Tag Archives: alligator point

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Backyard Ecology (Plus new video on Bay Mouth Bar)

Episode 7: Where Everything is Hungry

It’s always a good shoot day at Bay Mouth Bar as every animal seems to be eating every other animal.  Oyster reefs, salt marshes, and seagrass beds- the habitats we’ve covered over the last three weeks- reward those who take the time to look closely.  At Bay Mouth Bar, everything is all out in the open.  For a limited time, anyway…
Dr. David Kimbro FSU Coastal & Marine Lab

IGOR chip_ predators_NCE 150IGOR chip- filtration 150Like most kids, I spent a lot of my formative years in the backyard practicing how to throw the game-winning touch down pass, to shoot the game winning three-pointer, and to sink the formidably long putt.  Although my backyard facilities obviously didn’t propel me into the NFL, NBA, or PGA, they never closed, required no admission fee from my pockets (thanks Mom and Dad!), and were only a few steps away.

Now that I’m striving to be an ecologist at Florida State University, I’m feeling pretty darn lucky about my backyard again. Instead of spending tons of time flying, boating, and driving to far away exotic places, I can use a kayak and ten minutes of David-power to access some amazing habitats right here along the Forgotten Coast.

Part of this coastal backyard was first intellectually groomed by one of the more famous and pioneering scientists of modern-day ecology, Dr. Robert Paine. Five decades ago, Dr. Paine noticed that the tip of Alligator Point sticks out of the water for a few hours at low tide. Of course, this only happens when the tides get really low, which happens about 5 days every month. But when the tip of Alligator Point (which is locally called Bay Mouth Bar) did emerge from the sea each month, Dr. Paine saw tons of large carnivorous snails slithering around a mixture of mud and seagrass. When I first saw this place, my eyeballs bulged out at the site of snails as large as footballs!

Fast- forward 2 decades later: Dr. Paine is developing one of the most powerful ecological concepts (keystone species), one that continues to influence our science and conservation efforts to this very day. Using the rocky shoreline of the Pacific North West as his coastal backyard, he is showing how a few sea stars dramatically dictate what a rocky shoreline looks like.

By eating lots of mussels that outcompete wimpy algae and anemones for space, the sea star allows a lot of different species to stick around. In other words, the sea star maintains species diversity of this community by preventing the mussel bullies from taking over the schoolyard. That’s one simple, but powerful concept….one species can be the keystone for maintaining a system. Lose that species, and you lose the system.

Lightning Whelk

A large lightning whelk found on Bay Mouth Bar in December of 2010.

Ok, let’s grab our ecological concept and travel back in time to Dr. Paine’s earlier research at Bay Mouth Bar. Wow, the precursor to the keystone species concept may be slithering around our backyard of Bay Mouth Bar in the form of the majestic horse conch! In this earlier work, the arrival of this big boy at the bar was followed by the disappearance of all of the former big boys (like this lightning whelk). By eating lots of these potential bullies, the horse conch may be the key for keeping this system so diverse in terms of other wimpy snails.

But why should anyone other than an ecologist care about the keystone species concept and its ability to link Bay Mouth Bar with rocky shorelines of the Pacific NW? Well, what if the lightning whelks eat a lot more clams than do other snails, and less clams buried beneath sediments means less of the sediment modification that can really promote seagrass (Read more about the symbiotic relationship between bivalves and seagrasses here)?  Thanks to Randall’s previous seagrass post, we can envision that less horse conchs could lead to less clams, less seagrass, and then finally a lot less of things that are pleasing to the eye (e.g., birding), to the fishing rod (e.g., red drum), to the stomach (e.g., blue crabs), and ultimately to our economy.

For the past two years, I’ve really enjoyed retracing Dr. Paine’s footsteps at Bay Mouth Bar. But lately, I’m feeling a little more urgent about needing to better understand this system because it’s disappearing (aerial images provided by USGS’s online database at http://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/).

To figure this out, we repeat a lot of what Dr. Paine did five decades ago. At the same time, we are testing some new ideas about how this system operates. For example, if the horse conch is the keystone species, is it dictating what Bay Mouth Bar looks like by eating stuff or by scaring the bully snails? How exactly does or doesn’t the answer affect clams, seagrasses, birds and fishes?

Luckily, because this system is so close, with some persistence and some good help, we’ll soon have good answers to those questions.

Cheers,

David

Ps: Many thanks to Mary Balthrop for helping us access this awesome study system every month.

In the Grass, On the Reef is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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Coastal Roundup July 13th – July 20th, 2012

Welcome to the Coastal Roundup. Every Friday, we’ll post a combination of local events and links to interesting articles relating to coastal ecology, fishing/ seafood, and tourism- basically everything relating to the ecosystems we cover (salt marsh, oyster reef, and seagrass bed).  Leave a comment below if you’d like us to include your upcoming events.

Rebecca Wilkerson WFSU-TV

Saltwater Fishing

Red snapperThis is the last weekend of the extended Red Snapper Season in the Gulf of  Mexico. The last day of harvest will be Monday, July 16th. For more information, including size and harvest limits, read the full Florida Fish and Wildlife update on Red Snapper Season. (photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Cap off the season with a deliciously simple, restaurant-worthy dinner. Try Pan Seared Red Snapper with rice pilaf or fresh green beans.

scallopAlthough Red Snapper season will be closing this week, Bay Scallop Season will remain open until September 25th. For more information on licensing and catch limits, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page on scallop season.

“Sopchoppy Stop” Eco-Heritage Tour

P1000534 This tour will take place on July 14, beginning with a stroll through historical Sopchoppy and continuing via guided cruise along the Sopchoppy River. Learn more about the tour here.

Volunteer Opportunities

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of Northwest Florida State College will be holding a volunteer day for those interested in helping to build oyster reefs. Volunteers will meet on July 20th at the College’s South Walton Center. If you want to help but can not make this venture, there will be another volunteer day on July 27th. Visit the Choctawhatchee Alliance event page to learn more about volunteering opportunities.

Pelican in the St. Marks RiverThe Florida Wild Mammal Association is also always looking for volunteers. There are various choices for participation in on-site and remote activities. Some of these include assisting in animal rescue and setting up demonstration projects. Visit the Florida Wild Mammal Association volunteer page or their Facebook page for more information including volunteer guidelines.

The C-Quarters Marina’s 8th Annual Youth Fishing Tournament July 21st

Child with BluegillThe tournament is open to all kids 16 years and younger, taking place fish along the Carrabelle River to Dog Island.  All participants must be registered prior to the tournament. Entrants must also attend a Fishing Clinic that will take place on Friday evening, prior to Saturday’s tournament. To learn more including regulations and what will be provided to the kids, visit the C-Quarters Marina’s page on the tournament. (photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Gulf Coast: Preparing for Extreme Weather Forum

Now that we are in the midst of hurricane season it is important to know how to make sure that Gulf coast communities are safe during extreme weather conditions. The Gulf Coast Forum of the Risk Mitigation Leadership Series will take place July 24th – 25th in New Orleans. Read the Gulf Coast Forum agenda for more information.

Sea Turtle Update

Tropical Storm Debby destroyed many nests at Alligator Point, but since the skies have cleared several crawls have been spotted in the area. The first 35 turtle crawls were washed away with the storm and six news crawls have been found, bringing the total to 42 since the start of the season.Visit the Alligator Point Sea Turtle Patrol Facebook page to read more or view photos of the crawls.

Basa the Loggerhead sea turtle was found in distress during the St. Vincent’s Wildlife Refuge open house in March. He was rescued and taken to Gulf World’s Marine Institute to be treated for various medical issues. After meticulous treatment, Basa is now in great shape and has been released in the same area where he was found a few months ago. Read the full article that details his journey home here.

Apalachicola Water Wars

Apalachicola River at Bloody BluffOn June 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal filed by Florida on a circuit court decision in the case involving the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In an article published by the Florida Current, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal states that the decision allows everyone to move on, putting the issue in the past and reaching an agreement that suits all three states. However, in the Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s response to the decision, Executive Director Dan Tonsmeire expresses his disappointment in the the court’s decision, saying that the litigation is not over.

Marineland

Just across the street from the Whitney Lab where Dr. Randall Hughes and Dr. David Kimbro are working this summer (and where the In the Grass, On the Reef production crew is) is a Florida icon: Marineland. The park opened 74 years ago as the state’s first theme park and the world’s first marine animal park. After a temporary close in 2004 for renovations and a decline in attendance, Marineland is now owned by Georgia Aquarium and is pushing towards a very bright future. The Orlando Sentinel recently published an article celebrating the past of the park and its future possibilities. Read the full Orlando Sentinel article for more information on Marineland and its plans for the future.

Marine Trash Drone

A crew of designers have come up with a concept for a marine drone that would aid in the collecting trash from the ocean to be recycled. While still in the planning stages, the drone could be a big step towards cleaner seas. Read more about the trash recycling drone here.

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Coastal Roundup July 6th – July 13th, 2012

Welcome to our first Coastal Roundup. Every Friday, we’ll post a combination of local events and links to interesting articles relating to coastal ecology, fishing/ seafood, and tourism- basically everything relating to the ecosystems we cover (salt marsh, oyster reef, and seagrass bed).  Leave a comment below if you’d like us to include your upcoming events.

Rebecca Wilkerson & Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Back in the Grass and on the Reefs

We’re back in full production on new videos that explore our coasts and the coastal way of life through the habitats that feed and employ so many in our area.  The slideshow below takes you through the last couple of weeks as we got wet and muddy with Dr. Randall Hughes and Dr. David Kimbro.

Saltwater Fishing

Bay Scallop in St. Joe BayWe’ve been heading back to St. Joe Bay to cover Randall Hughes’ marsh and seagrass bed studies, and this week we’ve been noticing a lot of people out on the water filling their buckets with scallops.  Bay Scallop Season started July 1, and has just been extended by two weeks to close on September 25th. For more information on licensing and catch limits, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page on scallop season.

To top off your day of scalloping with a quick and delicious meal, try Bay Scallop Scampi paired perfectly with a crusty bread or steamed veggies.

Red snapperRed Snapper Season has been extended six days in the Gulf of  Mexico. Due to bad weather in June and loss of fishing opportunities, the NOAA Fisheries decided to extend the last day of harvest until July 16th. For more information, including the recent changes, read the full Florida Fish and Wildlife update on Red Snapper Season. (photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

While the red snapper has been extended, Snook Season in the Gulf of Mexico will remain closed for another year and is now expected to reopen September 1, 2013.  However, catch-and-release of snook will be allowed during the closure with proper technique, and the Atlantic season will remain unchanged. To learn more about the closure or the proper catch-and-release technique, read Florida Fish and Wildlife’s news release.

FSU Coastal and Marine Lab

FSUCML_chipThe FSUCML Conservation Lecture Series presents Auburn University’s Dr. Mark Albis.  He will share his findings on the effects of invasive Pacific Red Lionfish on Atlantic coral-reef fish communities. The lectures are open to the public. To find out more about the presentation or upcoming lectures, visit the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab page.

“Sopchoppy Stop” Eco-Heritage Tour

P1000534 This tour will take place on July 14, beginning with a stroll through historical Sopchoppy and continuing via guided cruise along the Sopchoppy River. Learn more about the tour here.

The C-Quarters Marina’s 8th Annual Youth Fishing Tournament July 21st

Child with BluegillThe tournament is open to all kids 16 years old and younger, who can fish along the Carrabelle River to Dog Island.  All participants must be registered prior to the tournament. Entrants must also attend a Fishing Clinic on the evening before Saturday’s tournament. To learn more including regulations and what will be provided to the kids, visit the C-Quarters Marina’s page on the tournament. (photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Oyster News

Oyster reef, Alligator HarborWe first met Alicia Brown just after her arrival at the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab, when she helped Dr. David Kimbro with his October 2010 “Oyster Push” experiment. Alicia, along with Dr. Laura Petes and fellow grad student Carley Knight, have published a paper in the journal Ecology and Evolution.  The study looks at how low freshwater input affects the survival of the Apalachicola oyster population. Read their full paper here.

Tropical Storm Debby

Shorebirds gather in Tower Pool.Many of us are still drying off from Tropical Storm Debby, and while life is getting back to normal, our coastal ecosystems are still dealing with the upheaval of the storm. Those most harshly affected were the animals that make their homes along our shores. Audubon of Florida reports that shorebird nesting areas and colonies were washed away during the storm.

Sea turtle nests were also affected by the storm. Alligator Point has been having a productive nesting season so far, but as The Tallahassee Democrat reports, the storm washed away many nests or left them inundated for days.

P1000151One of our least heralded defenses against the effects of storms are our coastal wetlands.  For instance, one of the services provided by salt marshes is reducing tidal surge during storms.  This Gainesville Sun editorial looks to remind us of the importance of coastal wetlands during weather events.

Whether you’re a visitor or a resident, it is important to know who to contact for information in case of an emergency, such as the recent storm. To view Emergency Management contact information for each county in Florida visit the Florida Disaster page for contact listings.

Clean Beaches

When you visit a beach with your family and friends, you don’t want to worry about dirty water.  NPR’s health blog reports on ratings released by the Natural Resources Defense Council on the cleanliness of beaches nationwide.  Florida did not boast any 5-star ratings, though our own St. George Island did receive a 4-star rating.

Photo Feature: Bedazzled Predator

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Horse Conch shell covered in bivalves

IGOR chip- habitat 150It kind of looks like one of those vintage ’80’s jackets adorned with mirrors and sequins- mollusk style.  This horse conch’s got a little bit of everything on it, the result of an interesting reversal of roles in this seagrass bed on Bay Mouth Bar.

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Welcome to Bay Mouth Bar!

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Cristina Lima Martinez FSU Coastal & Marine Lab
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Dozens of different mollusk species interact within a relatively small area at Bay Mouth Bar, from all manner of bivalves to the predatory snails that eat them (and each other).

First Impressions
As soon as you arrive to BMB, it is easy to imagine and feel the same curiosity and fascination that Robert Paine brimmed with when he first immersed himself in the sand bar fifty years ago.

If someday you have the opportunity to visit BMB at low tide, then you would receive much pleasure in looking at 40000 m2 of sand, full of awesome critters!  Twenty minutes by kayak, that’s it!

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