Salty Topics: A Blue-Green Summer in South Florida

Weedon Aerial 2003

This past summer, Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and St. Lucie Estuary became sheathed in toxic algal blooms. Do you know why these toxic algal events occurred? This month’s Salty Topics speaker series welcomes you to learn about the context of these events in a discussion presented by Dr. Karl Havens.

During early summer 2016, a bloom of the toxin-producing blue-green alga Microcystis began for form on the surface of Lake Okeechobee. By July, it covered nearly 45% of the surface of the lake with a fluorescent green surface scum. The bloom was fueled by high levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the lake water that come from agricultural runoff, and by warmer than average water temperature and good underwater light conditions that were favorable for rapid growth. At the same time that this bloom was happening in the lake, the US Army Corps of Engineers was releasing large quantities of water from the lake in order to lower water levels in preparation for hurricane season. They are required to do this by a federally-authorized ‘lake regulation schedule.’ The flood control releases carried nutrients and toxic algae downstream to the St. Lucie Estuary, where massive blooms also developed and included another toxic species called Anabaena. As of late August, the blooms persisted and the ecological, human health and economic impacts have yet to be determined. A perfect storm created this event, and to fully understand it one must have some context about the regional flood control system and about sources of nutrients – topics to be discussed as part of this talk.

Karl Havens is a Professor at the University of Florida and Director of Florida Sea Grant, which is a NOAA-funded program that is a partnership between the Department of Congress, the State University System of Florida and Florida coastal communities. The mission of the program is to support research, education and outreach to preserve coastal resources and economies. Dr. Havens has been studying lakes for over 30 years and has published over 160 journal articles, three books and numerous book chapters dealing with harmful algae and other topics related to human impacts on lake ecosystems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Salty Topics: Tampa Bay Blue Carbon Project


Do you know that Tampa Bay’s coastal ecosystems soak up and store carbon in a process called Coastal Blue Carbon? If not, come join us and Dr. David Tomasko for our Salty Topics speaker series!

Coastal Blue Carbon is a new term for carbon captured by living coastal and marine organisms and stored in coastal ecosystems. Mangroves, sea grass beds and salt marshes take up atmospheric carbon and store it in their systems throughout their life cycle. Also, these plants trap fine muddy sediments in their roots structures building thousands of years. Tampa Bay is a unique ecosystem as it is one of the few places in the U.S. to have three critical coastal habitats – mangroves, salt marsh, and seagrasses. Dr. David Tomasko, Principal Associate ESA, will share the results of the Tampa Bay Blue Carbon Project that was jointly funded by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Restore America’s Estuaries.

The presentation will include:
• Carbon storage and sequestration rates for Tampa Bay habitats
• Impacts of land use change, including sea-level rise and management actions, on carbon in the estuary
• How blue carbon ecosystem services can inform management decisions and provide additional incentives to support conservation and restoration and adaptive management

Read the rest of this entry »

Sea stars, Sea cucumbers, Sea urchins and more…

Invert Trivia: What group of invertebrate species shares these three distinctive features? 1) A body with five-part symmetry; 2) an internal skeleton made of calcium carbonate; and 3) a water vascular system of fluid-filled vessels that manifests to the outer surface as structures called tube feet. Stumped? Here’s a few more clues. This group of species are entirely marine, and they lack a head, heart, brain and eyes. They have separate sexes but it’s generally impossible to tell them apart based on their outward appearance. And, they can regenerate body parts.

These awesome creatures can only be echinoderms. In Greek, echino means spiny, and derma refers to skin, and these spiny-skinned creatures comprise sea urchins, sea cucumbers, feather stars, sea stars, and brittle stars. Echinoderms have an ancient lineage that dates back at least 600 million years. Today, at least 6,500 species are recognized within six living classes which are highlighted below.


Red spined (aka conical spined) sea star, Echinaster sentus juvenile

Read the rest of this entry »

All About Spotted Seatrout

spotted_trout_cropSpotted seatrout are a sought after fish species for both recreational and commercial fishermen in Florida. They are distributed along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to southern Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico to Carmen Island in the Lower Gulf of Campeche, Mexico. They are most common along the Gulf coast from the west coast of Florida to Texas.

Spotted seatrout are unique in that that their entire life is estuary dependent and they rarely migrate far from the estuaries where they were spawned. They can tolerate wide salinities and may be found in waters ranging from fresh to hyper saline.

In southwest Florida, spotted seatrout are generally found associated with vegetated areas, such as seagrass beds and mangroves, and in close proximity to deep areas for seeking refuge from extreme temperatures. In the northern Gulf where seagrass is sparse, spotted seatrout are found in and adjacent to marshes, over sand, mud, shell reefs, and around oil platforms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Frequently Asked Questions about Vibrio in Florida


Vibrio under a scope. Source: CDC

Two recent deaths in Florida have raised concern about the saltwater-dwelling bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. MOST HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT AT RISK FOR V. vulnificus INFECTION, however, to ensure that your time on the water is safe and enjoyable, be aware of your risk and take steps to minimize becoming infected.

What are Vibrio?

The name Vibrio refers to a large and diverse group of marine bacteria. Most members are harmless, however, some strains produce harmful toxins and are capable of causing a disease known as “vibriosis.”

When and where are Vibrio found?

Read the rest of this entry »

Got a fish health question?

Two southern flounder. One with the typical white underside (right) and the other with almost full pigment on the right side. Looks like mother nature remembered at the last minute and shortchanged the head. Photo: Capt. Ralph Allen

Gulf flounder have a pigmented left (upper) side and a white right (under) side. In this photo both flounder are displayed on the right side. Looks like mother nature remembered the right side should be white at the last minute in the flounder on the left, and stopped painting just before reaching the head. Photo: Capt. Ralph Allen

Every so often I receive photos taken by anglers who have observed fish abnormalities while fishing. The typical question I get is, do you know what this is? If not, can you help me find someone who does? Regardless of whether or not I know the answer, my response is always the same; report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish Kill hotline. But the fish isn’t dead! It’s OK, FWC’s Fish Kill hotline is maintained by their Fish and Wildlife Health section (FWH), and that section is also interested in fish abnormalities.

Read the rest of this entry »

UF researchers ‘find Dory’ by developing methods to farm blue tang in captivity

52 day old Blue tang in captivity - University of Florida Photo by Tyler Jones

52 day old Blue tang in captivity – University of Florida Photo by Tyler Jones

Scientists at the University of Florida have found Dory! Ok, they didn’t really find her, but they did learn how to spawn and raise blue tang in captivity. Why is this important? After the movie Finding Nimo was released, demand for clown fish sky rocketed. Until scientists learned how to raise them in captivity, the demand was filled through collection in the wild. Scientists knew when Finding Dory was released, the same type of demand would be likely, so their efforts to successfully spawn and raise Dory began long before the movie début. By rearing these fish through aquaculture, demand can be met, without the need to harvest from wild sources. Below is a link to a great article about the process of “Finding Dory”.

Water quality weekly roundup!

A view from space, showing the massive bloom of algae, which looks like streaks of fluorescent paint across the surface of Lake Okeechobee. The color and physical appearance of this surface bloom is highly indicative of a toxin-producing species of cyanobacteria called Microcystis. Photo source: NASA Earth Observatory

A view from space, showing the massive bloom of algae, which looks like streaks of fluorescent paint across the surface of Lake Okeechobee. The color and physical appearance of this surface bloom is highly indicative of a toxin-producing species of cyanobacteria called Microcystis. Photo source: NASA Earth Observatory

Did you know? You can now report algae blooms through this easy to use, smart phone friendly website.

Read the rest of this entry »

Black Drum


Amy Withers with a nice Black Drum caught on a fly. Photo: Capt. Jay Withers

I’ve been seeing lots of black drum photos lately. Black drum are really cool fish that don’t ever seem to get very much attention. In fact, if you do a quick search on black drum, you just might get more search returns for red drum than black drum. So today I’m going to give these fish some love.

Black drum, Pogonias cromis occur from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. Black drum are large fish that can reach sizes over 46 inches in length and 120 pounds. They are also long lived reaching ages of nearly 60 years on the Atlantic coast and about 45 on the Gulf coast. Black drum grow rapidly during their first 15 years of life and then slow after.

Coloration of black drum can change with age or habitat. Young black drum have 4-6 vertical black bars along their sides. These bars, which sometimes lead to them being confused with sheepshead, fade as the fish ages. Adults are silvery to black in color with a copper or brassy sheen. Black drum in bays and lagoons tend to be darker and often have a bronze upper surface with gray to white sides.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Cephalopod Week!

Octopus from South Florida - Photo USGS

Octopus from South Florida – Photo USGS

June 17-24, 2016 is Cephalopod Week. So exciting! No we don’t get to take the week off from work, it’s not a real holiday, but it is a way to raise awareness about and celebrate octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus. This year, Cephalopod Week, created by NPR’s Science Friday will celebrate its third year running.

Taxonomically, cephalopods are a kind of molluscan and therefore closely related to clams, oysters, and snails. Cephalopods live throughout the world’s oceans, from surface waters to depths of more than 4 miles. The name “cephalopod” means “head-foot,” which refers to the fact that their limbs are attached to their head.

Why celebrate cephalopods? They’re cool, that’s why!

Read the rest of this entry »

UF IFAS Extension

Florida Sea Grant Logo