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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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Collier County Reef Scenes

Collier County, like most other Florida coastal counties have a variety of near and offshore artificial reefs in its waters. I've had the privilege of diving many of them, and am always amazed at the diversity of marine life, both big and small found on, in, and around them. While the following pictures are by no means an exhaustive list of things to see, I thought I'd share with you examples of what you can encounter when you dive them. Enjoy. If you would like to learn more about the locations of artificial reefs in Collier County visit: http://www.colliergov.net/Index.aspx?page=323
sponge anemones

profile of a polk-a-dot batfish

4-spot butterfly fish

Gulf arrow crab

blue angelfish

Gulf floor at the Paddlewheel wreck

brittle start and arrow crab on  bottom

Reef clean up on the Santa Lucia

Small ledge covered in a boring sponge

Goliath and gag grouper over a reef

A blue striped grunt

spadefish feeding on a jellyfish

A discarded shrimp net on a wreck

A seawhip growing inside a culvert

Gulf flounder 

Hermit crab walking on a reef

horse conch laying an egg case

hydroids on a reef

growth in a culvert

juvenile angelfish next to coral, sponges, and tunicates

hard and soft corals long a reef


loggerhead sea turtle

school of mangrove snapper

Sea pork tunicate

Regal Sea goddess nudibranch

eyes of calico scallop

baitfish over a wreck

A small red grouper

Two sheepshead and a lookdown

Schooling spadefish

A well camouflaged toadfish

A small coral head on a reef

Yellowheaded jawfish

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chasing Kings

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying Captain Tom Marvel, a commercial fishermen out of  Naples, FL on a trip to fish for king mackerel. King mackerel, or kingfish are a coastal pelagic species, which means they live in the open water near the coast. They are also highly migratory. In the Gulf of Mexico they spend their winter months in the waters off south Florida, and migrate to the northern Gulf during the spring. We only had to travel approximately 20 miles offshore to find them yesterday, but Captain Marvel said sometimes he has to travel as far as 50/60 miles. King mackerel  are targeted by both the recreational and commercial sector. Recreational fishermen tend to target the larger older fish, where commercial fishermen often look for the largest concentrations of these schooling fish to maximize their catch. The commercial and recreational king mackerel fishery is highly regulated and the population is  neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing in the Gulf.
King mackerel is actually one of Collier County's largest commercial finfish fisheries based on landings. In the 2009/2010 season over 347,000 pounds of kingfish were landed by local commercial fishermen. This only makes up a small percentage, though, of what is landed by commercial fishermen in other parts of Florida. The statewide total during the same year was over 5.4 million pounds! Ironically, as much kingfish that is landed in Collier, most of it is shipped elsewhere. A few local vendors carry it, but it isn't generally available. Captain Marvel told me most of what he lands gets shipped up to New York and other parts of the northeast United States.
 If you have never tried king mackerel, I suggest you try it. It is a lean fish that has a moderate texture, dark meat and full flavor.  It is also low in fat and is a very good source of protein, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, and selenium. Keep in mind that king mackerel may contain amounts of methylmercury in excess of the FDA's recommended limit for mothers, moms-to-be, and young children.
Enjoy the pictures:

One of several boats fishing with us. Notice the outriggers extending from the boat. They use these to troll for the mackerel. Trolling is one of the main methods to commercially catch king mackerel. Gillnetting in federal waters is also allowed.

Captain Tom Marvel (left) and his first mate Allen (right) hauling in fish at the back of their boat.

Captain Marvel dehooks a fish, which  goes straight into the cooler
Most remarkable to me was how close the boats got to one another while fishing. The boat circle around one another in close proximately. Captain Marvel told me the boats are supposes to circle to the right to reduce the chances of collision.

All of the orange and red colors on the depth finder indicate a school of kingfish. Fish on!
As soon as fish are brought in by hand, they are immediately placed in a cooler.

Allen dropping a King into the cooler.

When the boat gets into a school of mackerel, the fishing can be very intense. The fishermen work very quickly to retrieve their lines, release their fish, and throw the line back into the water for more fishing.
Keeping the fish cold is important. The first mate periodically places ice over the fish and  creates a slush to maintain quality.

Once all of the fish are caught for the day, the captain and first mate gut each fish one by one.
A final layer of ice is put over the gutted fish. In all, the 2-man team hauled in approximately 1200 pounds of fish. Their daily limit is 1250 pounds.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Things that Glow in the Water at Night

image credit: University of Maryland
I often get reports from coastal residents that the waters in their canals seem to be "glowing" at night during certain times of the year. Fortunately, my colleague Betty Staugler, the Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent in Charlotte County has produced a fact sheet about just such a phenomenon.

Things that Glow in the Water at Night
Have you ever been out on the water at night and observed the water glowing? The glow may be shades of blues or greens and seem to occur when the water is disturbed by anything from a moving fish to a paddle swept through the water. Many people have observed this phenomena and they often wonder:

Q: What’s causing this glow? 
A:  The glow is caused by bioluminescent producing plant and animal organisms.Many forms of life produce bioluminescense including small single celled bacteria, dinoflagellates, diatoms, copepods and comb jellies just to name a few. Bioluminescense is the term used to describe light generated by living organisms. The glowing light that residents are seeing is most likely the result of bioluminescent dinoflagellates, although zooplankton could also be the cause. In Florida one of the most common biouminescent species in Pyrodinium bahamense, which is common throughout the Caribbean.

Q: What causes these organisms to glow, and how does it benefit them?
 A: Bioluminscence was once thought to be produced by the friction of salts or by the element phosphorus in the water. Today we know that certain animals possess light producing organs called photophores and glands that emit light through a chemical reaction which involves a light producing protein called luciferin. Luciferins store energy. This energy is released in the form of photons, or light by enzymes called luciferases. The reasons for these bioluminscent displays are varied. Some organisms bioluminate to attract a mate as is the case in fireflies. Others bioluminate to attract prey. An example of this would be the anglerfish which dangles its glowing lure to attract potential prey. In the case of dinoflagellates, bioluminescence is used to evade predators and acts as a defense mechanism. It is believed that dinoflagelletes produce light when disturbed and will give a light flash lasting a fraction of a second. The flash is meant to attract a predator to the creature disturbing or trying to consume the dinoflagellate. The light flash also surprises the predator causing it to worry about other predators attacking it, making the predator less likely to prey on the dinoflagellate.

Q: Are there other phenomena that can cause similar effects? For example, what about high levels of phosphorus in the water

A: Phosphorus in the water by itself does not produce a glowing effect; however, high concentrations of nutrients and in particular phosphorus would increase the population of dinoflagellates. Although most glows in the water are the result of bioluminescence, some organisms have the ability to fluoresce. Fluorescence is similar to bioluminescence but the trigger is changed. Instead of luciferin and luciferase, fluorescence is triggered when a pigment absorbs light from an outside source. Fluorescence is able to produce the widest spectrum of colors because the emitted color is determined by the fluorescent pigment which absorbs the incoming light. In the case of fluorescence, the emitted light is only visible while the trigger is present. Phosphorescence is similar to fluorescence except that the excited product is more stable, so the glow will last after the trigger has been removed. Glow in the dark stickers phosphoresce.

Q: Are there any harmful effects to other marine life, or that anglers and boaters should be concerned about? Is it OK to eat fish caught from areas where the water is glowing?
A: Luminescence does not pose a health issue, but some bioluminescent species can produce toxins, including Pyrodinium bahamense. These toxins can be bioaccumulated in the food web. The specific threat to health varies between ecosystems. It’s important to note that dinoflagellates comprise a very large group of approximately 2000 different species and of these only a very small percentage are toxic. Dinoflagellates are important primary producers. They fuel food webs, providing food for zooplankton, which feed small fish and so on. It is said that photoplankton produce most of the earth’s oxygen.

Q: Why does the glow seem to be most prevalent in summer, and why is the glow sometimes very bright and intense, other times very muted?
A: You might see increases in summer months because this could correspond to when these bioluminescent organisms are reproducing (natural life cycles), or because summertime is when we have increased freshwater runoff from rains resulting in more nutrients being flushed into the systems which in turn can lead to more blooms of these organisms. As far as intensity of the glowing, the intensity of the bioluminescence depends on the intensity of the bloom and the health of the algae in the bloom.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Article Sheds Light on Goliath Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico

Goliath grouper continue to be a hot topic in Southwest Florida as the debate of whether or not the fishery should be reopened in some capacity continues. Many anglers feel goliath grouper have completely recovered since the fishery was closed more than 20 years ago, and in fact have become nuisance species. Critical to this argument, though, is the importance of solid research to support any future management decisions that could make this change happen. Because the fishery has been closed for so long traditional fishery-dependent data (i.e. landings) have not been available to help managers  study their populations and estimate recovery efforts. Instead, managers have had to rely on directed fishery independent research efforts.

 A new article published by researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute helps shed new light on goliath grouper in the Gulf of Mexico. The paper titled, "Behavior, Habitat, and Abundance of the Goliath Grouper, Epinephelus itajara, in the Central Eastern Gulf of Mexico" describes the results of joint research effort between divers and scientists to explore goliath grouper distribution and abundance along the central west coast of Florida between October 2007 and May 2010. The project's aim was to address how goliath grouper presence, abundance and size distribution are related to habitat, depth and season.
Below are some of the highlights from the project:

  •  Goliath grouper were observed during all months of the year and were present during 74% of all surveys (280/378).
  • Presence and abundance were significantly related to habitat type and depth, with highest presence and abundance recorded over deep, artificial reefs.
  • The maximum number of goliath grouper observed during a single survey ranged from 0 to 24.
  • The mean number observed per site over artificial reefs was 4.53 versus 0.45 over natural habitat.
  • The number of fish observed over artificial habitats tended to increase with site depth and site size.
  •  Individual sites tended to hold approximately the same number of individuals throughout the year.
  • There was not a significant seasonal effect on abundance or presence; however, the highest numbers of individuals were observed during the summer months.
  • Goliath grouper were measured via underwater videography, and ranged in size from 40 – 205 cm total length (TL). The majority of individuals observed were between 100 -150 cm TL; however, multiple small (< 100 cm) and large (> 150 cm) individuals were also observed throughout the depth range surveyed.
  •  A total of 172 goliath grouper were fitted with external identification tags, and 27 individuals were resighted or recaptured throughout the study period. Time at large ranged 1 – 713 days. The majority of resighted individuals were observed at the same site as their initial tagging, although fish were documented to move as far as 203 km.
To view the entire article visit: 
If you'd like to learn more about goliath grouper research efforts, visit:
Florida State University

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Staying Legal Between the Lines with Mangrove Snapper

Grey or Mangrove snapper are one of the most sought after recreational fish in southwest Florida. They will take a variety of baits, are good eating, and are relatively easy to catch even for novice anglers. In addition, they can be found in virtually all coastal and offshore habitats from mangroves (as their name implies) out to natural ledges and artificial reefs in deeper waters. Because of their versatility, anglers often target these popular fish in both state and federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

While many Gulf species have the same fishing regulations for state and federal waters, this is not the case for mangrove snapper. For Florida state waters, which extend out to nine nautical miles in the Gulf, the minimum size limit is 10 inches total length with a daily bag limit of five fish per angler. In Gulf federal waters, which extend beyond 9 nautical miles out to 200 nautical miles however, the mangrove snapper minimum size limit is 12 inches and the daily bag limit is 10 fish per angler.

Here lies the potential problem. If an angler caught his/her legal bag limit of mangrove snapper in federal waters and then stopped to fish in state waters, they'd be breaking the law by having five fish over the state bag limit. Regardless of an angler's intentions it would be difficult to prove the fish were caught in federal waters, which could result in fines for each fish over the bag limit.
 Fortunately, there is an easy solution to avoid these potential penalties. DO NOT STOP!  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission anglers must directly return to land without stopping once they re-enter state waters when returning from federal waters in possession of fish that have different federal and state regulations. In addition, an angler should also be mindful if he/she is in possession of a 10 or 11 inch mangrove snapper legally caught in state waters and then heads out to federal waters. In this case, they would be in possession of an undersized mangrove snapper according to federal rules and could face federal fines if stopped.
Keeping a current copy of state and federal regulations on board your boat is always recommended to help you fish legally and avoid any unnecessary citations.  Both state and federal regulations can be downloaded from online at the following sites.

Florida state recreational fishing regulations:

Gulf of Mexico federal recreational fishing regulations:

Note that the Gulf Council now has fishing regulations apps for both the iPhone and Droid smart phones http://www.gulfcouncil.org/index.php