Tag Archives: Alligator Harbor

You can’t enjoy watching the game if you don’t know who the players are

Dr. David Kimbro FSU Coastal & Marine Lab

See David and his crew in action, and see what animals are on Alligator Harbor reefs.

IGOR chip- habitat 150The title of this blog (a sports metaphor) is how my teacher first introduced me to marine ecology. For our oyster project, this essentially means that we need to establish who is on the oyster reefs before we can begin to make connections among predators, oysters, and their water filtration services….as well as (unfortunately) the impacts of oil.

So far, we’ve identified the organisms on the bottom rung of our food web (think of it has a pyramid): oysters, clams, amphipods, and polychaetes on the bottom rung of the food web and mud crabs and snapping shrimp on the next higher rung of the food web. Our goal this week was to begin quantifying who is at the top of this food pyramid. To do this, we deployed crab traps, bait-fish pots, and gill nets onto each of our reefs during low tide. Following the ensuing flood tide, we returned the next day to count our catch and then promptly release everyone.

hardheaded catfish

the hardhead catfish was the most abundant species trapped during this survey

Although we caught a couple of interesting things (e.g., adult stone crabs, mullet, spot, as well as juvenile pinfish, pigfish and silver perch), I was surprised by the low abundance and diversity of our catch and that the most abundant species was catfish!

But after running out of fresh water to drink and profusely perspiring all the moisture out of my body while out on the reefs, it dawned on me that nature of this catch is likely an interesting seasonal pattern (again, I’m new here!): only hardy organisms that can tolerate really hot and low oxygen waters are going to be on Florida reefs right now. Once the rest of this research team begins collecting similar data from Virginia to Florida, it will be interesting to see if these low abundance-diversity patterns might last longer in some areas (e.g., Florida with longer summer) than in others (e.g., NC with shorter summer). If that’s the case, then the cascading effects of higher order predators (things at the top of our food web) down to oysters and their water filtration services may be occur more consistently during the summer in northern than in southern estuaries.

Hmmm…..good thing we are conducting a relatively long-term study and will consistently repeat this sampling in the future to rigorously detect interesting patterns like this one.

Until next time…

The Music in the video was by Jim Crozier.  As always, we welcome submissions from local musicians. WFSU’s kayak was provided by Wilderness Way.

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

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Photography feature: Beth Switzer

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150The Panhandle has been my home for most of my life and the older I get, the more fun I have looking at – and photographing – it in  an “up close and personal” manner.

There is great fun in “really seeing” something for the first time and being surprised by just how beautiful it is.

-Beth Switzer

The slideshow above was photographed by Beth at Alligator Point, not too far from where David Kimbro is studying oyster reefs, and many of the photos are of salt marshes, such as those studied by Randall Hughes.  So I knew when I saw them that they would be a great fit for this site.

You may know Beth Switzer as Executive Director and on camera personality at The Florida Channel, and before that on WFSU-TV.  I was surprised, after years of watching and occasionally working with her, to discover that she liked to photograph nature.  What’s not surprising is that she has forged a connection with the natural splendor of our area.  Those of us working in broadcasting in the panhandle end up seeing a lot of the area, and meeting a lot of the people.  It’s impossible to work in TV here and not love it here.

We’re two months into “In the Grass, On the Reef,” and so far the winds have been kind to Randall and David’s sites in St. Joseph Bay an Alligator Harbor.  When Deepwater Horizon exploded, we stepped up production on the project thinking that oil would arrive at any moment, and that we should get as much footage as we could before it hit.  Now, the more I go to these places, the less I think about oil while I’m there.  I hear about it on the radio as I’m driving to and from the shoots, but then I’m walking in water, planting my tripod in mud to get a steady shot of a periwinkle climbing a blade of cordgrass, or trying to see through my lens a stone crab that looks only slightly different than the oysters surrounding it.  In those moments, it just doesn’t feel like it will happen.  I know it will most likely happen, but it never feels like it will.

One of the pleasant developments of doing this has been having artist features like the one above.  So far we have had photographers and musicians, and we are talking to some writers as well.  We want to hear from artists in any medium who depict or are inspired by the coastal habitats of the Forgotten Coast.  Photographers, painters, musicians, writers:  share your art with us!  You can e-mail us at outloud@wfsu.org.

And, as always, comments and questions are welcome.

Featured song: “Crystal Gulf Waters”

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150Today we feature a song by Hot Tamale, “Crystal Gulf Waters.”  In lamenting what we may lose if oil inundates our coast, Craig Reeder and Adrian Fogelin evoke some of the areas in which we are interested on this blog.  And while the song tackles a heavy topic, it does manage to end on a hopeful note.  The video was created by Craig:

The following is a short essay by Craig where he explains a little about why he was compelled to write “Crystal Gulf Waters”.

Craig Reeder Singer/ Songwriter

When the oil spill occurred, I wanted to write a song that would give voice to the feelings and emotions of everyone affected.  And even though the song is about the Gulf of Mexico, it took me back to memories of sailing Biscayne Bay when I was a teenager in a tiny little boat.  The water was so crystalline, I could see every plant and creature on the bottom, and I’ll always remember the beauty of the gently swaying grasses growing by the edge of the salt marshes.  As the waves rolled by, they swayed with an almost musical rhythm, a rhythm I still feel in my dreams and memories.

Now we are all learning how critical those salt marshes are to the entire ecology of the Gulf,  and it is sad to think how the damage will spread from one ecological niche  to another, eventually affecting nearly all the life of the Gulf, including not only the creatures like oysters, pelicans and crabs, but extending also to the human beings that depend on the fishing industry, people who are likewise a piece of the fabric of the Gulf.  When I think back to visiting places along the Gulf like Alligator Harbor and St. Joe Bay, places of pristine nature and crystal clear water, I feel like we are now saying a farewell to all these scenes as we once knew them.

I thought people’s feelings of helplessness needed someplace to go, and I know music is a powerful, cathartic vehicle.  The melody came to me quickly, probably an echo of early folk songs from people like Woody Guthrie and Stan Rogers, songs that delivered simple human emotions and  socially conscious messages.  When the first draft was complete, I turned it over to my singing partner, Adrian Fogelin, who happens to be an award-winning author, and she completely transformed the song by bringing it home on a soaring note of optimism for the future.  That’s the kind of hope we all need now.

If you are a musician living in our general area and you’re interested in having us use your music on our video posts, or any kind of artist with works inspired by Florida Gulf environments interested in sharing with us, contact us at outloud@wfsu.org.  To  submit materials (like CDs), you can write to:
Rob Diaz de Villegas
1600 Red Barber Plaza
Tallahassee, FL 32310
And, as always, we encourage your comments or questions:

Nuts and Bolts

Dr. David Kimbro FSU Coastal & Marine Lab

Why is Dr. Kimbro selecting smaller reefs to study?  How big is a mature oyster?  Watch and find out.

IGOR chip- biogeographic 150In my previous post, I outlined my original reasons for being out on the reef. Although I’m still pursuing those goals, my lab is currently busying itself on the reefs with some newly formed research goals. Anticipating the arrival of oil, we’ve scrambled a lot over the last few weeks to come up with questions and methods that will allow us to understand how the oil affects oysters as well as the assemblage of other important species that it supports.

IMG_3477

Using kayaks, David and his crew moved more easily about Alligator Harbor

Step number one in gearing up to study the impacts of oil and to launch our original project involved figuring out a better way to transport a lot of people and gear out to the reefs during low tide, where shallow water prevents boating and deep mud prevents walking. My lab now uses a fleet of kayaks to zip around all the oyster reefs within Alligator Harbor, which sure beats sitting in highway traffic.

Now, once you see our study reefs (patchy, small and next to marsh), if you are a local, you must be thinking that we’re crazy for sampling these puny little things instead of the massive mudflat reefs that are more isolated from the marsh. And I wholeheartedly agree. However, my other colleagues studying oysters in VA, NC, SC, and GA don’t have big massive reefs like these anymore thanks to a much longer and more destructive history of harvesting, dredging and disease. So, to complete our original research goals and to compare things among many different estuaries, we are using the lowest-common-denominator reefs among all of our estuaries: hence the small and patchy little reefs we selected.

Ok, now we’ve figured out how to access our sites and we’ve selected our reefs. Although the latter sounds simple, it’s actually been pretty messy: kind of like my first trying to walk out to the oyster reefs in Alligator Harbor! Using global positioning system (GPS) and Google maps, my colleagues and I have been remotely weighing in on which reefs to use based on whether particular reefs are too large, too small, too close to the ocean, too far from the ocean, exposed to too much harvesting pressure, or exposed to too much pollution. Again, in order to learn how similar food webs operate and affect oyster reefs differently over long distances, we need to make sure that we are comparing apples to apples, not apples to oranges or young oyster reefs (nothing but small oysters) to old oyster reefs (nothing but large oysters) or polluted oyster reefs to pristine oyster reefs.

Over the past week, we’ve not only selected oyster reefs within Alligator Harbor to be part of our original oyster study, but we also set up additional oyster reefs to study the impacts of the oil spill. This involves permanently establishing areas within reefs that are censused for the number of dead and living oysters before the oil hits. Then, when the oil hits, we determine if the number of dead oysters increased.

But, even if we see more dead oysters than live oysters in the future, how do we know whether the oil (rather than some other factor) was the cause?

IMG_3492

Well, we are also taking water, sediment, and oyster samples to be processed for stable isotopes. In short, chemical elements (e.g., Carbon, Nitrogen) exist in different forms (i.e., isotopes) and oil hydrocarbons have a Carbon isotope that can be used like a fingerprint.

So, we are also sampling the environment (water and sediment) and the whole food web centered on oyster reefs to determine background levels of oil. Then, when the oil hits we should see a tremendous increase in a new oil signature (that from the Deepwater Horizon spill) that coincides with negative impacts on oysters.

But, in addition to oysters themselves, we are also interested in the predators and prey that it supports. Because we do not yet have a lot of data describing when and how many predators and prey are around and because there is no way to get that data in time before the oil arrives, we are using other stable isotopes to quickly describe how predators and prey are organized within the oyster food web: who is eating whom. The isotopes of Nitrogen are good for this because the form of Nitrogen changes as it passes up the food web from things like oysters to things like big crabs and fishes. So, our second new question is… who has been eating what and how does this organization, which took a long time to develop, change immediately and a few years after the oil spill? Pursuing this new goal has involved some pretty fun hunting of all sorts of critters that make up the oyster food web such as amphipods, polychaetes (worms), clams, mussels, mud crabs, snails, blue crabs, stone crabs, and fishes. We just finished sampling Alligator Harbor and are now off to do the same things in Cedar Key, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville.

Because these four sites in Florida will likely experience much different levels of oil, we will be able to learn how much oil is required to negatively impact oyster reefs and the community of animals that they support.

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

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One month of production

Roberto Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

A little more than a month ago, I had just finished a documentary. It’s one of those things where you put a lot of work in and then it’s just done, and you think you’ll have some time to tie up some loose ends.  I had been so busy finishing the program that I was only peripherally aware that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had exploded and that possibly the greatest ecological disaster in our nation’s history was unfolding.  I didn’t know that my next project was already lining itself up, and that it would take up most of my working hours for months to come.

A month after I first stepped into a salt marsh (and got stuck in mud and fell onto my rear), oil is just starting to reach Florida.  Tarballs are as close as Grayton Beach, and you have to wonder how much longer it’ll be until the sites we’ve been visiting in St. Joe’s Bay and Alligator Harbor will be affected.  Oystermen in Apalachicola are scrambling to harvest as many oysters as possible, and those who can are canceling hotel and rental reservations across the panhandle.

We should be going back “in the grass” and “on the reef” this week.  Weather got in our way last week as Dr. Kimbro had to call off location scouting in Alligator Harbor, and it’s been stormy all weekend (Dr. Kimbro’s first post will come tomorrow, along with some video of the first day of his study).  Hopefully we can get some favorable conditions, I’d like to see these places as they are as much as I can, while I can.

NOAA nearshore projection 6-5

Welcome to “In the Grass, On the Reef”

Rob Diaz de Villegas Producer/ Editor WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- employment 150

When a lot of us think about science, we think about the laboratory. The lab: a sterile, controlled environment in which men and women in clean white lab coats toil with beakers and bunsen burners.  The word science has a cleanliness to it.  It sounds like tidy explanations, an orderly universe.

But, much like the universe is not always a tidy place, scientific knowledge isn’t always gained in a tidy manner.  The studies that we will feature in this blog are conducted mostly in wet, muddy places.  Dr. Randall Hughes studies salt marshes located in and around St. Joseph Bay.  Getting to some of these places requires walking through water, and mud that you can sink in up to your knee and possibly lose your shoe in.  Some of her sites are only accessible by kayak.

Read more about Randall’s research

The oyster reefs being studied by Dr. David Kimbro are in similar locations, right alongside salt marshes.  But whereas Randall is a year into her study, and knows her sites and how to get to them, David is just starting to identify his sites and their challenges.  We were able to go out with David on the first day of his study.  He was just getting to know this one site on Alligator Harbor.  Getting to the reefs involved walking from salt marsh island to salt marsh island in waist high water and deep, soft mud.  The reefs themselves are of course covered in sharp shells, so you don’t necessarily want to fall down there like I did in the mud.  It was a slow approach to the sites, and when we saw lightning not too far off, we had to make a fast getaway.  Back at the lab later on, David decided that perhaps that site was best approached by boat.

Read more about David’s study

We’ll have video of that first day with David up by next week.  First we’ll have a video on Randall’s study.  We’ll try to have at least one video a week, and the researchers will contribute posts.  It will be a unique way to glimpse scientific study in action.  And if what we’ve all been fearing happens, it will also serve as a record of how these habitats will survive crude oil washing up on to them.  Both David and Randall have been collecting data on these healthy habitats in preparation for what may come.

But while we’ll be keeping an eye on that blob in the Gulf, we don’t really know what will happen.  Until then, I’ll just enjoy my time in the mud and the water and try to post some informative videos, and try not to ruin too many socks.

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