“There’s a gray shark tooth in there,” Mark Renz nonchalantly said after dumping two scoops of Peace River crunch into a wood-framed screen which was strapped with two pieces of a baby blue foam pool noodle. He pushed the floating screen toward me and as I looked down, staring back was a 1-inch layer of what looked to be black stones and pebbles of various sizes.
“Where is the tooth?” I said to myself.
I’m very observant (we quiet ones typically are) and when walking along Southwest Florida beaches, it’s easy for me to spot the small, black, shiny, triangle-shaped fossilized treasures but here, in the middle of the Peace River, I was out of my element. I didn’t see a darn thing resembling anything.
I am, however, very determined (hey, I’m a Taurus, it’s in my nature) so although at first glance I saw a pile of “junk,” I began sifting the sediment in the water to let the fine stuff flow out. Then, poking my fingers in the mixture, I literally left no stone unturned while tossing the “junk” back into the river until there was nothing left but fossilized shark teeth. I repeated this process every other minute or so before asking my fossiling partner-in-crime, Janet, for another scoop.
My journey into the Peace River happened in March, the day before I hopped on a plane for 24 hours of air travel to Thailand. I was chest-deep in the Peace River near Arcadia along with Janet who traveled from Montana to spend some time in the sunshine.
Yeah, I’m a terrible friend because she contacted me months prior asking if she could visit and soon after, I told her I was heading halfway across the world during her stay. No worries, she’s flexible, and we had some quality time catching up after about 20 years since leaving Everglades National Park.
Psst! Check out her Roam for Improvement blog and see what awesomeness she’ll be doing next year!
Long story short, I arranged to go fossiling with Mark Renz of Fossil Expeditions because, well, he’s very good at what he does. Plus, I joined one of his expeditions several years ago and I’ve been looking for an excuse to do it again because it’s such a freakin’ cool experience!
Let me explain something, although it’s cool to gather fossilized shark teeth on Florida’s beaches and rivers, a permit is required for vertebrate fossil collecting. Rather than individuals getting their own permits to collect for fossils on State of Florida owned land (it’s $5 but paperwork needs to be completed), they can gather fossils with a guide who has a permit. I’m not an expert on the topic so check with the University of Florida’s Program of Vertebrate Paleontology site to learn more about collecting this non-renewable resource.
Before the aquatic expedition into the chilly Peace River water, we met in a Burger King parking lot and caravanned with the other fossil hunters, to a park near Arcadia. There, Mark gave us a rundown, with samples, of what we may find including shark, mammal, reptile and fish fossils. I was happy with finding anything but of course, a little bit of me was secretly hoping for the mother load, a perfectly huge Megalodon shark tooth.
“Do you feel the crunch?” Mark asked after instructing us to shuffle our feet until the ground was no longer soft but crunchy. This indicated a vein of potentially fossil-rich material from the Miocene era (about 23.03 to 5.332 million years ago. Don’t worry, although I have a degree in Earth Science, when you don’t use it, you lose it and I had to Google that factoid.)
We scooped and sifted for about four hours straight, to the point our fingers and other appendages were beyond prune-like, and ended up with an impressive haul that included fossils as tiger and lemon sharks teeth and bones belonging to whales and dugong and turtle shell. We found a piece of a Megalodon shark tooth but didn’t find the ultimate treasure, which means I see a return trip in my near future.
Mark Renz is one of those salt of the Earth, genuinely good people. He has a sharp sense of humor, kind nature and knack for storytelling. He has a keen eye and stunning photographer. When you go fossil hunting in the Peace River with Mark, ask him about his bicycle trip across the U.S.