Research

Hot fish seeking cool water!

The warmer our waters get, the more common tropical species like this African pompano will become here. Florida Sea Grant Photo

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
deeper depths.

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Catch and Release – Not quite perfect

This snook will probably survive after being released, but some don’t. In fact, we kill more of these fish with catch-and-release than we take home to eat.. Photo: Capt. John Merriwether

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.

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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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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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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.

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Salty Topics: Tampa Bay Blue Carbon Project

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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

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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.

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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”. http://news.ifas.ufl.edu/2016/07/finding-dory-ufifas-researchers-find-first-ever-method-to-farm-pacific-blue-tang/

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.

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Smalltooth Sawfish Research in Southwest Florida

This baby male smalltooth sawfish is about two weeks to a month old

This baby male smalltooth sawfish is about two weeks to a month old

Sawfish are modified rays with a shark-like body. Sawfish get their name from their “saws”, which are used for defense and to locate, stun, and kill prey; mostly fish. The earliest sawfish arose about 200 million years ago. These sawfish were distant cousins of the ones we see today which appeared about 65 million years ago. At one time sawfish were abundant; however, they have experienced significant declines due to decades of unintentional overfishing, mostly the result of entanglements in fishing gear. Sawfish saws (scientifically called rostrums) have also been popular trophy items, but when they’re removed, they don’t grow back and sawfish are unable to feed normally or defend themselves. Today, all sawfish species (five) are endangered, including the smalltooth sawfish which occurs in our area. The smalltooth sawfish historically ranged from around North Carolina to central Brazil, and along the western coast of Africa. Now, smalltooth sawfish are only found in south and southwest Florida, and the Bahamas. With few remaining, it is important to learn about their life history, biology, and ecology so that conservation efforts will be successful.

In Southwest Florida, smalltooth sawfish research began in the early 2000s with most research efforts focused in the Caloosahatchee and Peace rivers; research data and angler observations indicate these areas still support juvenile sawfish. Last month I accompanied FWC-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) researchers on a directed sawfish trip in the Caloosahatchee River. FWRI’s sawfish research includes both random and directed sampling using a variety of net gear. We sampled in areas where anglers and shore observers had reported sawfish sightings (hence directed sampling).Sampling involved deploying a net and letting it soak for one hour. We had to check the net whenever anyone saw movement or after a half hour, whichever came first. Our first set resulted in nothing. We then cruised the shoreline looking for sawfish before setting a second net. We thought we were skunked a second time but finally at the end of our set, we got a sawfish!

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