going to feature Caribbean Pearl here, a performer who wows me every time I see here with her tailored outfits. She had several costumes for each day.

Caribbean Pearl playing a character from Pirates of the Caribbean.


Singing at Fort Taylor was special. Trust me, without camera flash it was dark in there.

Captain Crudbeard of the Dark Rose crew explained to me that there were four kinds of pirates: musical, walk arounds (people who walk around the festivals performing), cutlery (sword fighters and such) and boom-boom (small arms and cannons).

But I gotta tell ya, all pirates love to sing. One of the most amazing experiences I've ever had was hanging out at the improvised tavern right after a pig roast dinner. In the cavernous cannon holds of the fort, sound bounces beautifully off the domed brick ceiling. With only candle light to illuminate the surroundings, we were transported back in time in communal singing of traditional sea shanties and pirate tunes. If you've ever participated in a yoga kirtan, this was similar, except our mantras were songs of yore.

I'm terrible with lyrics though. I only caught the refrains and learning the lyrics will be part of my continuing pirate education. The contagious melodies still linger in my ears.


Getting shackled. I hear some non-pirate folks do this at fetish clubs in Davie.

Pirates were not particularly popular, especially where governments were concerned (unless they hired them as privateers, Sir Francis Drake being the most famous). During my time at the Pyrate Invasion, I had the good fortune of being rescued from the stocks, where I would have otherwise been humiliated by townsfolk had I remained in that most uncomfortable position for any lengthy amount of time. I also got shackled by an officer, who, being British, was rather polite.


After some huffing and puffing and rigorous "inspection," the Viceroy approved of my first bodice or "stay" as this one would be technically called.

OK, this step really won't apply to guys, but this was probably the most challenging. Just Jeff, a leather artisan who works in an authentic 18th century style, bound me in leather stays while explaining the origin of "loose women" and other clothing-related terms from colonial America.

The stays were very tight and at first I had trouble breathing. It actually precipitated a bit of an anxiety reaction as I'm uncomfortable when I can't breathe freely. However, the leather conformed to my plump center rather quickly and within minutes I was fine. Suddenly I had a deeper waistline and an hourglass figure! It felt like a very snug orthopedic girdle and back in the day, that would have been my sole undergarment.

The whole bodice, corset, underbust and stay thing really confused me at first. Come on, I'm a miracle bra kinda girl.

On the previous day, I had spent almost an hour discussing bodices, corsets, underbusts and stays with a few female pirates. Bodices were more working class women who performed manual labor and needed back support. Corsets were for the fancier society ladies who could afford such finery and were concerned with their figure.

For the nether regions, you wore pantaloons and underskirts and if you had to use the bathroom there was either nothing covering the naughty bits or some flap of fabric you could open and close easily. What an incredible pain in the ass it must have been to dress up and dress down before modern brassieres and panties.

Of course, we had to ask the Viceroy, one of the most intriguing characters at the Pyrate Invasion, if he approved of my stays. I have never seen my girls jiggle so much. (See the salacious video here.)


Notice there are three babes here.

I didn't get to do this, but my pirate friends promised me they'll help make it happen. There is a great deal of education, maneuvers and protocol for cannon firing. Safety is of the first order. But speaking of cannons, check out the Viceroy's hot one. He's a real cannon maker based in Key Largo. The work is simply stunning.

Ornate and gorgeous detail here.

Pirates love their cannons! And when you fire one for the first time, your cannon loss of virginity is celebrated by a rather interesting swabbing ritual.


Swordfighting 101.

Thanks to Drake of the Fort Lauderdale based crew, I got a lesson in basic sword fighting. This is a truly addictive aspect for me as I used to dance and love movement. It also doesn't help that my brother is a sensei and expert in weapons. I have one of his samurai swords lying around the house.

If I really want to become a sword fighting pirate, I'm going to have to take some regular lessons instead of going to tweetups and social media events at night. See what I mean? Clothes. Weapons. Songs. It can start to consume your life.


What's better than firing a blunderbuss? Flogging the Viceroy!

I am one lucky bastard. Over the weekend, I had a chance to steal the Viceroy's cane and the flog him in return. According to Diosa, this is a rare treat for any pirate. I was truly blessed.


Alas, this is yet another step I have yet to do, like Step 9, firing a cannon. Although I am sure there would have been many volunteers, all the pirates I met were true gentlemen, even when flirty.

Actually, it's surprising how many of these pirates are married or attached couples. I was warned, however, to not fall in love with any pirate captains.


One great big pirate family.

So am I following in Diosa's footsteps? I think it's obvious I might I have crossed over to the dark side! In fact, I've been invited to be a participant at the Fort Taylor invasion next year in addition to my role as a journalist.

And so thus concludes the 12 Step Become A Pirate Program. I'll let you know when I've completed steps 9 and 12. Well, I might be demure about step 12. Good pirates don't kiss and tell.


Trail of the Pirates is an on-going documentary series on Sex and the Beach and has benefited from businesses and organizations that see value in this fun way to educate readers on Caribbean and Florida history.

This segment of Trail of the Pirates was generously supported by GM Southeast (Chevy), Pat Croce and staff from The St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, Admiral Finbar of the schooner WOLF as well as the fine folks who run Pirates in Paradise and The Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion. Special props go to Michelle Murillo, my friend and mentor in all things pirates. She reenacts the the trial of Mary Read -- the subject of an interview from last year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: Pirates Invade Key West

Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.

Skeleton and Caribbean Pearl strike a pose for Trail of the Pirates.

Trail of the Pirates came full circle this month when I covered the Pirates in Paradise Festival and the Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion on the first weekend of December. I couldn’t attend last year as the Key West event runs back to back to the St. Augustine Pirate Gathering and I had already been on the road for days interviewing, researching and learning as much as I could about pirate and maritime history on the east coast of Florida.


It doesn't get better than this. Sailing in Key West with pirates singing sea shanties and firing weapons with gun powder!

Pirates in Paradise is a week-long festival with costume contests, storytelling competitions, musical performances, pirate sailing trips, walk-the-plank competitions, a pirate pub, pirate tours of Key West and more. The main festival grounds are at the Truman Waterfont Annex.

Next door at Fort Zachary Taylor you’ll find the Pyrate Invasion, which features a more traditional encampment recreating the Golden Age of Piracy (1675-1825). Over three days, the fortress becomes an English stronghold where British Red Coats battle against pirates with real cannons and gun powder. Living history demonstrations allow visitors to meet well-established captains and crews.

When you arrive at the encampment, you'll see reenacters, sword fighters, antique weapons experts, musicians, a blacksmith and even a surgeon living in authentic tents. These performers take their roles very seriously for your edification on maritime history and lore. And they look stunning!

Guests can watch this battle from high above in the fort, which is surrounded by a moat. That's Lily Alexander duking it out with the guys.

The encampment as seen from the second story of the fort.

These pirates didn't shop at IKEA. No electricity or Coleman lanterns here. Everything is authentic looking.

Commodore Cutter from the gulf coast has articles of piracy for little ones to sign. Both events are kid-friendly.

You can also observe the battle from ground level, but heed park ranger warnings about where it's safe to sit.

You never know who's going to win. British or pirates? Miss Felicity of the Dark Rose crew with Spike Pierce from Key West.

Captain Budd is also a fishing guide and has been sailing all his life. He was demonstrating rope and knot works. That morning, he told me, he had caught grunts from shore for an authentic Key West grits and grunts breakfast.

Left to right: Pirates of the Treasure Coast, Cannibal Chrispy, Skeleton and Pirate Louie participated in the Key West Holiday Parade.

You've seen this incredible artist's work before if you like Captain Morgan rum. Don Maitz was painting watercolors and oils on site.

The Viceroy, a member of royalty, is also a real cannon maker based out of Key Largo. I can't remember the last time I saw such an impressive "gun" from a man.

Red Beard caused quite a stir with his furry pets.

Cascabel preparing for "fire in the hole" aboard the schooner WOLF.

Hot dogs and burgers cooked over wood, pirate style. If you nosh here, order the delicious, tangy coleslaw on the side.

Captain Crudbeard of the Dark Rose crew with a beautiful African raven that says "arrrrrgh" like a pirate.

This pirate chose to swan dive off the plank.

Michelle Murillo and her performing partner Joe Catalano taught the audience what it was like to live on a pirate ship in an interactive presentation just before the battle.

More photos on Flickr

Trail of the Pirates doesn’t really end here. I made many new pirate friends and will be exploring the gulf coast of Florida next year and hopefully the east coast of the United States north of Florida – the Beaufort invasion in North Carolina beckons!


Pirates in Paradise and the Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion typically take place the first weekend of December. Reserve your hotel early.

As if I needed to give you yet another reason to visit the beautiful Florida Keys, I can’t think of a better time to explore Key West than when the pirates are in town. You can enjoy all the wanton and lazy pleasures of this southernmost city and learn a thing or two about pirates.

Make a day of it. Explore both festivals. Sail on the flagship schooner WOLF with Admiral Finbar of the Conch Republic and musical, gunpowder-firing pirates. Bring a picnic to enjoy after the battle at gorgeous Fort Zachary beach, a state park where you can swim in turquoise blue Caribbean waters.

Oh and did you know? The fort is said to be haunted by a ghost named Wendell. Learn more about preserving this precious heritage at Friends of Fort Taylor.

And don't forget to stop at the Rum Barrel on Front Street for some great pirate-y rum drinks.

Visit the updated Trail of the Pirates itinerary for a full list of experiences.


Trail of the Pirates is an on-going documentary series on Sex and the Beach and has benefited from businesses and organizations that see value in this fun way to educate readers on Caribbean and Florida history.

This segment of Trail of the Pirates was generously supported by GM Southeast (Chevy), Pat Croce and staff from The St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, Admiral Finbar of the schooner WOLF as well as the fine folks who run Pirates in Paradise and The Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion. Special props go to Michelle Murillo, my friend and mentor in all things pirates. She reenacts the the trial of Mary Read -- the subject of an interview from last year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pythons Invade North Key Largo

Ron Rozar of USGS Python Program
If you thought getting into a South Beach club was difficult, try being a Burmese python with Ron Rozar around to check you at the door. It just aint gonna happen.

One of my favorite places to stop on my way down to the Keys is Alabama Jack's on Card Sound Road, where conch chowder, fritters and beer can be savored among the mangroves. Card Sound is at a fork in the road to the Florida Keys -- veer east from the Last Chance Saloon and you skip the U.S. 1 18-mile stretch between Florida City and Key Largo to drive through a crocodile refuge.

The American crocodile is welcome here, but another reptile is not -- the Burmese python. Since 2007, 14 specimens of this invasive species have been found in Key Largo alone.

On a recent trip to Key West, I went off the beaten path once again, this time stopping to chat with Ron Rozar, biologist and herpetologist for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which has set up office at the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is part of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and protects one of the largest remaining tracts of hardwood hammock, a globally threatened habitat.

Rozar works on the Python Project, setting traps, doing research, training law enforcement responders and educating the public about non-native species.

If you're a Burmese python, you don't want to mess with Rozar. Ruggedly handsome yet soft spoken, he's a sophisticated Crocodile Dundee of our South Florida backyard, helping restore the Keys ecosystem to its natural state.


According to Rozar, the USGS is one of a few organizations in the world with snake management experience, with a case study in Guam that serves as a cautionary tale for Florida.

Sometime after World War II, the brown tree snake from Papua New Guinea made its way to the island where there were no indigenous snakes. It didn't take long for the invader to decimate native species. The USGS intervened in the late 80s.

"By then, all the birds had disappeared," said Rozar. "It ate every bird species, one-half of all lizard species and three bat species on Guam."

A similar invasion would be devastating to South Florida's environment.

Ron Rozar of USGS Python Program

Sorry tourists and locals, but the refuge is off limits and that's a good thing for the animals. There is, however, a lovely tiny butterfly garden on the premises that you can roam and humans are always welcome at Alabama Jack's, about 20 minutes away across the Monroe county line.

The first Burmese python on record in South Florida was discovered in 1979 in Everglades National Park, but the population didn't shoot up until the late 90s. "Founding populations are low," explained Rozar. "Then they hit a threshold point when males and females find one another and start breeding."

One infamous Everglades python made the news in 2005 with a shocking photograph of a gator piercing through its gut. (See the photo at National Geographic.)

With the 2007 appearance of a Burmese python in Key Largo, USGS sent Rozar down from Miami in 2008 to deal with the problem.

That 2007 python wasn't found randomly. Researchers conducting a telemetry study on endangered, native wood rats found two of the tagged furry critters dead inside a python's belly. There are only about 200 Key Largo wood rats in the world, indigenous to the north section alone -- a very small and specific biological niche.

key largo wood ratThis cute little critter might not stand a chance against pythons. Woodrats are not the only threatened species in the Keys -- the cotton mouse, marsh rabbit, key deer, to name a few -- are in peril for a variety of reasons. Photo by Clay DeGayner volunteer for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via FAVOR.

In the hierarchy of nature, alligators and crocodiles reign supreme in the Glades and the north Keys as apex predators. But the Burmese python is another master at ambush, lying in wait in the water with only nostrils and eyes visible, waiting for a meal to walk by -- a bird, another reptile or maybe even a bobcat or deer. A constrictor, the python is smart too, aiming to tighten the lungs of its victim, waiting for the heartbeat to stop before swallowing it whole.

And swallow they can. "A deer was found in the stomach of a python in Everglades National Park about a month ago," said Rozar.

Even more troubling was the discovery of a seven-foot Burmese in Marathon. That's too close for comfort to Big Pine Key, which endangered key deer and other species call home in the National Key Deer Refuge.

Burmese pythons can also travel.

"All snakes swim," Rozar explained. "They might not be happy in saltwater, but they can navigate from Florida City, where there is an established population, to Key Largo. And before U.S. 1 was fenced in, we found python road kill. Snakes are attracted to the heat of the asphalt."

"Part of the problem is that we don't always know where the snake came from," said Rozar. "Some may be from the Florida City population, but others may be escaped or released pets. The climate is favorable for them here and they can thrive out in the wild."


"Port of Miami and Port Everglades are hubs for exotic animal imports, making it easier to buy these animals here," said Rozar. "The exotic pet trade has an incredibly powerful political lobby."

An illegal trade could bolster a black market, but the Florida Wildlife Commission doesn't want the average Joe to buy pythons anymore. On July 1, 2010, the Burmese python was listed as a conditional species and could no longer be purchased as a pet. Only properly licensed dealers, public exhibitors and researchers can possess a Burmese python.

Pet owners with pythons prior to that date were grandfathered in but must maintain a valid license. The commission doesn't turn a blind eye. Earlier this year, a West Palm Beach man was charged with illegal possession after his snake wound up in a parking lot near a multi-family home.

But still, other reptiles abound in pet stores and are available from breeders. The Argentine tegu, for example, is a non-native lizard and aggressive egg predator.

"It may be tempting to buy a reptile when it's small," cautioned Rozar. "But educate yourself. These animals require very specific care."


"Everyone is a Florida Wildlife Commissioner" -- wise words I recently heard at the Ladies, Let's Go Fishing seminar. Rozar agrees.

Visit the Florida Wildlife Commission for more tips on supporting the native flora and fauna of our state.

Support the work of FAVOR - Friends and Volunteers of Refuges and learn more about Key Largo Wood Rat conservation efforts.

Learn about invasive species and how to identify them. Not all snakes are aliens.

Report an exotic. If you're in the Keys, call 1-888-IVEGOTONE and a trained, rapid responder will be dispatched to your location. Report the finding even if it's not current -- all collected data helps researchers.

Have an unmanageable exotic? Don't release it into the wild. That's illegal. Give it up for adoption on Pet Amnesty Day organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Watch Operation Wild. The show follows Florida Wildlife Commission officers as they rescue animals and enforce laws. It's currently airing on local cable at Animal Planet.

Also watch Swamp Wars on Animal Planet, which follows Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom One unit as they respond to snake bite reports and sightings of dangerous invaders.