Sea Life

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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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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Sea stars, Sea cucumbers, Sea urchins and more…

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.

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Red spined (aka conical spined) sea star, Echinaster sentus juvenile

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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/

It’s Cephalopod Week!

Octopus from South Florida - Photo USGS

Octopus from South Florida – Photo USGS

June 17-24, 2016 is Cephalopod Week. So exciting! No we don’t get to take the week off from work, it’s not a real holiday, but it is a way to raise awareness about and celebrate octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus. This year, Cephalopod Week, created by NPR’s Science Friday will celebrate its third year running.

Taxonomically, cephalopods are a kind of molluscan and therefore closely related to clams, oysters, and snails. Cephalopods live throughout the world’s oceans, from surface waters to depths of more than 4 miles. The name “cephalopod” means “head-foot,” which refers to the fact that their limbs are attached to their head.

Why celebrate cephalopods? They’re cool, that’s why!

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It’s cownose ray mating season again!

Cownose ray - image credit FWC

Cownose ray – image credit FWC

It’s cownose ray mating season. It’s also the time of year when I’m frequently asked “what kind of fish is that swimming at the surface with two fins out of the water?” That fish is a female cownose ray and if one looks carefully they will see at least one male, often several, following her at a slightly deeper depth. When a female cownose ray displays her pectoral fin tips above water she is ready to mate.

In Charlotte Harbor, cownose ray mating behavior can occur between October and June but mating usually takes place from April to June. Like all sharks and rays, fertilization is internal. Female cownose rays have two ovaries, but only the left one is functional. Males have modified pelvic fins called claspers that they use to deposit sperm when mating. During mating, the male bites the female to hold onto her. This often leaves visible wounds along the pectoral fins. Sharks and other rays also exhibit this biting behavior. Don’t worry, the wounds heal quickly.

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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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