What comes to mind when you think of Florida? For most people, the top answers would almost certainly include beautiful, sunny beaches and bizarre, distinctly Florida news stories. The Sunshine State is, to put it plainly, a gorgeous place with a preposterous knack for generating ridiculous headlines. And often, those two characteristics overlap along the shoreline, as if the peninsula juts out and reaches for every bit of oddness the Gulf Stream offers.
Sometimes the stories make you uncomfortable. Sometimes they make you feel sad or sick or a bit of both. And sometimes they remind you of the wildness and richness of this state's history, for good and bad. One way or another, though, the stories will have you thinking, Ah, yes, Florida. Here are the ten weirdest things that have washed up on Florida's beaches.
10. Drugs. Let's just get this one out of the way. When it comes to unusual news stories unfolding along the beach, there's hardly a more quintessential Florida headline than an article detailing vast quantities of narcotics floating ashore. More bales of marijuana and bricks of cocaine have washed up on our sands, from Key West to Fort Lauderdale, than anywhere else in the nation. What would probably be considered a massive scandal in Virginia Beach or on the Jersey Shore has been a fairly commonplace occurrence in South Florida since the 1980s.
9. Military ordinance. People on South Beach were worried the year might end with the wrong kind of bang when the Miami Beach Police Department's bomb squad was called in and the beach evacuated around Ninth Street after a metal cylinder was seen in the sand the morning of December 27. Not to worry — it wound up being just a military phosphorous flare, probably the kind the burns brighter than the sun and makes you see spots for a few weeks. No biggie. This wasn't the first time Florida's beaches have been a lost-and-found bin for the U.S. military. After Hurricane Irma, a naval buoy detached from its mooring off Key West and wound up in Palm Beach. The Navy apparently responded by asking the civilian who reported finding it if he could put the buoy in his truck and bring it back to them.
8. Dead people. This one is both sad and unnerving. Waterlogged bodies regularly show up on Florida beaches, from Miami, such as this corpse that came ashore near 39th Street last January, to Ocean Ridge, where the body of Amantay Brown washed up this past October, and well up into the Gulf Coast at an alarming rate. There are truly too many to list, and that's not the kind of thing you can say about most seaside tourist destinations.
7. Severed limbs. While we're on the subject of the grimmer things that have wound up in the Florida surf, it's worth mentioning that time in 2012 when an unsuspecting Canadian tourist found a severed leg on a beach in St. Petersburg. The leg wound up belonging to 38-year-old Kelly Moriarty, who had been missing for three months. Perhaps sadder still is the fact that it was not an isolated incident.
6. Wildlife. On its face, the idea of animals winding up onshore doesn't seem all that weird. After all, animals live in the ocean — sometimes they might wander a little far afield. But some of the creatures that have wound up on the beach have been more than a little on the odd side. Sometimes the animals in question have been found alive, such as the full-grown crocodile that was videotaped meandering along Hollywood Beach and the alligator that the Miami Beach Police Department caught near the South Pointe Pier. But just as often, the poor critters have shown up dead, and it isn't always clear how or why. Thousands of dead bees washed ashore in Naples; a shark showed up on the sands of New Smyrna Beach after something had eaten the rear half of its body; scores of brittle starfish died along the coast of the Panhandle; and a baby sperm whale surfaced in Deerfield Beach. It's as if Florida is a dumping ground for the ocean's dead detritus — which segues neatly to the next point.
5. An enormous blue eyeball. In 2012, a monstrous blue eyeball about the size of a grapefruit was discovered in the sand on Pompano Beach. It puzzled a lot of people because nobody could figure out what creature the eye had belonged to. The story of the mystery eyeball wound up being National Geographic's pick for the weirdest news story of the year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission eventually confirmed the eye came from a swordfish. Anticlimactic? Yes. Unusual? Also yes. What happened to the rest of the fish?
4. Café cubano. Whether your preference is for Café Bustelo, Pilon, or La Llave, if you went to the beach one morning and found hundreds of yards of coastline littered with fresh cans and packs of Cuban coffee, you'd probably be pretty excited, albeit a little confused. That's exactly what the people of Indiatlantic in Brevard Country were lucky enough to experience in December 2015 after hundreds of coffee containers mysteriously (magically) turned up on their beach. Unsurprisingly, the beach was reportedly cleared of coffee within a couple of hours.
3. Tires. In the 1970s, the State of Florida, in its infinite wisdom, took on a project to build an artificial reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale by dumping 2 million tires into the ocean. The idea was that coral would grow on the tires and fish would come for the coral and people would come for the fish. The state could boost tourism and get rid of its garbage at the same time. Naturally, none of that happened. The tires not only were 100 percent ineffective as a place for coral to grow, but also essentially ensured the area they were dropped would remain uninhabitable. And to remind Florida of this extraordinary act of stupidity, these tires make their way ashore whenever a strong storm such as Hurricane Irma or Wilma gets the wheels rolling back to where they began.
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2. Eight-foot-tall Lego men. A Dutch artist who goes by the name "Ego Leonard" is very likely responsible for the appearance of giant plastic Lego men that have been found on a few beaches around the world sporting mischievous smiles and shirts with sayings that make little sense. In 2011, one such figure showed up on Siesta Key in Sarasota wearing a green shirt that read, "No real than you are." Florida's marooned Lego man had the distinction of earning the number two slot on Time's "Top 10 Oddball News Stories of 2011," so he's got that going for him.
1. Refugees. Persons displaced by dangerous conditions in their country of origin make up the most important part of this list, both because of how normal they are to most Miamians and because of the significance of that normalcy. Nowhere else in America do people arrive after taking to the open seas on rafts, dinghies, and ramshackle sailboats in search of freedom, hope, and a better life. Nowhere else can you see people running into the ocean to help starving and beleaguered immigrants fleeing from poverty, violence, corruption, and totalitarianism, while onlookers cheer and applaud the very embodiment of the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, memorialized at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It is a wholly unique thing, yet it is so completely central to the identity of Miami and South Florida, to the tapestry of what makes this place so special, that it doesn't seem strange at all.