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, April 29, 2011

Concerns about diseased reef fish from Northern Gulf of Mexico

Recently there have been reports of red snapper with lesions and other signs of stress thought to be related to last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although researchers have indicated the infections are associated with a chronic exposure to a toxin, they have stopped short of saying it was caused directly by the oil although it is thought that it's likely to be the culprit. To see the whole article visit: http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/sick-fish-suggest-oil-spill-still-affecting-gulf/1164042

While there have certainly been cases such as the ones described above, seafood samples in the thousands from the Gulf continues to pass sensory and analytical testing declaring it safe to eat. Just as an FYI even if a fish with lesions were caught for commercial purposes, it is highly unlikely it would make it to the market because of 1) the quality of such a product, and more importantly 2) because of the seafood industry's HACCP program. According to the International HACCP Allicance, HACCP or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point "is a process control system that identifies where hazards might occur in the food production process and puts into place stringent actions to take to prevent the hazards from occurring. By strictly monitoring and controlling each step of the process, there is less chance for hazards to occur.  HACCP is important because it prioritizes and controls potential hazards in food production. By controlling major food risks, such as microbiological, chemical and physical contaminants, the industry can better assure consumers that its products are as safe as good science and technology allows. By reducing foodborne hazards, public health protection is strengthened."
All primary and secondary seafood processors in the U.S as well as processors who import seafood to the U.S. are required by law to have HACCP plans in place for their products. They are also required to update their plans annually and/or when they have any changes to the way the process their products.

Despite the article I just mentioned, I also wanted to share with you the findings from a report that recently came out from the Alabama Marine Resource Division (Drs. Sean P. Powers and Robert L. Shipp) and the Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab as an example of the kind of systematic sampling that is being done to ensure Gulf seafood is and remains safe.

To provide a brief synopsis of fishery independent data to assess whether diseased reef fish are present in the population.
Summary: Based on our fishery independent sampling, we found no significant evidence of
 diseased fish (noted by external sores or visible disfigurement of internal organs) in reef fish populations off Alabama or the western Florida Panhandle.
Synopsis of methodology: Extensive fishery independent sampling conducted by USA and DISL occurred from Jan 2010 – April 2011. Multiple gears are used in the surveys including underwater video recorded via a ROV, vertical or “bandit” longlines, bottom longlines, bottom trawls and traditional hook and line gear. Site selection is based on a completely random and unbiased design. In addition a limited number of fishery dependent (port sampling) data were collected. Approximately 2300 economically important fish (primarily red snapper, gray trigger fish, gag grouper, scamp) have been collected in coastal Alabama and the western panhandle of Florida out to 300 ft depths. Three types of visual examinations were conducted on fish:
external examination for sores, lesions or skin abnormalities (all fish); gross anatomical examination of internal organs (all fish, this analysis would detect organ disfigurement or enlargement); and detailed internal examination of organs (approximately 310 fish, this analysis would detect small lesions, or discoloration of organs). No sores, lesions or disfigurement were noted in the external examination or gross anatomical examination. Two cases of possible liver abnormalities were noted. In both of these cases, there were faint “spots” on the liver.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Afterschool Marine Science Progam: Plankton Lab and Stone Crabs!

Yesterday was the second class of my afterschool marine science program for migrant students on Marco Island. The theme this week was plankton. Besides discussing the importance of plankton to marine life and humans, students had the opportunity to examine phyto and zooplankton up close with microscopes. Although they had some difficulty using the microscopes, they were able to identify some copepods, barnacle naupli, and crab zoea. Following the microscope work, we did an activity called "Fashion a Phyto (Zoo) Plankton". The students, working in groups, created their own imaginary plankton species using art supplies. They had to choose from a variety of features to incorporate into their critter, and when finished, explain how their species was adapted to living in a marine environment. I was very impressed with their designs and stories. Finally, to illustrate the importance of plankton to our local fisheries, the students got to sample some stone crab claws! While there were a few who didn't care for them, I think they were a huge hit. Although they were familiar with what the adult crabs looked like, they weren't aware that they start off as plankton as does a lot of our seafood. Enjoy the pictures!

Microscope work to identify plankton

A very creative example of a chained species of plankton
One of the features of this plankton species is that it released toxins into the water to kill its prey.

They can't even take a break from their stone crab claws to smile!!!

Watching the students try and crack their claws was entertaining!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Reef Clean Up

Since today is Earth Day, my colleagues and I decided to organize an underwater clean up of some natural hardbottom habitat off the coast of Naples. I partnered with the Collier County Sheriff's office, City of Naples Natural Resources Department and Collier County's Coastal Zone Management Department. Based on some previous dives, we knew the area had debris on it. The visibility wasn't great, but then again its the Gulf of Mexico, what do you expect?!! Regardless, it was great to be underwater for a good cause. We ended up removing several anchors, two crab traps, ropes, and fishing line. Although I didn't go out there to specifically monitor fish, I did see the following species: Goliath, gag, and red groupers (not many of them though), mangrove snapper, sheepshead, white grunt, sand perch, belted sandfish, porkfish, spadefish, lookdown, hogfish, inshore lizzardfish, cubbyu, some type of pipefish, and tiger goby.  Inverts included variegated and rock boring urchins, fighting conchs, horse conch, banded and orange-ridged sea stars, three-rowed sea cucumber, giant anemone, knobby star coral, cup coral, tube coral, some kind of starlet coral, sea whips, sea fans, and several species of  tunicates and sponges. I don't expect National Geographic to be calling me anytime soon for my photographs, but  I did take several. Enjoy!

There were several soft and hard corals on the natural hardbottom today.

three-rowed sea cucumber

Giant Anemone

Horse conch laying eggs

Lightning whelk crawling across the bottom


Spottail pinfish

Several kinds of tunicates were all over the reefs.

Pamela Keyes with Collier County's Coastal Zone Management Department removes lines from the reef.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Afterschool Marine Science Program: Oyster Community Exploration

Yesterday I started my after school marine science program for migrant students at the Marco Island Charter Middle School. This is actually the third year I've done this program, but in the past I did the program at Manatee Middle School, and the focus was primarily on dissecting marine organisms to teach the students about taxonomy. This year's focus is on estuaries. We'll meet for a total of seven sessions, which will include classroom labs as well as field trips to local estuarine communities. For our first class we did an oyster exploration lab. The students searched through oyster clumps looking for various organisms associated with these communities. Besides serving as an important habitat for many species, students also learned that oysters help improve water quality by filtering pollutants out of the water. None of the students had done this before, and they seemed to have a great time. Enjoy the pictures!

As an icebreaker students had to decide what the various items I provided to them had to do with estuaries. In this case they are holding a mixer, which symbolizes that estuaries are areas where fresh and salt water mix.

Students were required to count the number of different organisms they found among their oyster clump.

Students observed several animals including mud crabs, porcelain crabs, worms, and amphipods among their oysters.

Students became quite good at collecting crabs from the oysters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Wrack Line is Full of Treasures!

Yesterday I took a group of students from Edison State College to Keewaydin Island in Naples to discuss barrier island ecology. Once we made it to the beach the students had a great time exploring the shoreline, especially the wrack line. Although you may not be familiar with this term, I'm sure you've searched through and near it looking for whatever "beach treasures" enticed you.
Wrack lines are linear piles of marine debris (both natural and manmade) that gets washed up on the beach from the tides. Typical debris includes uprooted seagrasses, algae, seeds, mangrove leaves and propagules, along with sponges, soft corals, shells, egg cases, and worm tubes. Unfortunately, the wrack line is also often a reminder that human-based marine debris  has become a common site in the marine environment; plastics, fishing gear, cigarette butts, and drift wood are common finds. Regardless, the wrack line is an important part of the beach ecosystem.The size and duration of the wrack line can vary depending on storm activity, winds, and tide conditions. Once established,the wrack line provides shelter for a variety of animals such as insects, crabs, and amphipods. They in turn serve as a food source for a variety of animals including shorebirds and/or raccoons.  The organic material within the wrack line also provides critical nutrients to dune vegetation, and helps to stabilize shifting beach sands so new dunes can form. In many coastal communities, the wrack line is raked and removed to provide a more "aesthetic" beach scene for tourists and residents.

egg cases attached to a fighting conch shell

A lightning whelk egg case found among the wreck line
A wreck line on Keewayding Island

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Gulf Seafood Deemed Safe But Still Under Scrutiny"

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill there are still lots of concerns about the safety of region's seafood despite the unprecedented levels of testing that has deemed it safe. A colleague forwarded this story from NPR to me the other day, and thought you might find it interesting.

Here is the transcript-

Copyright ©2011 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.
Heard on All Things Considered
April 14, 2011 - ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The BP spill halted fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, the Gulf is back open for fishing, except for a small section near the wellhead.
But as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the question is whether or not people will eat the seafood.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: The Gulf of Mexico is known for its bounty - blue crab, shrimp, grouper, tuna, oysters, just about anything you'd need to cook up a fine gumbo - but ever since oil tainted a portion of the Gulf's fishing grounds, the seafood has been a tough sell.
Even though much of the oil has been cleaned up, the future is still murky for people who make a living plying Gulf waters.
Mike Voisin is a seventh-generation Louisiana oysterman.
Mr. MIKE VOISIN (President, Motivatit Seafoods): Once it was capped, you know, everybody let out that proverbial sigh of relief, like, whew, we're through this thing. Well, we weren't, and we still aren't.
ELLIOTT: Voisin is president of Motivatit Seafoods, an oyster processing company in Houma.
(Soundbite of machinery)
ELLIOTT: His workers are shucking oysters mostly from Texas these days.
Before the spill, Louisiana produced half of the oysters sold from the Gulf. Voisin's business was down 60 percent after the spill and has been slow to recover. The state's fisheries are projected to lose $74 million this year from the lingering impact of the oil spill.
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Robert Barham.
Mr. ROBERT BARHAM (Secretary, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries): People are hesitant to buy Gulf shrimp or Gulf product coming out of this oil area.
ELLIOTT: Most oyster grounds are back open, but they're not producing nearly what they did before, in part because of damage from freshwater state officials flushed out of the Mississippi River to hold the oil at bay.
But Voisin says the main problem is that consumers are afraid.
Mr. VOISIN: The brand for the seafood community is the biggest challenge that we're faced with.
ELLIOTT: A recent survey of restaurants around the country conducted by Greater New Orleans Inc. shows just how bad the perception is. The economic development group's president, Michael Hecht, says twice as many people now ask about the origin of seafood.
Mr. MICHAEL HECHT (President and CEO, Greater New Orleans Inc.): The implication, of course, is that they're asking about whether it's from the Gulf or whether it's Louisiana seafood.
ELLIOTT: He says 50 percent of people surveyed nationally now have an unfavorable view of Louisiana seafood. That's a huge swing from a 73 percent favorable view before the spill.
They plan to fight back with a national ad campaign paid for with BP money.
The state of Alabama is already doing that with this new Serve the Gulf campaign.
(Soundbite of TV ad)
Unidentified Man: We would never shift, sell or serve anything we wouldn't feed our families first. You have our word on that because this is more than what we catch every day. It's who we are.
ELLIOTT: The federal government is also trying to get the word out.
Mr. ERIC SCHWAAB (National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Test results have been unequivocal. Gulf seafood is safe to eat.
ELLIOTT: That's Eric Schwaab, head of fisheries at NOAA.
At the agency's lab in Pascagoula, Mississippi, sensory analysts spend their days bending over Pyrex dishes and smelling the fish inside for the slightest whiff of oil.
Then, they'll have a taste. Seafood samples are also chemically analyzed for hydrocarbons and the dispersant BP sprayed on the oil slick. NOAA's Walt Dickoff says they've analyzed more than 5,000 samples and all have passed at margins 100 to 1,000 times below levels of concern.
Mr. WALT DICKOFF (Division Director, Fisheries, NOAA): This is the most tested seafood in history. I'm completely confident to say it's not contaminated.
Ms. ANNE ROLFES (Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade): I'm not eating the seafood, and I really think there are questions about its safety.
ELLIOTT: Anne Rolfes is founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental group that helps citizens collect their own samples.
She says their testing has found oil and heavy metals in Gulf seafood at levels the FDA says is not of concern, but Rolfes says she has a different definition of tainted.
Ms. ROLFES: It shouldn't be considered normal to have the presence of oil in your shrimp and to have heavy metals in your oyster. And what I fear is that we're creating this new normal where you have oil in your seafood and nobody blinks an eye.
ELLIOTT: Oyster processor Mike Voisin says restoring trust will take time. It took several years to recover from Hurricane Katrina, he says, and expects to overcome this man-made disaster too.
Mr. VOISIN: We're not shy about portraying who we are. And in five years, we've been knocked down a few times. But we're getting back up. We're coming.
Every time you get knocked down, Voisin says, you come back even stronger.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tarpon Season is Among Us... Do You Have Your Tarpon DNA Sampling Kit?

Tarpon season is upon us in southwest Florida, and I wanted to make you aware of a simple yet effective way that anglers can help protect one of Florida's most valuable fisheries.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study encourage anglers throughout the state to genetically sample their tarpon prior to release for identification purposes. A small sample of skin cells collected from the outer jaw of a captured tarpon provides enough DNA to determine whether the fish was previously caught. Since 2005, the study has identified 37 recaptured tarpon from DNA samples submitted by Florida anglers, which roughly equates to 1 out of every 100 genetically tagged tarpon sampled.
The recapture study’s motto is
 “Any Tarpon, Anywhere, Any Size.” For example, small tarpon can be caught year-round in Florida. Information on recaptures of these small, immature fish can provide researchers with information on habitat preferences, residency, and site fidelity (being caught in the same area year after year). It is important that the young fish survive to become mature adults and learning about them and their habitats is critical for their conservation. Recapture information from older and larger fish can provide researchers some insight on the connectivity of the coastal and inshore waterways for tarpon movements, site fidelity and evidence of long-term survival of sexually mature tarpon.
Unlike conventional tagging methods, DNA will not break and does not rely on technology to work. It will not fall out or rub off the fish, and can't get covered in algae making it hard to see. All of the lab work is done in house at the FWC-FWRI lab in St. Petersburg so there is no extra expense to ship samples elsewhere for processing, making it a very cost effective program.
Image credit: FWC-FWRI
Taking a DNA sample is a relatively simple process.
Scrape the boney upper jaw with the provided sponge to remove some skin cells. Be sure the sponge has silver tissue on it. You may need to scrape hard to ensure skin cells come off the fish. Researchers want the silvery cells, not slime. As long as you do not remove the fish from the water, you do not need the $50 tarpon tag while sampling.
Place the used sponge into a labeled vial, and fill out the data sheet provided in the kit. The kits do not need to be refrigerated, they don't expire, and the liquid is not hazardous to touch or mail. Anglers who return samples (with completed information) get their names entered in an annual prize drawing.
Anglers are asked to make it a habit and carry a DNA sampling kit with them. Each kit is in a small zip lock bag and has enough material to sample three tarpon. Anglers can call toll free 1-800-367-4461, email TarponGenetics@MyFWC, or contact me at (239) 417-6310 x204 to obtain a free kit. There are more than 165 statewide collection centers that can be visited to obtain a DNA sampling kit. These local businesses also serve as places where people can drop off their tarpon samples at no cost to the angler. Tarpon team members contact the shops monthly to pick up samples and resupply the DNA sampling kits. Some of the local collection sites in Collier County include Caxambas Pass Ship Store, Port of the Islands Marina, Goodland Boat Ramp Ship Store, Captain Bill's Bait & Tackle, Captain Pete’s Bait & Tackle, and Mangrove Outfitters.

To learn more about the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study visit:

Happy tarpon fishing!!!!

Image Credit: Dr. Kathy Guindon, FWC-FWRI

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Florida Master Naturalist Estuary Trawl Trip

Yesterday, we wrapped up our last Florida Master Naturalist field trip for my current class. My colleague Renee Wilson from Rookery Bay NERR and I took the group on a trawling trip in the estuary. As I've said before, we are extremely fortunate to have an enthusiastic group of students who are eager to learn as much as they can. We pulled the trawl in two locations in hopes of capturing a wide variety of critters. While I'd be lying if I said they were the most diverse trawls I've pulled, we nonetheless caught some cool animals; we got spotfin mojarra, silver perch, spot, bay anchovies, polka-dot batfish, and a sheepshead as far as fish. Some of our inverts included a blue crab, many porcelain crabs, brief thumbstall squid, an unidentified nudibranch, brittle stars, comb jellies, lots of sponge pieces, sauerkraut bryozoan, a polychaete (marine worm), and some tunicates.
FMNP students working hard to pull in the net.

I discuss how the shape of a fish's body can provide important clues about its life style. (I'm holding a silver perch)

Me showing a pretty good sized spot, which is a member of the drum family.

Renee has the group look through some of sponge pieces we found to illustrate the importance of these sessile (attached, non-moving) organisms as habitat for other creatures.  The stringy stuff  beneath the sponge is actually a colonial organism called sauerkraut bryozoan (bryozoans are also referred to as moss animals)
A very large osprey nest along our route. Several of the nests had fledglings in them.

Shaking out the net before bring aboard. (Go Guy!!)

I show the group a sheepshead we caught in the net. Sheepshead are in the porgy family.

I couldn't resist showing the group the sheepshead's front teeth. They are adapted for biting off barnacles, other encrusting organisms, and of course fishermen's bait.

The catch of the day... A polka-dot batfish!!!


You can see how they get their name "polka-dot" batfish. They have modified pectoral and pelvic fins that allow them to "walk" along the bottom.

Their downward facing mouth is another clue that this is a fish that spends its time along the bottom.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Regulation Changes for Gulf Amberjack and Gag Grouper Comming this Summer

This summer Gulf recreational anglers will face new regulations for two popular species commonly targeted in the region. At its recent meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission  (FWC) approved a rule amendment to establish a two-month closed recreational harvest season for amberjack in Gulf of Mexico state waters June 1st through July 31st. This rule will be consistent with anticipated new rules in Gulf federal waters. (Final approval of the closure in state waters will be contingent on approval of the closure in federal waters.) Gulf amberjack are considered to be overfished and undergoing overfishing. By law, if a stock is determined to be overfished or experiencing overfishing, regional management councils must take immediate action to rebuild stocks to sustainable levels within in 10 years. To see details of the proposed action visit:

In addition, FWC approved a rule amendment regarding the 2011 open and closed recreational harvest seasons of gag grouper in Gulf state waters. The state's proposed rules would be consistent with anticipated interim rules in Gulf federal waters. Like amberjack, Gulf gag grouper are considered overfished and experiencing overfishing. Interim federal rules, which are put in place until a final management plan can be implemented, have prohibited the recreational harvest of gag grouper in federal waters since January. The federal prohibition is expected to be in effect through the end of 2011, except for a planned Sept. 16th through Nov. 15th open recreational harvest season for gag grouper in the Gulf. To learn more information about the state's proposed rules visit:

To learn more about the federal management plans for amberjack and gag grouper in the Gulf, visit the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council at: http://www.gulfcouncil.org/

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great FMNP Field Trip to Tigertail Beach!!

Today my Florida Master Naturalist students and I had our second field trip of the course. We explored Tigertail Lagoon on Marco Island. I know I've said this many times before in other posts, but it is such a wonderful place to visit. The class got a first hand look at the biodiversity associated with seagrass communities. Besides some bird watching we also pulled a seine net to check out some fish species. I thought I'd let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!!
The group checks out a reddish egret as it feed along the flats.

One of many small horseshoe crabs found on the flats today.

Bird watching! We saw a juvenile bald eagle, osprey, ruddy turnstone, great egret, snowy egret, white ibis, brown pelican, cattle egret, tri-colored heron, little blue heron, cormorant, reddish egret, and prairie warbler.

A nice stand of shoal grass (Halodule wrightii)

We had a very low tide, and several patches of shoal grass were completely exposed.

A "subtle" reminder of the critical wildlife area found within Tigertail Lagoon.

We found many spider crabs among the seagrass today.

More exposed shoal grass

The tracks left behind by horseshoe crabs.

Seine netting the lagoon.

Participants try to key out some of the fish we caught in the seine net.

The class really got into trying to identify the fish specimens themselves.

A juvenile Gulf flounder caught in our seine net. Notice the 3 oscillated spots on its dorsal side, which helps identify it.