All posts by Rob Diaz de Villegas

About Rob Diaz de Villegas

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for WFSU-TV, covering environment and the outdoors. Rob is in the process of completing Roaming the Red Hills, an exploration of north Florida/ south Georgia ecology funded by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy. Rob’s previous ecology projects include EcoShakespeare, which was funded by PBS member station WNET and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and In the Grass, On the Reef, a collaboration with the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab funded by the National Science Foundation. Rob’s EcoAdventure segments air on WFSU’s Local Routes and can be found on the WFSU Ecology Blog.

Dude, where’s my water?

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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St. Joe Bay is really jumping in the summer. People are everywhere; scalloping, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling. The people are mostly gone in the autumn, as they head back to work and school, and the weather is a little cooler. With less people to scare them off, you see more blue crabs, stingrays, and sharks swimming closer to the shore. It’s my favorite time of year to get footage there. When winter rolls around, the only people out on the water either have to be because they’re working (like Randall and her crew), or they’re just hardcore ecowarriors. It can make for difficult paddling in the winter (though this December is much milder than last year, when we shot this footage).

Super-low tide in St. Joe Bay.

The difficulty doesn’t so much stem from the cold, though it can get cold (especially for a native Floridian who thinks Massachusetts beach water is too chilly in July). The real challenge is the wind and the tides. It makes for a surreal landscape.  It’s mostly devoid of living animals, at least on the surface, but that north wind does push some interesting seagrass bed denizens onto the marsh with the seagrass wrack.

As I noted earlier, it has been milder this year.  Hopefully that holds for our next few EcoAdventure shoots, which include trips down the Wacissa and St. Marks rivers.  And I’ve already started planning some of next year’s shoots as well, so stay tuned!

Dan and Debbie VanVleet, who we interviewed in the video, are the proprietors of Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outfitter.
The music in the video was by Bruce H. McCosar.

Florida Trail: Shepherd Spring, Cathedral of Palms, Sopchoppy River

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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Sawtooth palmetto lining a natural levy above the Sopchoppy River.

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150I was walking with my wife the other day and I asked her, “Did Tallahassee always have so much fall foliage?” She assured me it did.  I guess I remember seeing red and yellow leaves in past fall seasons, just not so widespread.  Ever since I went with Kent Wimmer to shoot a dimensions segment on the Florida National Scenic Trail, I can’t help but notice it everywhere.  You don’t get vast expanses of orange and red, like you do in New England.  Instead, we get these great red and gold highlights popping out of the green.  Why had I not been paying more attention to it before? I guess, just like with the salt marshes that had looked like “just a bunch of grass” to me, I don’t always notice a good thing until I get a camera on it. Continue reading

Are You Ready to Hike?

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Tune into WFSU-TV Sunday at 10:00 AM/ 9:00 CT for dimensions, as Kent Wimmer of the Florida Trail Association (featured in the video above) takes us to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in our area.

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If you’re going to go out into wild places, you have to prepare.

Not long after we started doing In the Grass, On the Reef, there was a three day stretch of oyster reef/ salt marsh shoots.  I didn’t feel like transporting my muddy shoes home every day, so I’d hose them off in our loading area and pick them up on the way back out to the coast.  On the third day, I forgot to pick up my shoes.  I wear Crocs on the drive to and from wet field shoots; they’re good footwear for wet feet.  In a mucky salt marsh, though, you’re lucky if you can find them after they get sucked off of your feet.  We cut through a lot of marshes to get to Randall’s study site, a sandier marsh island.  It was a longer walk than it had to be, with my having to stop so often, and I was fortunate not to encounter any shell fragments in the marsh sludge after I decided to walk barefoot.

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Thanks to Kent for spending the day with us and showing us some beautiful places.

Whether you’re working or enjoying yourself in the unpaved places of the world, you have to make sure you’re dressed right and that you have everything you might need.  The video above is specific to hiking on nature trails, but a lot of the gear Kent has with him is similar to what what I bring when I go to Alligator Harbor to tape David and his crew working on oyster reefs.  Light, loose fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible protects you from the sun’s UV rays and from mosquitos.  Hats and high SPF sunscreen offer additional protection.  And of course, bring plenty of water.

It’s all about the preproduction.  Before I leave the station, I need to not only have make sure that I have all the gear I need (microphones, batteries, recording media, etc.), but I have to know where I’m going, and what it might be like when I get there.  A day of hiking, camping or kayaking for fun is no different.  It’s good to check the weather before heading out- there’s no need to drive three hours to a thunderstorm.  And if you’re hiking, it’s good to know what the weather HAS BEEN in an area, as some of the trails flood.  Like any good producer, you want to get to know your topic before you head to the shoot.  The trail website has valuable information on how best to traverse the trails, as well as letting you know where all the cool spots are (you wouldn’t want to miss out on the Cathedral of Palms, would you?).

Man, what a lot of work goes into a relaxing nature encounter!  Honestly, it’s not that much work, in the grand scheme of things.  And it’s worth it:

 

For more information about preparing for a hike, visit the Florida Trail Association web site.

And here is a direct link to the web site for the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, for safety information on saltwater paddling.

As always, we welcome your comments.  Have you been hiking on the Florida National Scenic Trail?  Do you have any ideas for upcoming eco-adventures you’d like to see us cover?

Audio: Rivertrek 2011 on Perspectives

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150Last Thursday, WFSU-FM’s Perspectives welcomed four guests to talk about Rivertrek 2011: Earl Morrogh, the event’s coordinator; Dan Tonsmeire of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper; Georgia Ackerman of the Wilderness Way; and Doug Alderson, who we remember as Florida’s coordinator for paddling trails.  If you don’t remember, here’s a link to the video for which we interviewed him on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.  Rivertrek, much like that trail, is a five day paddling/ camping trip.  The ten paddlers setting out on Wednesday are not beginners.

Click here to listen to an audio archive of last Thursday’s Perspectives.

So, after spending over a year dealing with saltwater habitats, why are we talking about freshwater bodies of water?  It has to do with that connectedness we see over and over again.  Salt marshes and oyster reefs benefit each other.  Some fish and shrimp species spend their younger years in these coastal habitats before heading out to deeper waters.  And without the Apalachicola River’s constant flow of fresh water, Apalachicola Bay would be too salty to sustain healthy oyster reefs.  This would affect not only the oyster fishery, but the species that use the reefs as a habitat (many of which are in turn commercially and recreationally fished).  Oyster filtration as an ecosystem service would also be endangered, affecting local seagrass beds and the species they support.

Of course, the river itself supports a lot of biodiversity- 1,500 plant and animal species make their home on the river basin.  That includes over forty species of amphibians and 80 species of reptiles.  That’s why these paddlers are trying to raise awareness for this river, and fighting to prevent development long it.

For more information, visit the Rivertrek 2011 web site.

Paddling the Florida Circumnavigational Trail | Forgotten Coast

On the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, you could kayak from Pensacola to Jacksonville. Don’t have that kind of time? Luckily, you can plan trips of any length along the coast and try it out. Learn more below.

Subscribe to the WFSU Ecology Blog to receive more videos and articles about our local, natural areas.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

It would be the adventure of a lifetime.  If you had two or three months, and a few weeks to plan it out, you could kayak along all of Florida’s coast, from Pensacola to Jacksonville. Completing the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail (FCSPT) would be a daunting task; luckily, there are many smaller adventures to be had along the trail as well. Continue reading

The Path Less Paddled

Take a photo tour of the Forgotten Coast segment of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.  Watch a video on the trail on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:30 PM/ ET on WFSU-TV.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150IGOR chip- habitat 150IGOR chip- gastronomy 150It all happened in about five minutes. The gull swooped down and grabbed a soft-shell blue crab about half its size, abandoned it to a swarm of small fish, whose activity may or may not have attracted a shark coming in from Apalachicola Bay.  I was standing at Sugar Hill, a beach campsite in the St. George Island State Park, the last campsite along the Forgotten Coast segment of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.  You can see this video on tomorrow’s dimensions.

(watch a video on the making of a blue crab molting its shell)

Were a kayaker to try to make the five or six day paddle from Cape San Blas to St. George Island, they would likely see a few of these little dramas play out.  As Doug Alderson (Paddling Trails Coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails)  says in the piece, it’s one of the wildest stretches of the statewide trail.  That means it has a lot of nice scenery of coastal habitats.  Much more interesting, though, is that they are functioning habitats.

Predatory snails on Sugar Hill Beach at St. George Island State Park

Large predatory snails congregating on a tree stump at Sugar Hill camp site.

For instance, Doug loves to catch redfish when he camps on St. George; and they’re always there for him.  But why are these fish so abundant in Apalachicola Bay?  The answer is in those tasty oysters that put the name Apalachicola on the map.  Oyster reefs are a refuge for all kinds of animals like stone crabs, blue crabs, and various predatory snails and small fish.  It’s an all you can eat buffet for larger fish looking for those small fish and little mud crabs.  The action I described above happened by a seagrass bed not far offshore.  Those beds thrive in water that oysters filter clean, and so they provide another habitat for marine life in the bay.  I ate Apalachicola oysters for years without realizing just how much they give, and give, and give…

Rob and Debbie by kayak

Rob photographs small fish and crabs that Debbie scooped out of St. Joe Bay.

At the other end of the trail, In Saint Joseph Bay, we caught up with Dan and Debbie VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outpost.  When WFSU first started the In the Grass, On the Reef project, we rented our kayaks from Dan and Debbie.  Debbie’s been wanting to take us snorkeling for a while, to get some video of some of the critters living in seagrass beds in St. Joe Bay.  Kayaking over the shallow waters in the bay, you can see the turtlegrass from where you’re sitting, as well as rays, horseshoe crabs, and snails making their way about the sandy bottom.  To see the creatures living in the seagrass beds, you have to get out of the kayak.  This is where you have to be careful.

It is illegal to remove shells from St. Joseph BayWhen I say be careful, I’m not just talking about your safety, though you should shuffle your feet to alert stingrays that you’re coming, or if you kayak to St. Vincent Island, definitely stay out of the way of charging boars.  You also have to be careful with these habitats, and the marine life within them.  Dan and Debbie (and local law enforcement) are very big on people not taking seashells out of the bay.  Taking a bunch of whelks and crown conchs out of the bay means taking out critical predators, removing a top layer in the local food web.  And, as the sign implies, even a dead shell has a role to play (any hermit crab would agree).  It’s called the “leave no trace” approach, and there are tips on how to best accomplish this on the trail website.  There are also safety tips and maps.  If you’re attempting anything more than a day trip along this trail, it’s a pretty comprehensive resource.

Doug has put a lot of work into mapping the trail- it took three years- and assembling resources so that people could best enjoy it.  You can hear the love he has for paddling when he reads from his book, Wild Florida Waters.  You’ll hear a couple of passages in the show tomorrow.  Even hearing him read about paddling in a strong wind kind of gets me excited about going out again.  It reminds me of paddling to safety in St. Joe Bay after a sudden thunderstorm erupts, or paddling in December when the cold water numbed my hands.  It’s not as predicable a form of recreation as visiting a beach resort.  But it’s never boring.

Doug and Josh

Thanks to Doug (L) for talking to us, and Park Ranger Josh Hodson for driving us around St. George Island State Park.

Dan and Debbie from Happy Ours

Thanks to Debbie and Dan for taking us out.

Have fun out there.  And share your stories with us!  Click on the Ecotourism North Florida link above if you have an eco-adventure you’d like to see us cover.

Hurricane Irene and the Cage Experiment

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

For a few months now, we’ve been telling you about an extensive field experiment being conducted for the biogeographic oyster study. As David posted earlier, it was a complex undertaking that took a lot of hard work- long hours and physical labor- to get up and running.  Now, thanks to Hurricane Irene, they have to tear down about a month ahead of time.  While it no longer looks likely to hit David’s St. Augustine site, it might hit some of the other team’s sites in the Carolinas (or at least bring heavy rain).  In order for the data to be consistent, once one site starts tearing down, they all do.  That’s the challenge of conducting a study where you look at effects over a large geographic expanse- staying consistent when so many things can vary across the miles.  Even the manner in which the cages are taken down is important; all of the Primary Investigators (the team leaders) were to have met in Skidaway, Georgia next month to decide how to proceed on that front.  Now, they’ll have to figure it out on the fly.

David will be updating us on the progress of the experiment tear down as it happens, so stay tuned!

David’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Kayaking, anyone?

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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Here’s a vacation idea for you.

If you had the time, didn’t mind camping for months on end, and were physically up to paddling fifteen hundred miles, you could paddle around the entire state of Florida using trails mapped out by Doug Alderson.  He coordinates the Florida Circumnavigational Paddling Trail for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Visit the trail’s web site).  You would pass by major urban centers like Tampa and Miami.  You would make your way through the entirety of the Florida keys.  And you would see a lot of amazing coastal habitats.

Ready to go?

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The Forgotten Coast segment of the trail starts in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

I’m guessing the vast majority of people reading this are saying no, though we would certainly want to hear from you if you were doing this.  Luckily, the trail breaks down into twenty six segments, and over one hundred individual day trips.  The one I’m interested in is Segment 4: The Forgotten Coast.  It takes you through some of my favorite places.  St. Joseph Bay has clear water and lively seagrass beds and salt marshes.  Many of St. Vincent Island’s most interesting animals aren’t aquatic, but if you look over as you paddle past you might see wild hogs running or even one of those elusive red wolves (not likely, but it doesn’t hurt to look).  Once you pass there, you could choose to either go along St. George Island or stick to the mainland and pass by Apalachicola, where you can try to find a place to land your kayak while you pick up some oysters.

We’ll be kayaking part of this trail for September 14 episode, and talking to Mr. Alderson about it.  Have any of you done this?  Are any of you attempting this, or any section of it, any time in the next month?  We want to know.  We want to see your photos.  We want to watch your videos. Leave a comment below, with links to any videos or photos if you like.  If you’ll be out that way in the next couple of weeks, we may want to interview you.

Leave your comments!

And we want to keep hearing from you.  If you have any ideas for stories we might do related to coastal ecotourism, leave a comment on our Ecotourism North Florida page.

 

This one is for all you animal lovers! WFSU’s dimensions producer and In the Grass, On the Reef contributor Mike Plummer takes a look at a nonprofit that cares for animals in need, including screech owls and deer, as well as some of the critters we see out along the coast like ospreys and pelicans.  Enjoy!

Here is a video from SciGirls II visit with Dr. Randall Hughes at the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab. Enjoy!