Habitat Conservation

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

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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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Green Algae on the Rocks

If you’ve spent any time fishing along shore or strolling in our parks along the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor, you’ve probably noticed all the green algae attached to the rocks and other intertidal structure. I walked along the shoreline at Bayshore Live Oak Park and noticed two species of filamentous green algae.  One species was closer to the water than the other in what biologists refer to as resource partitioning.  I suspect that the one closer to shore is probably better adapted to being periodically exposed at low tide.  The other is probably better at competing in deeper water.

Enteromorpha flexuosa found closest to shore at Bayshore Live Oak Park

Enteromorpha flexuosa found closest to shore at Bayshore Live Oak Park

Closest to shore I saw Enteromorpha flexuosa.  If it has a common name I don’t know what it is. Enteromorpha means “intestine-shape,” and this algae resembles hollow tubes much like intestines. Enteromorpha is light green, unbranched, and only about four to five inches in length, often shorter.  It grows in clumps or tufts at or near the low-tide line and is often found on rocks, mangrove roots, or other woody debris.  This species of algae has a wide salinity range and can be found in almost any shallow-water brackish or marine environment.

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Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic

lionfishInvasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish were introduced by aquarium hobbyists to waters off the southeast coast of Florida in the 1980s.  Over the past ten years, these beautiful, ornate fish have rapidly spread across the entire tropical western Atlantic, from North Carolina to Venezuela, throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.  The population sizes in the invaded range commonly exceed those from their native habitats by several orders of magnitude.  With a seemingly insatiable appetite for our native fishes, and a lack of local predators and disease to keep them in check, Lionfish can have detrimental effects on the invaded marine ecosystem.  In this talk, we will review the history of the invasion, discuss the biology and ecology that has allowed them to be so successful, highlight some damaging impacts they can have, and finish with what scientists are doing to combat the problem.

On Thursday, March 3rd, UF/IFAS Extension, Florida Sea Grant at Weedon Island Preserve welcomes Dr. Chris Stallings, University of South Florida College of Marine Science, to present “Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic”. The educational program is intended for adult and high school age audiences.

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2016 Annual Cortez Fishing Festival Celebrates Community’s Commercial Fishing Heritage

A fishing boat docks along the working waterfront of Cortez

A fishing boat docks along the working waterfront of Cortez village.

If you love seafood and want to savor a taste of Florida’s history, then you don’t want to miss the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival (February 13 & 14, 2016).

Cortez village represents one of the last working waterfronts on Florida’s Gulf coast that is dedicated to commercial fishing. Each year, tough and ingenious Cortezians join together to celebrate and share the history and proud heritage of their community at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. This two-day event allows festival-goers to enjoy live music, clog dancing, boat rides, marine life exhibits, nautical arts & crafts, beautiful waterfront vistas – and of course, plenty of delicious local seafood! Trust me, you do not want to miss out on the mullet hot dog. This year’s Festival marks its 34th anniversary.

Cortez has been a center of commercial fishing since the Spanish colonial era, and prior to that, Native Americans depended upon the region for its abundant marine life. This little village has withstood the test of time, surviving hurricanes, red tides and storms of regulations, habitat degradation and economic upheavals. The annual festival showcases how the pioneering spirit of fishermen past continues today in the industrious locals who carry on the community’s legacy.

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2016 Mangrove Symposium offered in Charlotte County

DSC_2445The University of Florida/IFAS Extension Charlotte County and Florida Sea Grant are pleased to announce their upcoming program, a 2016 Mangrove Symposium, which will be held on February 23rd, 2016 at the Charlotte County Eastport Environmental Campus, 25550 Harborview Road, Port Charlotte, FL  33980 from 8:30am – 3:30pm.  Symposium speakers will discuss the role and value of mangroves; rules and laws that govern mangrove trimming; and mangrove pruning techniques.  The cost to attend is $20 with lunch included.  4.25 ISA and 4 FNGLA CEUs are being offered for professional mangrove trimmers who attend the symposium.  For more information including our full agenda and instructions for registering, please see our Symposium flyer here.

Charlotte and Lee anglers: your knowledge can help local fisheries thrive!

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Click on photo to enlarge!

Join us at the monthly Charlotte Harbor Fisheries Forum – an independent community-based discussion geared toward informing fisheries management and science, and providing a venue for public engagement in local fisheries issues and building links between stakeholder knowledge, science, and management.  The Charlotte Harbor Fisheries Forum — initiated by partnership of local Florida Sea Grant agents with the University of Florida (UF) and Mote Marine Laboratory — offers repeating, open meetings where local anglers and others interested in sustaining Charlotte Harbor’s fisheries can share their knowledge, ideas, questions and comments. The ultimate goal of the Fisheries Forum is to pinpoint the needs and status of fisheries in more detail at the local level, allowing communities to give more complete, collaborative and sustained feedback to government agencies and researchers.  In this meeting (July 30), we will have 3 speakers: Judy Ott from Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program on water quality, Melynda Brown from FDEP Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves on seagrass, and  Eric Milbrandt from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on macroalgae.

Need to know: The meeting will take place from 6 – 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, at the Laishley Marina, 120 Laishley Ct, Punta Gorda.

Salty Topics: Seahorses- searching for small, cryptic fish in a vast ocean world

seahorse.rlingSeahorses and pipefish (syngnathid fishes) inhabit shallow coastlines around the world, congregating in some of the most “at-risk” marine habitats on the planet – seagrasses, mangroves, and coral reefs.  Even in places where syngnathids are locally abundant their distribution is patchy, with highly variable group sizes on both small and large scales.

Join Dr. Heather Masonjones, of University of Tampa, at Salty Topics, Thursday April 2nd. Refreshments served at 6:30pm followed by the Salty Topics lecture at 7:00 p.m. at Weedon Island Preserve, 1800 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702. Register online at http://saltyseahorses.eventbrite.com.

The small body size, cryptic nature, and sparse distribution of seahorse and pipefish make studying their habitat use, ecology and natural mating systems difficult. The work demands creative innovations to track individuals, monitor populations, and develop predictive habitat models for effective conservation.  Our current understanding of the habitat use and population ecology of the dwarf seahorse in Tampa Bay will be discussed, linking key aspects of changing coastal environments to their demographic variability over time.  In addition, new work with a larger species of seahorse in the Bahamas will also be presented, to help illustrate how different environmental contexts can shape both the evolution of and risks to species on a broader geographic scale.

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