Hurricanes are no fun! But, if there is a small silver lining to hurricanes, it’s that scientists are provided rare opportunities to gain new insights into some plant and animal species. It’s a field called disturbance ecology, and I suspect a lot of it will be taking place in the next few months to years.
Some insights from past disturbance are incredibly fascinating. For instance, in 2001, just prior to Tropical Storm Gabrielle’s landfall, 14 tagged blacktip sharks swam to deeper waters in Terra Ceia Bay. And, as Hurricane Charley approached Charlotte Harbor in 2004, six of eight tagged sharks moved to open water; the other two disappeared from the sampling array. In both cases, the timing of shark movement seemed to correspond to decreasing air and water pressure.
Another notable effect of Hurricane Charley, occurred in the Peace River and upper Charlotte Harbor, which went hypoxic (very low to no oxygen) following the storm’s passage. The hypoxia resulted in changes in fish assemblages, from our typical fish variety to only the hardiest, including the sailfin catfish and the invasive brown hoplo. The hypoxic event was short lasting, and the fish assemblages returned to normal within a month. Interestingly, the Myakka River, which did not see the eye of the storm was not affected by hypoxia or changes in fish assemblages.
All fish, minus opah and some tunas, are cold blooded. Thus, their body temperatures are regulated by the environment around them. Every fish species has an optimal temperature range — not only for survival, but also for growth and reproduction. Fish exhibit control over their thermal environment by seeking waters that are closer to their temperature optimum when waters become too warm or too cool.
High and low temperatures that are lethal for a particular species determines the distribution and abundance of its population. With water temperatures trending upward — the result of climate change — many fish are responding by shifting their latitudinal range, expanding their range, and/or moving to
Catch and Release is an important conservation tool. Catch and release fishing helps to sustain native fish populations by allowing more fish to remain and reproduce in the ecosystem. This practice provides an opportunity for more people to enjoy fishing and to successfully catch fish.
But, catch and release fishing is not perfect. Some fish still die. Including some that swim away after being released. Caught and released fish can die for many reasons including: hook injury, handling practices, air exposure, and barotrauma (swim bladder trauma in deep water fish). Released fish sometimes die immediately, but in other cases mortality due to angling stress may take days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fishing license rules can be confusing, especially if you’re new to Florida or don’t know where to get good information. We have fishing license requirements for fresh water and salt water. We also have fishing regulations that apply to state waters and federal waters, and they are not always consistent. Knowing how and when they apply to you is important for ensuring a good fishing trip doesn’t go sour when law enforcement arrives. Licensing and regulatory information about fishing in Florida can be found at MyFWC.com.
If you are going fishing in Florida, you can assume you need a fishing license, unless you meet one of the state’s exemptions, are fishing from a pier that has a valid “pier license” (most of them don’t), or are fishing on a licensed charter boat.
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.