For the volunteers of FillABag, the Key Biscayne beach cleanup program, it’s not unusual to come across unsightly items: tires, a portable toilet among the other associated trash that unfortunately finds a home on the island’s pristine beach.
This week, though, a volunteer stumbled across a rare find near Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park: an argonaut octopus, also known ad paper nautilus. “She appeared to be alive and was promptly re-wilded to the sea,” according to the Instagram post by FillABag with a photo of the creature.
The octopus, discovered Monday, appeared to have been washed ashore by recent storms.
Carol Lindsey, who walks the beach every day and fills up her FillABag bucket, found the creature. “I thought it was a squid but I had never seen one in a shell,” she said.
She asked a friend who is marine biologist and learned it was a paper nautilus, which is a deep water organism that propels itself with the shell. “It was gorgeous. I couldn’t believe it,” said Lindsey, who lives in Commodore Club East.
According to Cool Green Science, an online nature blog, the argonaut produces a paper-thin spiral shell to protect its eggs. It is also the only octopus that spends its life floating near the surface of the ocean rather than a rocky structure on a reef or shoreline.
This octopus has long fascinated marine scientists. Male argonauts dismember themselves and pass on their arms to their females in order to mate. But a lot about the argonauts remain unknown to scientists – they have never seen a live male specimen in the wild, Cool Green Science posted.
FillABag was started in 2018 with a small grant where volunteers would walk the beach picking up plastic and trash using buckets provided by the group.
FillABag does come across animals in distress from time to time, said co-founder Manny Rionda. His son found a sea turtle wrapped in a fishing net last month and he provided a video of a great white heron that had been ensnared by a fishing hook.
“We find a lot of crazy stuff out there,” he said. “Some natural and some man-made.”
Key Biscayne Community Foundation is the fiscal sponsor for FillABag. The Citizen Science Program also partners with FillABag to do mangrove cleanup.