Seagrass Awareness – All Year Long

March was National Seagrass Awareness Month. And although it’s now April, one could argue that we should not ONLY be aware of seagrass one month out of the year. Seagrass is important and deserves our attention throughout the year!

Seagrass are a relatively small group of flowering plants that have adapted to survive and reproduce in a marine environment. In fact, they alone are the only flowering plant that can live their entire lives completely in seawater.

Worldwide there are about 50 species of seagrass. Seven seagrass species occur in Florida, and all but one of those can be found in Charlotte Harbor. The three you are most likely to see are Turtle grass, the one with the wide flat blade (leaf), Manatee grass, a long skinny tubular grass found closer to the passes where the water is nice and salty, and Shoal grass, this one’s very fine, with thin flat blades; sometimes you see it exposed at low tides.

Each seagrass species has its own personality, things it likes, things it can tolerate. Shoal grass for instance, has a wide salinity range and can grow in low light conditions. Manatee grass however, has a narrow salinity range and needs high light conditions. And, Turtle grass has a lot of surface area on its blades, making it a favorite place for algae, tube worms, and barnacles to attach.

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2017 Earth Day Mail Art Competition

UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County invites you to celebrate Earth Day by getting in touch with your artistic side! Pick up your colored pencil, paintbrush, or scissors and get creative! The 2017 Earth Day Mail Art Competition is currently accepting submissions of original, handmade artwork from all ages in 3 categories- Love Tampa Bay, To Earth With Love, and Plastic Aware. Residents of Tampa Bay counties may submit one distinct creative piece per category. Age groups are broken down into youth (<12 years old), teens (13-18 years), and adult (18+). There will be 3 prizes awarded in each category.  For full contest rules and prize details click here.

MAIL ART CATEGORIES

#LoveTampaBay – Show us why you love Tampa Bay’s waters and wildlife
#ToEarthWithLove – Show us how you give back to the earth, whether it is through recycling, composting, conserving water, educating, etc.
#PlasticAware – Show us how plastics are impacting the environment and/or communities (people)

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Stay safe and legal when harvesting shellfish

Red tide, Karenia brevis

It has been a bad year for red tide throughout southwest Florida. The bloom we’ve been experiencing started last year around September and has persisted since. Blooms lasting this long are not unheard of and actually scientists have recently made some correlations between severity and duration of red tide blooms and the position of the loop current. That’s interesting stuff, but what I really want to talk about is why you shouldn’t harvest shellfish for consumption during a red tide bloom. Seems like a no brainer I know, but sadly its been happening a lot during this particular bloom.

Red tide is an example of a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), which results from higher than normal growth of a tiny single-celled dinoflagellate algae. Worldwide there are several algal species that can cause red, yellow, brown, and even green tide events. The species typically responsible for red tide blooms off Florida’s Gulf coast and other parts of the Gulf of Mexico is Karenia brevis. K. brevis naturally occurs in Gulf waters, but when conditions are favorable it can reproduce very quickly through cell division (every 48-120 hrs.) creating what we refer to as a bloom.

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Lionfish in the Bay!

Photo by FWC Officer Michael Morrison at Laishley Pier in Punta Gorda on January 31st, 2017

This is so not good! Late last month, FWC officer Michael Morrison observed a lionfish swimming off the Laishley Pier in Punta Gorda. This is the third documented lionfish sighting inside Charlotte Harbor, and it’s also the most up harbor. Laishley Pier is actually on the Peace River.

What’s not good about this beautiful fish? Well, for starters, it doesn’t belong here. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, but unfortunately they are well established throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to North Carolina, and the Caribbean.

The lionfish established here comprise two species, Pterois volitans, the red lionfish and P. miles, the devil firefish. The lions share, 93 percent of those established, are red lionfish. Genetic studies indicate that lionfish in the Atlantic are likely all descendants of a few individuals, which is consistent with the widely held belief that lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic as a result of accidental or deliberate release of aquarium pets. Isolated lionfish sightings were first documented in southeast Florida in the 1980s, and by the early 2000s they were established in that area. They then expanded to the Bermuda (2004), the Bahamas (2005), the Turks and Caicos (2008), the Cayman Islands and the Florida Keys (2009) and the Gulf of Mexico (2010). Today, they are a common sighting on any reef, in the listed areas — natural or manmade, including those off southwest Florida.

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The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival: Fishing for our Future

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. For one weekend in February, this tough and tiny village will open its doors to thousands of visitors to share the proud history and culture of one of Florida’s last true working waterfronts.

Settled by fishermen from North Carolina in the late 1800s, Cortez has never stopped fishing. Its people have withstood hurricanes, wars, recessions and storms of regulations. The village has had to adapt to shifting sands – but the perseverance and grit of the people have never wavered. Today it remains a true testament to the “real” Florida.

This region has supplied bountiful seafood to humans for thousands of years. Fishing here is good for a reason. Nestled among mangroves on Sarasota Bay, Cortez is positioned between two nationally accredited estuaries. Quick translation: the habitat here is pretty special. However, like so much of Florida, Cortez faces threats associated with an increasing human population and ever-encroaching development. But unlike so much of Florida, where similar places have simply been swallowed by the concrete, Cortez has been fighting back.

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A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

The National Sea Grant Program is celebrating 50 years of Science Serving America’s Coasts (for a 30 second video, or even better, a 10 minute video). To commemorate Sea Grant’s cherished history of working with fishing communities, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agents Libby Carnahan (Pinellas) and Angela Collins (Manatee, Hillsborough, Sarasota) hosted “A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay.” The program, held at Weedon Island Preserve in December 2016, was open to the public and highlighted the bounty and diversity of fishing opportunities within the Tampa Bay region. Invited panelists included commercial and recreational representatives, and featured crabbers, seafood wholesalers, and fishermen. Each speaker told tales from their past, provided insight into their industries, and shared their visions for the future.

John Stevely, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agent emeritus, talks about the history local working waterfronts in Tampa Bay; notably the sponge industry in Tarpon Springs and mullet in Cortez. Other panelists included (from left to right) Dawn Ayelsworth, Bob Ayelsworth, Jason DeLaCruz, Larry Borden and Gus Muench.

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Stone Crabs

A stone crab after removal of it’s claw and showing a clean break. Stone crabs have a much better chance of survival if the diaphragm at the body/claw joint is intact. The diaphragm functions as a seal to close the wound and stop the bleeding. Photo: FWC

They’re feisty, fearsome predators, even cannibalistic; and they’re what’s for dinner. At least at my house! Let’s talk stone crab!

Two commercial species of stone crab coexist in the state of Florida, the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria) and the Gulf stone crab (Menippe adina). These two crabs are managed as a single fishery in the state. The Florida stone crab (our crab) occurs in the eastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico and extends from North Carolina throughout peninsular Florida and the Caribbean. The Gulf stone crab occurs principally in the northern and western Gulf of Mexico.

The Florida stone crab inhabits mixed seagrass-hard bottom habitat. Adult crabs dig burrows under the seagrasses or excavate holes in emerged rocks on the seafloor. The Gulf stone crab also occupies those habitats, but prefers muddier bottoms and oyster reefs. Both species feed primarily on mollusks, including scallops, clams, conchs, and oysters, which they crush with their powerful claws. Predators that feed on stone crabs include octopus and humans.

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Microplastics – What’s the big deal?

Plastics in toothpaste seen through a microscope. Source: Florida Sea Grant

We’re a month into 2017. Who made New Year’s resolutions? And, who is still keeping them? I typically don’t make resolutions, but this year I did. And, I’m still onboard. My resolution is to reduce my use of plastics. And not just plastic bags and bottles. I’m also ridding my life of the toothpaste with scrubbing bubbles (plastic) and my exfoliating soap (more plastic).

Our world is surrounded by plastic. Since the mid-twentieth century, plastic has been an integral part of our lives. However, plastic debris is a major concern due to its wide spread use and its persistence in the environment.

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Sea Grant 50th Anniversary Program: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

An

Photo credit: Hubbard’s Marina

Sea Grant is turning 50! Come and Celebrate 50 Years of Putting Science to Work for America’s Coastal Communities.

What: A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

When: Saturday, December 3, 2016

Where: Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, 1800 Weedon Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33702

About: Tampa Bay has a rich heritage as a fishing community. To celebrate Sea Grant’s 50th Anniversary, we are holding a Marine Science Open Classroom (10 am – 12 pm) that will be fun for the whole family! Then we’ll have cake and refreshments in the lobby (12 – 1 pm), and will proudly finish the day by hosting some of the saltiest fishermen in the bay for an open panel discussion (1 – 3 pm) with the audience! Invited panelists range from crabbers, spearfishers, wholesalers, and recreational and commercial anglers. Each speaker will tell tales from the past, provide insights into their profession, and give us a glimpse of what they see as they look to the future. A question and answer session will follow the panel discussion.

We hope that you will join us for part (or all) of the day to learn about the resources Tampa Bay provides to our community.

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Salty Topics: Exploring Oil Spill Impacts in the Gulf of Mexico

oil

In April of 2010, a gas release on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused an explosion that caused devastation in the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days to make this oil spill the worst one in recent history. Because of this oil spill, the coastlines of states like Texas, Louisiana, and Florida have portions that were polluted by the oil spill in 2010, and there are still sightings of oil washing up on these state’s shores today. Nearly 8,000 marine animals, such as turtles and birds, were reportedly dead within six-months of the oil spill.

Even though the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred over six years ago, scientists and researchers are still discovering the oil spill’s effects on the Gulf of Mexico. Come join us and Dr. Monica Wilson as she discusses recent research findings and explores the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impacts on habitats, aquatic wildlife, and human health.

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