The Coastal Star

Paddling the habitats of Lake Worth Lagoon

Mangrove islands and breakwaters of the Snook Islands Natural Area —

islands built by Palm Beach County to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Lake Worth Municipal Golf Course is at left.

Photo by Palm Beach County

A kayaker paddles around the Snook Islands ­Natural Area.

Willie Howard/The Coastal Star

By Willie Howard

    Paddling a kayak quietly around Worth Lagoon between Palm Beach and Lake Worth offers paddlers a refreshing dose of nature, despite occasional distractions from the surrounding urban jungle.
    Mullet jump. Osprey peep-peep-peep overhead. American oystercatchers strut around sandy beaches on the restoration islands, created by Palm Beach County to improve water quality, promote seagrass growth and create habitat for fish and wildlife in the Lake Worth Lagoon.

    “You hear people say all the time that they had no idea this was out here,” said Bryce Billings, owner of Kayak Lake Worth, which offers guided paddling tours departing from The Beach Club restaurant at the Lake Worth golf course.

Bryce Billings of Kayak Lake Worth paddles over one of the sandy spits near the south end

of the Snook Islands Natural Area. Billings rents kayaks and offers guided tours of the area.

BELOW: Least terns started nesting on the Grassy Flats restoration islands when the islands

were completed in 2015, marking the first time the terns were found nesting on the ground in Palm Beach County.

Photos by Willie Howard and David Carson

    Billings says his paddling groups sometimes encounter manatees and cownose rays. Great blue herons, ospreys, oystercatchers, pelicans and least terns are common sights around the islands.

    Anglers fishing around the islands of the central lagoon can catch snook, mangrove snapper, barracuda, sheepshead and small bait fish along with the occasional redfish and spotted sea trout.
    Restoration islands near the Lake Avenue Bridge include the Snook Islands project, completed in 2005 (and later expanded); the two Grassy Flats islands on the east side of the lagoon near the Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course; Bryant Park Wetlands islands south of the bridge near Lake Worth’s Bryant Park; and the Jewel Cove project southeast of the bridge across from Lake Worth Beach.
    To date, the county has overseen 49 environmental restoration projects in the Lake Worth Lagoon, the 20-mile-long estuary that stretches from Ocean Ridge to North Palm Beach.
    The goals: improve water quality, promote the growth of seagrass by filling mucky holes with sand so sunlight can reach a stable bottom, and create habitat for fish and wildlife by planting vegetation such as mangroves and Spartina grass.
    Creating a place for paddling, fishing and nature observation is a side benefit of the restoration work. The Snook Islands Natural Area features a boardwalk and gazebo overlooking the mangrove islands, educational kiosks, day-use boat docks, a fishing pier and a kayak launch on the northwest side of the Lake Avenue Bridge.
    During a paddling trip in March, Billings and I shoved off from the shoreline near The Beach Club restaurant at the Lake Worth golf course, then paddled south along the south end of Snook Islands Natural Area and under the bridge to the Bryant Park islands.
    American oystercatchers, beautiful with their black heads and long bright-orange bills, let us drift up close in our kayaks before they moved or flew away.
    Paddling east across the Intracoastal channel, we found a sheltered spot east of the Grassy Flats islands, which are just south of Palm Beach’s Ibis Isle community.
    For a moment, all we could hear were birds and breeze as we drifted by a sandy beach planted with Spartina grass, also known as cordgrass. Our quiet moment was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter overhead.
    Least terns nest on the Grassy Flats islands.
    That’s significant because least terns had never been found nesting on the ground in Palm Beach County until the Grassy Flats islands were completed in 2015. Previously, the threatened terns nested on the flat roofs of department stores and warehouses, where the nests were not likely to be disturbed.
    Ten pairs of least terns nested on the beach at Grassy Flats in 2015; another 31 pairs nested there last year. Because of bird nesting, paddlers and other boaters are not allowed to stop and walk around on the restoration islands.
    Paddling back toward the launch spot at the Lake Worth golf course, we paused around mature mangroves at Snook Islands.
A tiny common yellowthroat foraged around the arching prop roots of the red mangroves as the raspy call of a great blue heron came from the shoreline.

    For information on renting a kayak to paddle the restoration islands or taking a guided paddling tour, contact Kayak Lake Worth at 225-8250 or

Lake Worth Lagoon Fishing Challenge
    The second annual Lake Worth Lagoon Fishing Challenge, a free fishing tournament that helps researchers gather information on estuarine fish and offers the chance to win prizes, begins May 26 and continues through July 9.
    Prizes include Engel coolers and Penn rod-and-reel combinations. An awards ceremony is planned following the tournament at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club.
    Participating anglers can sign up by downloading the iAnglerTournament app on their cellphones, registering for the challenge through the app and following guidelines.
    The challenge is open to anglers ages 5 and older. It’s free.
    Prizes will be awarded in several age categories. A separate sport fish prize category covers snook, redfish, sea trout, tarpon and bonefish.
    Fishing will be in the Lake Worth Lagoon, which stretches from Ocean Ridge to North Palm Beach.
    Fish can be photographed and released — or kept if they are of legal size and in season.
    Participating anglers must have valid Florida saltwater fishing licenses, unless exempt, and must submit information about the fish they catch through the tournament app, including the location of the catch, the length of the fish, the species and the date.
    For more details, go to

STAR tournament
    CCA/Florida’s STAR fishing tournament begins May 27 and continues through Sept. 4.
    More than $500,000 worth of prizes are being offered in several divisions in the statewide tournament for members of CCA/Florida who have registered for the 2017 event.
    Caught fish can be photographed against a 2017 tournament measuring device and released. Catch photos are submitted through the STAR smartphone app.
    Eligible fish include snook, sea trout, redfish, cobia, kingfish, mahi mahi, sheepshead and lionfish. Participants must be members of CCA/Florida. The adult entry fee is $35.
    For details, call 844-387-7827 or visit to register online.

Coming events
    May 6: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee is $35 for adults ($20 ages 12 to 19). Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email
    May 24: Capt. Don Dingman shares tips for catching large “smoker” kingfish, 7 p.m. at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, 201 Fifth St., West Palm Beach. Free. Call 832-6780 or visit
    May 27: Boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom building next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee is $20. For ages 14-18, $10. Family rate for three or more people: $50. Younger that 14 free with a paid adult. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.

Tip of the month
    If you’re doing your part to remove invasive lionfish from Florida waters and happen to be hit by one of the lionfish’s venomous spines, don’t panic — but do notify your dive partner immediately.
    Those two tips for treating lionfish stings are from the Divers Alert Network, best known as DAN.
    DAN suggests that divers stung by lionfish leave the water as soon as possible. Remove any obvious foreign material (such as spines) from the wound and rinse it with clean water.
    Then soak the wound for 30 minutes in hot, non-scalding water (about 110 degrees).
    Monitor the person who is stung and take him/her to the nearest emergency room if needed.
When in doubt, contact the DAN emergency hotline at 919- 684-9111.

Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at

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