Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill and Seafood Safety Brown Bag Webinar Wed, Aug 11th

Gulf Diving July 29, 2010

mangrove snapper swimmingover the
 Doctors Pass 4.5 Mile Reef
I spent most of yesterday diving in the Gulf. I assisted our County's artificial reef coordinator with some site surveys. Our first dive was to a site we hope to get permitted in the future.It was only 2 or 3 miles offshore just north of Gordan Pass. We did a bottom survey to make sure there wasn't any sensitive hardbottom habitats. Fortunately, all we saw was sand and shell rubble. Next we went over the the Doctors Pass 4.5 mile reef, which was deployed last September. Its amazing the amount of marine life that reef already holds. We saw goliath grouper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, sheepshead, porkfish, spadefish, belted sandfish, cocoa damselfish, Gulf flounder, tomtates, bandtail pufferfish, cubbyu, and white spotted soapfish. In addition the reef is covered in barnacles, tunicates, sea cucumbers and urchins.
Next we explored the Powerhitter wreck, which is an old shrimp trawler. This was my first time diving the wreck. I was shocked I didn't see one goliath grouper, but there were plenty of other fish present. As you will see in the attached video, visibility was not great, but I'm use to that (pardon the quality of the video- I guess I don't have to worry about National Geographic recruiting me anytime soon!).

juvenile cocoa damselfish
Our last dive was on the Marco 12 mile reef. Its a smaller reef made up of culverts and junction boxes. Its been sometime since we last dove it, and I was amazed how much of it has subsided. Needless to say, I was exhausted after that day, but it was well worth it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oil Look-Alikes. All That Sheens May Not Be Oil...or Tar Balls, Either

Sea squirts (left) and skate egg cases (center) can often be mistaken for tar balls (right) on Florida shores. Source: Bryan Fluech (Florida Sea Grant), Andrew Diller (Florida Sea Grant), NOAA

Although NO oil has made its way onto Southwest Florida beaches, there have been several false reports of "tarballs" and other "oil-like" substances along our shore. It is important to remember that there are several natural items found along our coast that can easily be mistaken for oil. This useful article was published by Bill Mahan, the Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent for Franklin County.

As a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, anyone out boating in the Gulf of Mexico region or walking the beach is keeping an eye out for oil. In most cases the person reports their “oil” sighting to the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) with information on the date, time, place and what they saw. This is exactly what you should do if you see something you believe is related to the oil spill. Once the EOC receives a report of oil sheen, tar balls, or chocolate mousse, the EOC will notify the State EOC. Depending on the location of the report, a boat, plane or Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) team will be sent to the site to investigate, and to confirm or deny the presence of any oil product.

This reporting and verification system is in place to help reduce the number of rumors floating around about the oil sightings. Where the system seems to be leaking, however, is that individuals and the local media reporting a possible oil sighting aren’t waiting for verification. Instead, they react to hearing the original sighting report, or that a boat, plane, or SCAT Team has been sent to investigate the report. The result has been a lot of unnecessary panic and rumors.

Here's one example. As of July 1, there have been 19 State Watch and 81 Recon Reports of “BP oil spill product” called-in to Franklin County's EOC . Each report has been investigated and none has been confirmed to be related to the BP oil spill. In fact, the cause of many of the sightings has turned out to be natural biological activities caused by Mother Nature herself.

People need to realize that not all sheen on the water, dark spots or blobs on the beach, and foamy or frothy material floating around in the water are caused by oil. In fact, Mother Nature produces these oil look-a-likes all the time. This is especially true this time of the year, when our warm Gulf water is biologically active and productive.

Let's take a look at some of Mother Nature’s look-a-like oil spill creations:

Oily Sheen on the Water’s Surface

A silvery or rainbow colored sheen on the water surface may be from a petroleum product. However, it may also be caused by natural events such as the presence of iron, decomposition of organic matter, or the presence of certain types of bacteria. Naturally occurring sheens are usually silver, or relatively dull in color that if disturbed, will break up into a number of small patches of sheen. Petroleum sheens on the other hand, tend to be shiny and rainbow-colored. If disturbed; the patches of oil will float back together. A naturally occurring biological sheen (left) tends to lack the rainbow hue of an oil spill sheen. Source: Seth Blitch (Florida DEP), NOAA


Foam Lines/Mousse
Oil, or sheen oriented in lines, or streaks floating on the water surface can easily be confused with the vegetative scum that can collect in tidal convergence lines or "tidelines." Sometimes called streaks, stringers, or fingers, they are commonly found floating in near and offshore Gulf waters. They are usually just a collection of seagrasses, seaweeds and protein scum or foam that is being moved around by the tides and wind. Lines of vegetative foam that collect in tidelines (right) can easily be confused with the mousse mixture that forms when dispersants mix with oil. Source: Seth Blitch (Florida DEP), U.S. Coast Guard.

Dark, Oil-like Patches of Sand on the Beach

Several reports of black oil-like patches on the beach have been reported in Franklin County. When investigated, the dark patches of sand were found to be caused by ‘June Grass;’ clumps of sargassum and seagrass, or several different types of seaweed, that wash up on our local beaches. Although ‘June Grass’ can wash up on our beaches any time of the year, it typically begins washing ashore in large clumps in June, thus its name. In addition, these seaweeds and seagrass can break up into small dark particles as they are swept back and forth by wave action in the intertidal zone, leaving behind an area of dark-colored, stained sand. Naturally occurring sargassum seaweed (left) washed up on the beach can easily be confused with dark patches of oil on the beach (right). Source: Andrew Diller (Florida Sea Grant), BP.

Tar Balls

A general description of a tar ball is weathered oil that has formed a pliable ball. They vary in size from a pinhead to about a foot across. Sheen may or may not be present around them. At this time, we have had a number of confirmed tar ball reports in the Florida Panhandle Region from Bay to Escambia County. However, before real tar balls were washing ashore, initial tar ball reports from Destin, upon examination, were identified as skate egg cases. Also, sea pork, a colonial type of sea squirt, pieces of peat and small sea cucumbers have been reported as possible tar balls in Panhandle counties.

Other Sightings/Rumors

In the Destin area in early May, a common rumor making the rounds was that sharp glassy fragments washing up on local beaches were fiberglass remains of the booms used to collect the oil out in the Gulf. When investigated, the fragments were found to be the exoskeletons of an animal called a pteropod, commonly called sea butterflies. These tiny marine snails lose their shells when they die. When the shells are washed ashore, the pointed part of the shell can prick people’s feet if they step on them. However, they pose no threat to people.

So what should you do if you see something that might be related to the oil spill?

By all means, please report it to your local EOC. Provide them with as much information as possible about when, where and what you saw. Then sit back and wait to hear if your sighting is confirmed as oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, or it is something else. Until you receive confirmation, the last thing you should do is spread a rumor around either verbally, or via a social network, like Facebook, or Twitter. It makes absolutely no sense to spread a rumor around that can get people upset or worried. Be patient and wait to hear the investigation result of the sighting you reported.

Additional Resources

Florida Oil Spill Reporting Hotline: 1-877-2-SAVE FL (1-877-272-8335) or #DEP on most cell phones.
Distinguishing Oil from Algal Blooms (NOAA Fact Sheet, pdf)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Researchers Discover Invasive Lionfish in Gulf of Mexico.

(From an FWC-FWRI News Release)
Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute collected two juvenile red lionfish (Pterois volitans) last week from the Gulf of Mexico. With the exception of a probable aquarium release from the Tampa Bay area, the discovery of these lionfish marks the first time this nonnative species has been documented in Gulf waters north of the Tortugas and the Yucatan Peninsula.

FWC researchers found the lionfish in the catch from two separate net tows taken at distances of 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano. The specimens were taken from depths of 183 and 240 feet as part of a trawl survey funded by the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a cooperative state and federal program.

FWC scientists believe the two juvenile lionfish, measuring approximately 2.5 inches in length, are either evidence of a spawning population on the Gulf of Mexico’s West Florida Shelf or they were transported to the area by ocean currents from other potential spawning areas, such as the waters off the Yucatan Peninsula. Either of these scenarios could indicate an expansion of the range of this species in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Lionfish are nonnative, venomous fish that have been sighted in Atlantic coastal waters of the United States since the mid-1990s and have been reported more recently in the waters of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Lionfish, specifically the red lionfish and the devil firefish, appear to have established populations in the western North Atlantic Ocean. These species are native to the reefs and rocky crevices of the Indo-Pacific, but were likely introduced into South Florida waters in 1992.

To report sightings of lionfish, call the nationwide reporting number (877-STOPANS) sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or fill out an online report on the USGS website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/sightingreport.asp.

To learn more about  lionfish visit: http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/SeaGrant/pubs/Lionfish%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
(note at the time this publication was created there had not been any confirmed sightings of lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico-obviously that has changed now!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

National Marine Educators Assocation Conference: Gatlinburg, TN

I just got back from Gatlinburg, Tenneessee, where I presented  at the National Marine Educators Assocation (NMEA) conference. I know Tennessee might seem like an odd choice to hold a marine education conference, but you have to remember that 1)  in terms of geologic history (millions of years agao) Tennessee has spent much of its time underwater as a ocean, and 2) a lot of that fresh water that comes out of the Appalachian Mountains eventually makes it was down to the Gulf. Therefore, it makes perfect sense! It was a great conference and as always its hard not to get energized about your profession when you are around so many talented and passionate educators. If you are a marine educator and are not familiar with NMEA, I highly reccomend looking into it.
One of our evening receptions was as at the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. I have to admit I was skeptical about what to expect, but it turned out to be an amazing facility!! If you are ever in that region, I would go. They have some huge sharks, sawfish, sting rays, and crabs on display, as well as a very cool penguin exhibit.
  I gave two presentations at the conference. I co-presented with Dawn Millier-Walker from Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) about our efforts with creating and distributing personal-sized fishing line recycling bins to fishermen to help reduce the amount of used line that ends up in the marine environment. I also presented on my afterschool marine dissection program I've been doing for the past couple of years with migrant students at Manatee Middle School in East Naples.   Hopefully, I'll get to make next year's conference in Boston, MA.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Collier County Youth Fishing Camp- Day 5

Today marked the end of my week long fishing camp for Collier County. In my mind, it was a  total success! When the kids came into today, I had all of their rods and reel completely dismantled. I made them a deal if they could put it back together and tie on their terminal tackle themselves based on the knots they learned this week, the rod and reel was theirs.The kids were very excited to learn they got to keep the equipment. As I said on day 1, a big thanks goes out to Fish Florida, who donates the rods and reels to me for my youth fishing programs. Once everyone was done, we did some more fishing around the park's lake. We brought in some more bass, which were pretty nice size. We ended up the day playing Sport Fish Bingo, where the kids had several opportunities to win many door prizes. We gave out dehookers, law sticks, lures, hats, and fish ID books.
Needless to say its been a busy week, and I'm exhausted, but it was well worth it. Hopefully there are now 14 young anglers out there who are a bit wiser about fishing and conservation.

Collier County Youth Fishing Camp- Day 4

Yesterday, we took the student out on a charter fishing trip, which was one of the highlights of the camp. We went out with Cruise Naples on their bay boat, and had a great time. Everyone caught at least one fish, which makes me extremely happy. We went out to the Santa Lucia Reef, approximately 2 miles off Gordan Pass in Naples. The kids mostly caught  pinfish and tomtate grunts, but other catches included mangrove snapper, crevalle jack, blue runner, and Atlantic Spadefish. We then fished around Gordan Pass and caught mostly lady fish, catfish, and whiting. Finally, we fished inside the pass, I think the kids must have set a new record for catching catfish. However, they seemed happy and also caught  mangrove snappers, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, and a very large remora. Of the dozens of fish the kids caught only two were of legal size (one mangrove snapper, and one Spanish mackerel). The first mate gratefully cleaned the fish for the kids, which made a great finish to a wonderful day!

Congratulations New Florida Master Naturalists!

Last night, I finished teaching my Florida Master Naturalist Coastal Module Class. There are now 13 new gradautes to the program. Big thanks to  Renee Wilson from Rookery Bay assisted me teach the class. We had a great group of  students, and I personally learned a lot from them. Hopefullyth they learned a thing or two from me too. They did their final projects for us last night. Topics ranged from black skimmer conservation to mating strategies of marine animals (nothing like watching videos of sharks, manatees, and dolphins having sex!!) The attached pictures are from one our group's project on the dynamics of beach environments the wildlife associated with it.  I thought the model they made was very cool and an effective teaching tool. Very creative! We also had one student complete her final module (there's 3 in total), which makes her an official "Florida Master Naturalist." Congrats, Kara!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Collier County Youth Sport Fishing Camp Day 3

We headed out to Barefoot Beach to do a little beach fishing for day 3 of the camp. Man, it was a hot one, but it was another successful day. I wasn't sure how we'd do as far as the fishing, but the kids tore it up!!! I don't think I've ever gone through shrimp so fast in my life. Most of the kids caught at least one fish, while many caught several. One student caught his first fish ever. Unfortunately, as I was helping him get it off the line, the fish slipped out of my hands, and it went right back in the water before I could take a picture of him with his catch!!! (So sorry, Christain, I owe you one).
The kids caught whiting and ladyfish. Park ranger Barry Gorniak who has been helping me all week with the camp also showed a few of the kids how to throw a cast net.I think they really enjoyed that. Some kids fished the entire time, while others decided to just hang out and enjoy the warm water and sunshine. I also brought a seine net for the kids to collect fish. They had a blast with that. We caught lots of sardines, mojarras, whiting as well as a pipe fish and several juvenile lookdowns. Needless to say we (ok me) were exhausted by the end of the day, but it was well worth it!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Collier County Youth Sport Fishing Camp Day 2

Today members of the Backcountry Flyfishing Club of Naples stopped by to teach our students about fly fishing. These guys are great! The students lenared how to tie their own flies and practiced casting with a fly reel (something I'll admit I can't do!). They did a great job, and were excited about the flies they made and got to keep. Big thanks goes out to the club members!!!
Following the fly fishing demos, we went back out to the lake for some more fishing. We used live and plastic worms today. Overall, the bite wasn't great, but towards the end, it picked up. The students caught several blue gill and redear sunfish. One student caught a Mayan cichlid. I was glad some of the kids got the opportunity to use a dehooking tool to release their fish.We then headed back inside and played a game called "Casting for Conservation". Students try to catch laminated fish with magnets attached to them and reel them in. If they catch a fish, they have to identify it, measure how long it is, and then look in the fishing regulations to see if it is a legal fish. Its a great way to have the students practice short casts while learning fish identificaiton, and how to read and follow the state's fishing regulations. Talk to you later!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Collier County Youth Fishing Camp- Day 1

Today, I began my youth sport fishing camp for Collier County Parks and Recreation. This is the 2nd year I've done the camp for them. We meet 9AM-1PM everyday this week.  We've got an enthusiastic bunch of young anglers ranging from 8-10 years of age. Besides teaching the group basic fishing techniques (knot tying, casting,) I really try to emphasize the importance of being a conservation-minded angler. For instance, I make sure everyone knows how to use a dehooking tool before we fish for real. I addressed the benefits of using circle hooks, proper handling and release practices, and the importance of knowing and following the regulations. Of course we also did a little fishing too!! I get rods and reels donated from Fish Florida, which has alway been an excellent partner in supporting youth fishing education! Overall, fishing was a little slow today. We ended up only catching 4 or 5 bass. I think it was just too hot outside. The kids were good sports about it. Here are some pictures from today. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another Successful Florida Master Naturalist Field Trip: Trawling in Rookery Bay

I wasn't sure if the weather was going to cooperate, but we ended up having a great boat ride for our last Florida Master Naturalist field trip last night. It doesn't hurt that we have  a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable class, which always makes a field trip even better!!
We took out one of Rookery Bay's mullet skiffs to do some trawling  and examine local marine life up close. We pulled a small otter trawl, which is a type of fishing net that is dragged along the bottom behind the boat(FYI we have a perrmit to do it, and we don't trawl in areas with sensitive bottom habitats such as oysters or seagrass-we trawl over sandy/muddy bottom where there is an active current) . The mouth of the net is held open by two large wooden "doors" that are attached to either side of the net, and kept a apart by the water pressure. In front of the net opening is a  metal "tickle" chain that drags along the bottom and spooks up critters into the net.
We ended up doing 2 trawl and brought aboard several critters including a sea nettle jellyfish, a  9-armed sea star, banded brittle stars, brief squid, snapping shrimp, mojarras, hardheaded catfish, lane snapper, porcelain crabs, mud crabs, tunicates, comb jellies, slipper shells, encrusting bryozoans, sauerkraut bryozoans, and sponge pieces.

After the trawls we visited an active bird rookery in Rookery Bay proper. It was quite a site-dozens of egrets, ibis, pelicans, cormorants and herons congregating on a tiny mangrove island! I know the picture of the rookery isn't that great, but we made sure to keep a respectable distances from it so as not to disturb the birds. We actually had great bird sitings all evening: roseate spoonbills, black and yellow crowned night herons, green herons, great and snowy egrets, tri-colored herons, 1 pilleated woodpecker,  least terns, black skimmers, etc!

We were also fortunate to have one heck of a sunset  accompany our boat trip !! No sense in trying to describe it, I'll just show it to you!!!!! If this isn't a reason to take this course, I don't know what is!!!