Unusual find leads to mystery about origins
Marna Kipf and her husband Tim went out one morning for walk on the beach.
For Marna, this was one of the joys of Gulf County; Tim not so much.
“I love to walk,” Marna said. “I could walk all day long looking for shells.”
The couple, who reside in Central Florida, recently purchased a townhome in Barrier Dunes on St. Joseph Peninsula.
“We have been coming there for 10 years and finally bit the bullet,” Marna said. “We love it there.
“We try to get up there as much as possible.”
From their townhome that morning, the couple started in the direction of T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
Near the park boundary they noticed an unusual object in the beach.
“I thought, oh know, it’s a dead turtle half-buried in the sand, it was so large and unusual in shape,” Marna said.
“It was beached but still definitely in the surf.”
As they got closer, however, the object proved to be no turtle.
Of course, it took them some time to understand what it was.
“I am not kidding, it took us an hour to dig that thing out of the sand,” Marna said. “And we didn’t know why it was so heavy.
“We thought what in the heck is this?”
No phones in their possession, not that it would have mattered at their location, Marna strode down several houses in search of a fishing knife.
She borrowed one and took a few chunks from what essentially appeared to be a bale of something very hard and wet.
“It smells like barbecue and beef jerky,” Marna said of her samples, noting the aromas are driving her cats crazy.
Marna was not done, to Tim’s chagrin.
“He said why don’t we just leave it and somebody else will find it,” Marna said.
Marna was determined, though, and the couple made a beeline in the direction of the crosswalk inside the park, running behind cars in the parking lot to prevent their feet “from exploding.”
“It was so hot at this point I thought (Tim) is going to kill me at some point,” Marna said.
Finally, Tim’s whistling drew the attention of Park Ranger Robert Sumner, who, after initially gazing upon the couple as if they were crazy, accompanied them to the spot in his buggy.
Sumner described the bundle as weighing at least 80 pounds and based on research he believes it is a bale of rubber that came off a cargo ship.
“It did not come off either of the World War II wrecks that are out there in the Gulf,” Sumner said, adding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the park system, is researching the bundle.
As it should happen, similar bundles have been showing up on beaches from England to Belize for years, according to a story published last month in the Palm Beach Post.
Several washed ashore in Palm Beach County last month.
The bales are believed to be vulcanized rubber, which after being spun is wrapped in burlap; burlap was evident on the bale found on the peninsula.
“You could see the impression of burlap had been wrapped around it,” Sumner said.
And, according to the Palm Beach Post story, rubber has been shipped for years, typically in 75-pound bundles.
In a 2014 article on BBC.com a woman had traced a bale of rubber found in England to a 19th-20th century plantation in Indonesia.
“There is no proof, they don’t really know what kind of ship it came off of or when,” Sumner said. “No telling how long it has floated out in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Or, Sumner added, maybe the bale was from a ship in the Atlantic and was caught in the appropriate stream and ended up in the Gulf.
And major storms, such as Hurricane Michael and other storms that have impacted the county, can move even artificial reefs, so bales of rubber are hardly a match.
“We are researching it,” Sumner said.