Monthly Archives: March 2009

Fast Fish Facts: Ocean Sunfish

The ocean sunfish (Mola mola), native to the temperate and tropical waters of every ocean in the world, may lay 300,000,000 eggs in a single spawn (that’s a lot of eggs!). It is a large fish with an average weight of 2,200 lbs. Some specimens have attained a weight of 5,000 lbs. Their diet consists primarily of various jellyfish (similar to diet of the leatherback turtle). Although rare in the Gulf of Mexico, they are occasionally seen off the Florida Gulf coast.

Florida’s Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber

Florida has 1,200 miles of coastline, almost 700 miles of which are sandy beaches. Exploring along those beaches offers encounters with myriads of plants, animals, minerals and man-made objects – all are covered in Florida’s Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcombers, a comprehensive guide with descriptive accounts of 822 items, 983 color images and 431 maps.

A list of other books recommended to encourage your understanding of southwest Florida and a link to the publisher’s website is provided at

Source: Harbor Happenings Winter 2009.

What to Do with Appliances You No Longer Want

Wondering what to do with your appliances once you no longer want them? Visit This site is a onestop shop for all you need to know about reducing your impact, reusing what you’ve got and recycling your trash. Their database includes more than 100,000 recycling locations across the country. Once at their site, enter what it is you want to recycle from motor oil to televisions along with your ZIP Code. You’ll be presented with the recycling centers nearest you.

If you don’t want to visit another website, call their hotline at 1-800/CLEANUP.

Source: Harbor Happenings Winter 2009.

Shark Attacks Decline in Midst of Economic Recession

Gainesville, Fl. – The recession may be responsible for a slump of a different sort: an unexpected dive in shark attacks, says a University of Florida researcher. Shark attacks worldwide in 2008 dipped to their lowest level in five years, a sign that Americans may be forgoing vacation trips to the beach, said George Burgess, ichthyologist and director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF.

SharkAccording to the latest statistics released today, the total number of shark attacks declined from 71 in 2007 to 59 in 2008, the fewest since 2003, when there were 57, said Burgess, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “I can’t help but think that contributing to that reduction may have been the reticence of some people to take holidays and go to the beach for economic reasons,” Burgess said. “We noticed similar declines during the recession that followed the events of 2001, despite the fact that human populations continued to rise.”

Editors Note: The all-time high number of attacks, 79, occurred in 2000. Due to that spike in number of attacks, there were alarmist claims that shark attacks were on the rise. You don’t hear that now. The truth is that the most important factor in shark attacks rising is more people spending more time in the water.

Continue reading

Mercury, Selenium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Canned Tuna

The issue of mercury contamination in fish remains in the news. New studies are being published that give significant new information on both the mechanisms of mercury contamination and the human health implications of current mercury standards. Unfortunately, it appears that all the subsequent media attention has resulted in a generalized backlash against seafood consumption, with negative health implications for some.

Numerous health benefits from seafood consumption have been documented over the past ten years or so. Consumption of omega-3-rich fish is proven to lower risks of cardiac, cardiovascular and eye diseases, and to mediate mood, attention and dementia disorders. Pregnancy diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent pre-term births, and a study appearing in the March 2008 American Journal of Epidemiology demonstrated that children of women who consumed the most low-mercury, omega-3-rich fish while pregnant – specifically canned tuna- scored the highest on intelligence and motor-skills tests. Additionally, a 2007 study published in The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, concluded that avoiding dietary omega-3’s during pregnancy has a measurable detrimental health effect: Children whose mothers eat no fish during pregnancy are 29 percent more likely to have abnormally low IQs.

This latter effect may be occurring as an unfortunate result of over-reaction about the threat of mercury contamination by some environmental organizations and then by people who read the resulting headlines. In fact, there are questions about the validity of the EPA and FDA mercury criteria. The EPA included a 1,000-percent safety cushion during the formulation of its methylmercury “Reference Dose” – the maximum level of continuous lifetime exposure believed to be without risk of harm. The FDA set its minimum action level for mercury in commercially available fish to limit consumers’ exposure “to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects,: which is, in effect, a ten-fold safety factor that is not based on actual scientific data. Many researchers and medical professionals believe that new information supports revision (upward) of U.S. mercury criteria, or at least co-consideration of other critical factors involved, such as the health benefits of seafood and problems with some early mercury studies. Recent work has shown that a mineral nutrient that is prevalent in fish, selenium, reduces the uptake of mercury in consumers. One study stated that “measuring the amount of mercury present in the environment or food sources may provide an inadequate reflection of the potential for health risks if the protective effects of selenium are not also considered.”

Continue reading

License Tag Sales Top $1 Million

Sales of the Tampa Bay Estuary specialty license tag passed the $1 million mark in early June 2008, according to recent revenue reports.

The Tampa Bay Estuary license plate, also known as the “Tarpon Tag,” has been offered since 2000. In just eight years, slightly more than $1 million worth of these tags have been purchased or renewed by Floridians and proudly displayed on their automobiles, boat trailers and recreational vehicles. The specialty tag costs $27 the first year and $17 per year after that – with $15 going directly to bay improvement projects.

TBEP returns tag revenues to the community in the form of grants to citizen groups, schools and non-profit organizations. Projects funded through the Bay Mini-Grant program must be directly linked to the goals of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. Eligible projects include habitat restoration, pollution prevention and environmental education initiatives.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program wishes to thank everyone who has purchased a Tarpon Tag for helping to restore Florida’s largest open-water estuary!

Continue reading

Grouper Biology Scientist Unraveling some Mysteries

At a recent artificial reef workshop organized by Florida Sea Grant in Palmetto, world renowned fisheries biologist Dr. Chris Koenig (Florida State University) shared the results of the goliath grouper biology research he has recently completed. I know you will find these results to be fascinating.

What is juvenile goliath grouper habitat?
A variety of methods were used to study juvenile goliath groupers in mangrove habitat. Mangrove habitat is essential for juvenile survival and the Ten Thousand Islands and Everglades in southwest Florida is the most important source of juvenile recruitment, but other areas in Florida are also important. Juveniles remain in mangrove habitat for the first 5 to 6 years of life and they move offshore when they reach about 36 inches in length. The abundant food and shelter results in higher survival (95%) and rapid growth (4.5 to 6 inches/year). They tend to not move much and usually stay within 100 yards (meters) of the same spot.

What do goliath grouper eat?
Most local anglers and divers are convinced that this massive grouper (can weigh up to 800 lbs!) eats other small grouper and reef fish found on the reefs they inhabit. However, this does not appear to be true. Dr. Koenig found that 85% of the diet consisted of crustaceans, most of which were crabs. The remaining 15% of the diet primarily consisted of slow-moving fishes such as burrfish, catfish, toadfish etc. They forage for food during daylight and are mostly inactive during the night.

Continue reading

Break Out the Bottlenose Champagne

The world’s longest-running world dolphin research program is celebrating its 38th year
documenting multi-generational residency of dolphins in Sarasota Bay. The program, which began in 1970, has documented the movements of nearly 150 dolphins in Sarasota Bay as well as 2,500 recognizable animals ranging from Tampa Bay south to Charlotte Harbor.

Bottlenose DolphinA combined effort of Mote Marine Lab and the Chicago Zoological Society, the primary focus of the research is to better understand the structure and dynamics of dolphin populations, and the threats facing them.

Other recent research looked at the impact of red tide on coastal dolphin populations. Ironically, the toxic algal bloom did not directly cause dolphin deaths but the lack of prey fish apparently resulted in dolphin deaths caused as they stole bait from recreational anglers. An educational program teaching anglers how to deal with nearby dolphins and the problems caused by feeding wild dolphin is underway this year.

Continue reading

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 17 other subscribers

UF IFAS Extension

Florida Sea Grant Logo