Florida Fossil Collecting Stories & Pictures

                               Golden Gate Member Of The Tamiami Formation

                                                      Fact Or Fiction?



For over 20 years an aggregate and sand pit has operated in the city of Bonita Springs, Lee County, Florida. Access has now been limited to a select few individuals who started collecting there at the time the pit had first opened. The geology of this area began to fascinate many people from Meeder’s research in the 1970’s and later while doing his doctoral dissertation in the 1980’s. Meeder made fabulous geological discoveries in quarries and housing developments around Collier County, Florida. He discovered rich zonated reef tracts of coral which now make up what is referred to as the “Everglades Pseudoatoll” named as such by world renowned professor of geology Ed Petuch in a number of his publications. Meeder’s research took him to an area in Collier County, Florida that was starting to grow into a housing development called “Golden Gate”. In 1985 Ed Petuch while teaching Geology and other courses as a professor at Florida Atlantic University heard of similar zonated reef structures and coral coming from a housing development in Miami, Florida. He investigated and with a great amount of research tied together the Miami coral reef structures with the ones found in the Collier County, Florida areas that Meeder had researched. Discoveries also of the same type were made at the Mule Pen Quarry in Naples, Florida in Collier County that was owned by Florida Rock Industries. The Bonita Springs Quarry we go to with our friend was found to be near the beginning or the northernmost part of this amazing massive coral reef tract now known as the “Everglades Pseudoatoll”.



                                      Well Preserved Manicina areolata pliocenica

                               From The Everglades Pseudoatoll Golden Gate Member



Missimer, another scientist who studied the work by Meeder and others, resurrected the term “Golden Gate Reef” which is now shortened to the “Golden Gate Member”. “The Golden Gate Member” appeared to be equivalent to the “Fruitville member of the Tamiami Formation” in age. But due to its unique coral reef facies and reefal limestones it became known as the “Golden Gate Member of The Tamiami Formation” Some scientists still ignore the term “ Golden Gate of The Tamiami Formation” and call it just another extension of the Pinecrest Member of The Tamiami Formation as it was earlier addressed. Actually the Pinecrest member is older and is equivalent in age to the Ochopee member of the Tamiami Formation.


Our family has been very fortunate to have gained access to the Bonita Quarry by one of the first collectors who had been there collecting for over 20 years. We have spent a lot of time over the last few years collecting and studying this quarry nearly every weekend with them. We compared our visits to other quarries that had Fruitville or Pinecrest members of the Tamiami. SMR Aggregates in Sarasota Florida and in the 1980’s the Apac Pit which was off Fruitville road in Sarasota were just two of the examples we compared to the Bonita Quarry. We can say without any hesitation that the Bonita Golden Gate Member is unlike anything we’ve seen before. The Sarasota quarries were of course a slightly colder water environment even though many fossil corals are found there in the coral reef zones that existed in them. But neither one of those quarries were even close to being as rocky as the Bonita Quarry. Neither were as rich in coral and molluscan species that preferred warmer waters and lagoons surrounding an atoll or pseudoatoll  like coral reef as it is now known  .


The Bonita quarry is so mega rich in fossil coral species, we seem to find new species in the spoil piles nearly every weekend. Species of coral found at no other quarry we have ventured into. The species of echinoids which are found in the quarry appear to represent extinct subspecies of echinoids found today in Florida waters. The molluscan fauna represented here is so rich that it literally covers molluscan assemblages from the time period of the Ochopee Member of the Tamiami Formation to the 100,000 year old Ft Thompson Formation. The Ochopee member represented here contains many well preserved large colonies of Pecten, Barnacles, Echinoids and other sea creatures. However, species from the Zanclean Pliocene of the Buckingham member of the Tamiami are absent here. The Bermont formation also makes several appearances and appears to have both a Holey Land Member and Belle Glade Member present.                                 


                                                Ochopee Member Shoreline

The quarry was limited to digging no deeper than the Ochopee member of the Tamiami by the Florida Water Management District several years ago. Originally, years ago the quarry had been pumped out of any ground water and early collectors got a chance to see several of the quarries geological layers with shells and coral in situ! There were concerns that deep excavations are contaminating the ground water in that area so deeper digging was stopped several years ago. But over the years they continually dig and hit right into the “Everglades Pseudoatoll” with its rich reef tracts of coral and mollusks found only in the “Golden Gate Member of the Tamiami”. Some of the species found here are endemic to the Golden Gate Member only and no other area of Florida. Several molluscan species including Conus berryi found in both the SMR Aggregates Pit and the Apac pit can grow to a very large size in the rich limestone coral reef environment that existed in Bonita during the Piacenzian Pliocene. Many large conchs such as the rare extinct Titanostrombus immokaleensis are found only along this area of the Golden Gate Member called the Immokalee Reef Tract. These large conchs resemble the modern day Queen Conchs in many ways that now exists mainly in the Florida Keys. Beautiful cowries also exist here in the Fordville member of the Caloosahatchee Formation. Cowries like Siphocypraea(Lokossea)mulepenensis discovered years ago in the Mule pen quarry are found here in great numbers. Some with fantastic preservation of both gloss and color!                  




 Siphocypraea (Lokossea) mulepenensis   Titanostrombus immokaleensis                    


The Bonita quarry is mined primarily by Dragline excavators that we refer to as “Monsters of the Quarry” and numerous Track hoe excavators often seen in quarries to the north of this area. The process of mining such a rocky area first begins by setting charges of dynamite in patterns along the ground. The ground is dynamited loose and the large draglines scoop the aggregate into large piles with the track hoes. In these piles are found the remains of ancient sea creatures like mollusks, echinoderms and corals. These creatures that have been extinct for 1 to 3 million or more years depending upon the depth they were mined from. Material mined is carried by dump trucks to the processing plant and crushed down to fine aggregate for roads and other construction materials. Most seashells or mollusks that are found here are very well preserved, if found before they are taken away and crushed. Some are also preserved in the form of molds and are rocklike in nature. Many bivalves are found complete and cemented together by matrix. Echinoids are preserved in a rocklike way feeling very hard to the touch but many still retain complete patterns and even their original tests but they are more solidified. Spondylus or “ thorny oysters” are often found complete and embedded in the rocky limestone matrix.                                       


                                 Dragline Monster                        Dragline Monster Scoop

A dig site deep in the quarry last year exhibited the largest concentration of endemic Golden Gate Member of the Tamiami species that we have ever seen. Some of those are found  identified in the pages of Ed Petuch and Charles Roberts Book- “The Geology of the Everglades and Adjacent Areas” published by CRC press in 2007. We use their book as our primary source of reference on the Golden Gate Member and many other geological formations around the Everglades. Some articles on the coral from this area have been published or written by various individuals but are few and far between. No other publication has even been able to do justice to this fascinating geological area as the Petuch-Roberts book has done. Fossil seashell collectors all over the world are now being offered specimens from this area by us and a few private dealers in Florida. Unidentified Golden Gate sea shell specimens have often been in fossil shell collections for several years found in the Mule pen quarry before they closed. Now those unidentified Golden Gate Member treasures are coming to light since new books are being written.  


                                          Golden Gate Member Spoil Pile                        

We have included several pictures of the quarry and examples of what can be found with pictures accompanying this article. Please be aware that the quarry is no longer letting individuals enter to collect unless they have been doing so for several years with permission. Unfortunately, attempts by clubs and other individuals to explore this quarry aren’t possible. The quarry is very large and you need to walk great distances to get around and can be very dangerous to the novice and inexperienced collector. All safety precautions are taken and safety clothing is worn due to the jagged rocks and other aggregate. Unlike SMR aggregates no cars are allowed inside. The quarry is extremely rocky and has some dangers that make it much more of a liability issue to the operators than in other Florida quarries.


Regardless, of warnings to stay out of the mine, several collectors have still snuck in and posted items in different fossil forums showing the spoils of their efforts. Some collectors are even rumored to have entered at night with glow lights which is stupid and could end up being dangerous to your well-being. Please, again be aware that nobody but a small group of individuals that have been going in there for years has permission to collect there. You must make contact with one of those individuals that can bring you in with them that know the ropes! Don’t trespass without them as it ruins it for everybody in the long run.


We hope you can now see that the Golden Gate of the Tamiami is very much a “Fact” and not just fiction! We hope you enjoyed our article and we ask everybody to contribute articles to the web site that we can post that will be informative to fossil collectors all over the world!



Betty, Melanie & Gregory & the The Staff at Florida Seashells & Fossils LLC


Rhycholampas Ayersi-Ayers Landing Member Of The Caloosahatchee Formation Bonita Springs, Florida