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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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Federal Gag Grouper Rules Start Jan 1

Starting January 1, 2011 gag grouper in Gulf federal waters will be off limits to recreational fishermen for at least six months.
A 2009 stock assessment conducted by a cooperative group of fisheries scientists and managers indicated that gag are both overfished (population abundance is too low) and experiencing overfishing (rate of removal too high). According to the assessment, gag populations are 40% of what they should be for a sustainable fishery.
As a result, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is mandated by The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to take immediate action to rebuild gag stocks to acceptable levels within ten years. The rebuilding plan is expected to be approved by the Council and implemented by NOAA Fisheries sometime in the fall. In the meantime an interim rule has been approved to mitigate overfishing while the long-term plan (Amendment 32 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan) is developed and finalized.
The interim rule prohibits the recreational harvest of gag grouper in federal Gulf waters (beyond 9 nautical miles from shore) and establishes a 100,000 lb gag quota for the commercial fishing sector beginning January 1, 2011. As of now the interim rule lasts for 180 days. If new data presented at the Gulf Council's February meeting reflects that gag populations are in worse shape than previously thought, however, the Council can request a new interim rule, which could last another 186 days. If this happens, it is possible the recreational gag fishery could remain closed until the final gag rule is approved.
On a somewhat "brighter" note, the harvest of gag in Gulf state waters (within 9 nautical miles of shore) will remain open until the normal Feb 1-March 31 closure and all other state regulations remain the same. Typically the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not adopt federal regulations until a final rule has been implemented. To view the current state saltwater regulations visit: http://myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/SaltwaterRules_index.htm

A logical question you may ask yourself is why the commercial sector will still be allowed to harvest gag when the recreational anglers cannot. First off, it is important to remember the commercial gag fishery is managed under an individual fishing quota system and that the 100,000 pounds quota means each commercial fisherman with gag shares only gets 7% of his/her individual gag quota during the interim rule time period. The Gulf Council reasoned that the commercial sector incidentally catches gag on trips where they target other species. Commercial fishermen fish in deeper waters than recreational anglers, on average, and fish caught in deeper water are less likely to survive upon release than fish caught in shallow water. Therefore, the commercial fishery has a higher rate of release mortality (fish that die after they are caught and released) than the recreational sector. The 100,000 lbs quota will serve to prevent the wasteful discard of dead gags and instead, count the otherwise dead fish against the annual commercial quota, which will be established in the final gag grouper rule.
To learn more about the gag grouper closure and frequently asked questions regarding the subject visit: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/pdfs/Gulf_Gag_and_Red_Grouper_FAQs.pdf

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Florida Sea Grant College Program Site Review and Stakeholder Engagement

These days accountability is a key trait required for any organization (particularly public ones) to justify their existence in providing services to their stakeholders. The Florida Sea Grant College Program (FSGCP) is no different. Recently the program underwent  a comprehensive site review by a National Sea Grant Site Review Team (SRT). The SRT focused the review and discussion on how well the FSGCP met the three broad SRT categories: 1) Organization and Management of the Program; 2) Stakeholder Engagement; and 3) Collaborative Network Activities.
While all three of these categories are no doubt important to the organization, as a local extension agent, stakeholder engagement is critical to the continued sustainability and success of my program. Interacting and soliciting feedback from my stakeholders is something I take a lot of pride in when developing, executing, and evaluating my programs. This engagement helps ensure my programs remain relevant to the audiences I serve. One aspect I am particularly proud of is the establishment and development of my local advisory committee, which consists of 9 members representing  public and private agencies/organizations involved with local coastal issues. Over the years they have proved to be a great asset to my extension program, and I cannot thank them enough.
While the site review does not obviously just refer to my work, it is a reflection of the type of performance and service provided by my other Sea Grant colleagues around the state, and I wanted to share some of the findings. I hope this information provides a little more insight into how Florida Sea Grant operates to ensure it remains relevant to the stakeholders it serves across the state and region.

...Care is taken to ensure that FSGCP research is relevant to coastal constituent needs and involves
extension and outreach. Engagement with stakeholders starts with the development of their four year
strategic plan (most recently for 2009-2013). The Strategic Plan is developed once every  four years and starts with an issues survey completed by Advisory Committees of individual  county-based extension agents and Florida residents (including more than a thousand coastal business owners, elected officials, and  residents for the 2009-2013 cycle), and a two-day planning workshop attended by all members of the FSGCP Advisory Council, educators, university and agency scientists, resource managers, extension specialists and agents, and representatives from a variety of coastal business sectors (over 80 participants for the 2009-2013 cycle). In addition to participating in the planning workshop, the FSGCP Advisory Council works with the leadership team to development the final drafts of the Strategic and Implementation Plans.
The FSGCP prioritizes their RFP for research, based on their FSGCP Strategic Plan objectives and a relevancy review. The process starts with strategic priority research topics drawn from those identified in the Strategic Plan. In addition to requiring that projects address these priorities, the Program ensures relevance of the research portfolio: pre-proposals are screened by industry and agency experts; researchers are required to work with end-users in developing research proposals; and full proposals must contain a detailed outreach plan. Most projects engage a marine extension agent to assist in developing the required outreach component of the project plan. All these efforts result in research partnerships between university faculty and either specific private sector end users or resource management agencies. The linkage between research
investigators and stakeholders was very good in selected areas presented during the review. The FSGCP Communication produces materials to assist extension staff in engaging with coastal  stakeholders. Research findings are primarily communicated by meetings, workshops, the FSGCP website, Program Highlights documents, newsletters and other written materials to convey coastal and marine-related information to stakeholders. Research findings are translated into these communications output and provided to extension personnel, the National Sea Grant Library, and the public. In terms of PDF downloads from the National Sea Grant Library, the FSGCP leads the Sea Grant Network (~170,000 downloads of FSGCP documents in 2009). New methods of information delivery, such as social media (e.g., YouTube and Facebook) are increasing exposure for the Program as a source of reliable, science-based information. Just as important are the many personal contacts through office visits, telephone calls, and letters. These 8 often are initiated by a broad range of people who have come to rely on the FSGCP for unbiased information.Relevance
The FSGCP Extension Program is providing valuable and relevant services to a broad range of Florida constituents. Coastal constituents direct the activities of every FSGCP marine extension agent. Each agent has his/her own unique advisory committee of 10 to 20 members that represent the coastal region in which they serve (e.g., local business leaders, mayors, county commissioners, federal and state agency representatives, educators, non-profits). Most extension agents are housed in their respective county extension offices, and report to that host office, to the FSGCP, and to IFAS Extension. Inter-weaving activities and reporting among these interests, each agent prepares an annual Plan of Work that is based on local needs, yet consistent with FSGCP priorities. During an annual planning retreat of all FSGCP extension agents and specialists with the leadership team, a coordinated, programmed team approach is accomplished.
To keep communication lines open, a quarterly newsletter and Work Action Teams on topical areas, such as sustainable fishes, artificial reefs, seafood safety, aquaculture, education, and boating and waterway  management, are a primary means for development and implementation of statewide extension projects. One issue that was not made clear during the visit is how county agents provide feedback to state level on programs; presumably, the Work Action Teams allow for this.

 The FSGCP Program has a powerful approach for engaging coastal constituents. Formal procedures ensure that research, communications, education and extension work together to transfer research to coastal stakeholders and that research is relevant to stakeholder needs.

The Program is active in network activities, with nationally and internationally recognized expertise, including seafood safety and economics, boating and waterway management, and sutainable aquaculture and fisheries. The interaction between the FSGCP and NOAA programs is laudable.

If you would like to see the full site review report, email me at fluech@ufl.edu

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Red Grouper: Ocean Engineers

The red grouper (Epinephelus morio) is one of the most economically important commercial and recreational species in the Gulf of Mexico. Besides their importance as a popular seafood dish, researchers have discovered they also play a significant role in their underwater environment by acting as “marine engineers.” A group of researchers led by Dr. Felicia Coleman of Florida State University recently discovered that red grouper help enhance biodiversity by creating and maintaining structural habitat for other marine life.

Although much of the Gulf bottom is relatively featureless, “solution holes” exist that formed thousands of years ago when sea level was lower, and freshwater dissolved holes in the limestone surface. When sea level rose to its present state, these solution holes filled with sediment. Red grouper are commonly associated with these limestone solution holes, but scientists were never able to demonstrate they actually helped create and maintain them.
Coleman and her colleagues discovered that red grouper remove the sediment from these holes, and help restructure the flat bottom into a three dimensional structure. Much like beavers who construct dams, red grouper act as ecosystem engineers that modify their environment and create habitat for themselves and other species. They remove sand with their mouths, exposing the limestone bottom that can be colonized by other marine life such as corals, anemones, and sponges as well as the organisms that depend on them. The study also showed that commercially important species such as spiny lobster, black grouper, red porgy and vermillion snapper among others, benefited from the red grouper's engineering abilities. Red grouper, however, also benefited from digging the holes. “Watching these fish dig holes was amazing enough, Dr Coleman noted, “but then we realized that the sites served to attract mates, beneficial species such as cleaner shrimp that pick parasites and food scraps off the resident fish, and a variety of prey species for the red grouper. So it's no surprise that the fish are remarkably sedentary. Why move if everything you need comes to you?”
Researchers observed excavating behaviors in both juvenile red grouper in shallow waters of the Florida Keys and in adults offshore in marine reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Coleman noted, “We found through a series of experiments that they not only dug the holes, but maintained them by carrying mouthfuls of sediment from the center of the pit to the periphery and expelling them through their gills and mouths and then brushing off the rocks with their tail fins.”
In the study juvenile groupers were placed in bottomless cages over sediment-filled holes, and were observed digging new holes; in one case a fish dug deep enough to escape the cage. Researchers also placed activated charcoal in multiple identified grouper holes in both shallow and deep waters to observe the rate at which red grouper excavated the material. They were observed removing the charcoal within two hours of being placed there, and most was completely removed from all sites within 24 hours. Researchers used video cameras to document the diversity and abundance of marine life associated with the groupers' engineering in the Keys. The research team discovered that the average numbers of fish were higher over grouper holes, and with bigger holes there were even larger numbers. For the offshore sites, researchers used submarines and remotely operated video camera to document species diversity and abundance. Active grouper sites had greater species diversity and abundance than inactive or sandy bottom sites. In one of the offshore study locations, most of the exposed rock was encrusted in sponges as well as soft and hard corals. Certain species such as sea urchins were only found at maintained grouper holes. Coleman’s study may have significant implications for future fisheries management and biodiversity protection, as it demonstrates critical connections between this economically valuable species and its environment. “What are the consequences of overfishing these habitat engineers?” asks coauthor Dr. Chris Koenig. “You can't remove an animal that can dig a hole five meters across and several meters deep to reveal the rocky substrate and expect there to be no effect on reef communities.”
The study entitled, “Benthic Habitat Modification through Excavation by Red Grouper, Epinephelus morio, in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico,” is published in The Open Fish Science Journal.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cold Weather Impacts on Marine Life

One of many dead manatees found
during the record  2010 cold event.
The record cold spell in 2010 was a stark lesson on the impacts that extreme weather events can have on the region’s marine life. The cold weather led to a record high number of manatee deaths, which was unprecedented in both numbers and geographic extent. In addition hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles had to be rescued, and the die-off of snook was so severe along Florida’s west coast the fishery is closed until at least September 2011 to help protect the remaining populations. As coastal temperatures continue to drop this winter it is important to be aware of potential wildlife interactions on the water and what to do if you encounter stressed or dead marine life.

Manatee "foot print"

For instance, manatees typically seek warm-water refuge near power plants, springs, and rivers as water temperatures decrease. Boaters should keep a close look out for the marine mammals moving into coastal waters to reach theses areas, and strictly obey all posted speed restrictions and manatee protection zones to avoid potential vessel strikes. Wearing polarized sunglasses will help spot manatees and boaters should watch for manatee “foot prints” (large tell-tale circular slicks on the water’s surface) that indicates the presence of the animal.
Manatees and other marine life such as sea turtles can quickly become disorientated and stressed when exposed to colder water temperatures for extended periods of time. Symptoms of a cold-stressed manatee can include but are not limited to white skin around the face, flippers and tail and/or deep grooves on the underside from the animal using significant amounts of their fat stores in order to keep warm. Sea turtles tend to float listlessly in the water or wash onto shore when they are cold stressed.
If you encounter an injured or dead manatee or other wildlife you are encouraged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Alert Hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).*
* Due to limited resources wildlife officials may not be able to respond to your call immediately. If it is possible, keep an eye on the animal in question and document its condition as well as its location. The more specific information you can provide officials, the more prepared they will be in their rescue attempt.

A dead mullet washed up on shore
Occurrences of fish kills within estuaries, rivers, and lakes may also increase as coastal temperatures drop suddenly or for extended periods of time. These are natural events and typically do not cause permanent damage to fish populations and their ecosystems. One positive aspect is the cold events can help limit the spread of non-native fish species such as cichlids, armored catfish and tilapia. Fish may be killed directly by the cold stress or become weakened and more susceptible to disease or depredation.
Fish affected by the cold may appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer from the sun. It is important to remember all recreational fishing regulations still apply to fish affected by cold temperatures. Even if you come across a dead or dying fish that is legal to keep, it is never recommended to eat any fish that appears sick or is already dead due to elevated bacterial levels and associated heath concerns.
Reporting fish kills that occur in natural water bodies is an important step in helping to protect Florida’s fisheries. These reports help state scientists keep track of the location and extent of fish kills in natural lakes and estuaries, and to see if there are problems developing in an ecosystem that might require investigation or restorative measures. To report fish kills that occur in natural water bodies call the FWC Fish Kill Hotline:1-800-636-0511 or visit http://research.MyFWC.com/fishkill/submit.asp

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recording of Florida Aquaculture Products Webinar

Yesterday, as part of my "Brown Bag" webinar series I provided an overview of Florida aquaculture products.
The goal of the webinar is to increase participants’ knowledge and awareness of the diversity of aquaculture products produced in Florida and shed some light on the value of this important industry to the
state's economy and people.

Webinar Recording

(You might get a message that blocks you from downloading the webinar; you will need to click on "allow" to let your computer download the presentation)

To make sure your computer is compatible with  Elluminate Live,  go to:  http://www.elluminate.com/support/index.jsp and work through steps 1 and 2.
If you have connection problems, please contact Ron Thomas with UF/IFAS distance education at
Some interesting facts addressed in the presentation:
  • Florida ranks 7th in the nation for total aquaculture production
  • Florida aquafarms produce over 1500 varieties of fish, plants, mollusks, crustaceans, and reptiles
  • Florida is the nation's leading producer of freshwater tropical ornamental fish
  • Florida aquaculture net sales in 2007 was approximately $63 million dollars
  • Florida's aquaculture products are used for food, aquarium use, high fashion, gardening, restoration projects, fee-fishing, bait, biological control, and research


Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-Division of Aquaculture http://www.floridaaquaculture.com/

2011-2012 Florida Aquaculture Plan:  http://www.floridaaquaculture.com/publications/aquaplan.pdf

Florida Aquaculture Association: http://www.flaa.org/index.html

UF/IFAS Tropical Ornamental Laboratory: http://tal.ifas.ufl.edu/

UF/IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension Program: http://shellfish.ifas.ufl.edu/

University of Miami Aquaculture: http://aquaculture.rsmas.miami.edu/

Mote Marine Lab Aquaculture Park: www.mote.org/aquaculture/

Harbor Branch/ FAU Aquaculture: http://www.fau.edu/hboi/Aquaculture/index.php












Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Water Quality Testing on a Cold Day!

Yesterday I began assisting Collier County's Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Department with their coastal water quality sampling. I'm not going to lie, it was nice to get out on the water, but it was COLD!!!!
I went out with Pamela Keyes, who is among many other things, the County's artificial reef coordinator. We took measurements at various spots within the Cocohatchee estuary system in the northern part of the county. While Pam collected water samples (to be analyzed back at a lab for various parameters such as nitrates and fecal coliform) I used a YSI probe to collect information about water temperature, salinity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and pH. I also used a good ol' secchi disk to measure water clarity.
I've agreed to help CZM do sampling once a month. Its a good chance for me to see parts of the county I don't normally get to see and learn new skills. In addition, it allows me to better educate others about water quality issues in the County and explain what kind of data the county is collecting and why they're doing it.
On the flip side, CZM, like many county departments are being asked to do more with less these days due to budget cuts. By training me on sampling protocols, it provides their department with an extra person who can do water quality testing and saves them money by not having to hire extra help. Its a win-win situation.

This is the YSI probe I used to collect data about water conditions

I know its hard to see, but the water temp reads 12.08 degrees C. (approximately 54 degree F).

One of the sampling sites Near Vanderbilt Beach

A very bundled up Pamela collecting water samples from a canal we traveled to

me using a secchi disk to measure water clarity

A beautiful, but COLD day near Wiggins Pass

Friday, December 10, 2010

Clean Marina Program Walk Through

(From FDEP website) "The Florida Clean Marina Programs are designed to bring awareness to marine facilities and boaters regarding environmentally friendly practices intended to protect and preserve Florida’s natural environment. Marinas, boatyards and marine retailers receive clean designations by demonstrating a commitment implementing and maintaining a host of best management practices. The program is a voluntary designation program with a proactive approach to environmental stewardship. Participants receive assistance in implementing Best Management Practices through on-site and distance technical assistance, mentoring by other Clean Marinas and continuing education. To become designated as a Clean Marina, facilities must implement a set of environmental measures designed to protect Florida’s waterways. These measures address critical environmental issues such as sensitive habitat, waste management, stormwater control, spill prevention and emergency preparedness. Designated facilities and those facilities seeking designation receive ongoing technical support from the Florida Clean Marina Program and the Clean Boating Partnership."

Promoting proper boat cleaning BMPs
among vendors, sub contractors, and
 yacht club members is an integral part of
 the Clean Marina Program
Florida Sea Grant is an active partner in supporting and promoting the Clean Marina Program. Typically agents help provide technical advice and support for facilities interested in becoming certified by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the lead agency in the program. Yesterday, I assisted Laura Comer who is the regional Clean Marina Coordinator review designation process paperwork with the Naples Yacht and Sailing Club who is working towards designation. We wet the the Yacht Club's dockmaster to follow up on recommended actions we made several months ago. I'm proud to say they have made considerable progress and are in deed on their way to becoming a designated Florida Clean Marina.

Clean Marina Coordinator Laura Comer looks over some new
educational oil spill prevention signage put up by Naples
Yacht and Sailing Club

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Florida Natural Resource Leadership Institute Advisory Council Gets Underway

The Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) is a year-long leadership training program offered through the University of Florida Extension Service that helps the people, industries, and agencies of Florida collaborate in achieving the often conflicting goals of protecting the environment and fostering economic development. NRLI helps rising leaders develop skills to build consensus around contentious environmental issues and move beyond conflict to find solutions. Through eight three-day sessions and practicum exercise, NRLI Fellows gain knowledge of Florida natural resource issues, leadership skills, professional networking opportunities, and personal and social growth. To date, 170 "fellows" have participated and graduated from the program. Not only am I proud graduate of the program (Class VIII), I also serve as the president of the NRLI Alumni Association.

Recently, I was asked to serve on the NRLI Advisory Council, whose purpose is to serve in an advisory mode to the NRLI director and project team regarding program policies and procedues. 
Dr. Laila Raceevskis, Director
of  NRLI discusses with the
council  ways to sustain the progam
 for  future participants 

Yesterday I traveled to Gainesville to attend the first council meeting.  The council is comprised of 21 members representing private sector, NGO's, governmental agencies, and academia. It will help identify training and education needs that will appeal to potential participants as well as develop recruitment and fundraising strategies to help sustain the  program.

I can honestly say NRLI is the best leadership training program I have ever been through, and it has had a profound impact on how I work and interact with others and develop my outreach and education programming. I feel honored to be a part of this organization,  and I look forward to working with the diverse group of talented professionals who make up the council in order promote and sustain a program that has meant so much to me.
If you would like to learn more about NRLI,  do not hesitate to contact me!  Class XI will begin next August and the project team is always looking for interested participants.

Dr. Jack Payne, the Senior VP for Agriculture and
Natural Resources at the  University of Florida welcomed the
Council  and shared some insight on the importance of conflict resolution
 and open communication between stakeholder groups


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Florida Aquaculture Brown Bag Webinar