Tag Archives: St. Joseph Bay

crownconchbanner

Crown Conchs- Friend or Foe?

For today’s post, we shift our look at the ecology of fear from oyster reefs to the (often) neighboring salt marsh.  We know crown conchs are villains on oyster reefs, but might they redeem themselves “in the grass?”  If they live on the Forgotten Coast, it depends on what side of Apalachicola they live.
Dr. Randall Hughes FSU Coastal & Marine Lab
The Crown Conch (Melongena corona).

The Crown Conch (Melongena corona).

IGOR chip_ predators_NCE 150If you’re a fan of oysters and you read David’s previous post, then you probably don’t like crown conchs very much. Why? Because David and Hanna’s work shows that crown conchs may be responsible for eating lots of oysters, turning previously healthy reefs into barren outcrops of dead shell.  And we generally prefer that those oysters be left alive to filter water and make more oysters.  And, let’s be honest, we would rather eat them ourselves!

But, in something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act, crown conchs can take on a different persona in the salt marsh. Here, the exact same species acts as the good guy, increasing the abundance of marsh cordgrass.  And more abundant marsh plants generally means more benefits for we humans in the form of erosion control, water filtration, and habitat for the fishes and crabs we like to eat.  How exactly does that work?

Periwinkle in Spartina predator experiment

The Marsh Periwinkle (Littoraria irrotata).

If you look out in a salt marsh in much of the Gulf and Southeast Atlantic, I can nearly guarantee that you’ll see a marsh periwinkle snail. Usually, you’ll see lots and lots of them. These marine snails actually don’t like to get wet – they climb up the stems of the marsh grass as the tide comes in. While they are up there, they sometimes decide to nibble on a little live cordgrass, creating a razor blade-like scar on the plant that is then colonized by fungus. The periwinkles really prefer to eat this fungus instead of the cordgrass, but the damage is done – the fungus can kill the entire cordgrass plant! So these seemingly benign and harmless periwinkles can sometimes wreak havoc on a marsh.

But wait a minute – if periwinkles cause all the cordgrass to die, then why do you still see so much cordgrass (and so many snails) in the marsh? That’s where the crown conch comes in.

Crown conch pursuing periwinkle snail

At the edge of a marsh at high tide, a crown conch approaches a periwinkle snail. As shown in the video above, the conch was soon to make contact with the smaller snail and send it racing (relative term- the video is of course sped up) up a Spartina shoot.

In marshes along the Gulf coast, there are also lots of crown conchs cruising around in the marsh (albeit slowly), and they like to eat periwinkles. Unlike other periwinkle predators such as blue crabs, the crown conchs stick around even at low tide. So when the periwinkles come down for a snack of benthic algae or dead plant material at low tide, the crown conchs are able to nab a few, reducing snail numbers. And fewer snails generally means more cordgrass.

Of course, the periwinkles aren’t dumb, and they often try to “race” away (again, these are snails!) when they realize a crown conch is in the neighborhood. One escape route is back up the cordgrass stems, or even better, up the stems of the taller needlerush that is often nearby. By causing periwinkles to spend time on the needlerush instead of grazing on cordgrass, or by making the periwinkles too scared to eat regardless of where they are sitting, the crown conch offers a second “non-consumptive” benefit for cordgrass. One of our recent experiments found that cordgrass biomass is much higher when crown conchs and periwinkles are present compared to when just periwinkles are present, even though not many periwinkles were actually eaten.

Periwinkle in Spartina predator experimentOn the other hand, if the periwinkles decide to climb up on the cordgrass when they sense a crown conch, and if they aren’t too scared to eat, then crown conchs can actually have a negative effect on the plants. This is exactly what David found in one of his experiments.  In this case, the tides play an important role – west of Apalachicola, where there is 1 high and 1 low tide per day, each tide naturally lasts longer than east of Apalachicola, where there are 2 high tides and 2 low tides per day.  The longer tides west of Apalach appear to encourage the snails not only to stay on the cordgrass, but also to eat like crazy, and the plants bear the brunt of this particular case of the munchies.

So even in the marsh, it turns out that crown conchs can be both a friend and a foe to marsh cordgrass, depending on how the periwinkles respond to them. And figuring out what makes periwinkles respond differently in different situations just gives us more work to do!

Music in the piece by Revolution Void.

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

Randall snorkels in a seagrass bed in Saint Joseph Bay Peninsula State Park. Photo by Dr. Peter Macreadie. Peter is a researcher from the University of Technology, Sydney, who is visiting Randall and David.

What Have Seagrasses Done For Me Lately?

Episode 6: Blue Carbon Where the Stingray Meets the Horse Conch

At the beginning of September, Randall and David had a visit from Dr. Peter Macreadie of the University of Technology, Sydney.  In this video, Randall takes Dr. Macreadie for a snorkel in St. Joseph Bay.
Dr. Randall Hughes FSU Coastal & Marine Lab

IGOR chip- habitat 150IGOR chip- filtration 150
We now focus our attention to seagrasses, which as it turns out, often don’t get a lot of attention, at least in comparison to other marine habitats like coral reefs or even salt marshes.

Randall snorkels in a seagrass bed in Saint Joseph Bay Peninsula State Park. Photo by Dr. Peter Macreadie. Peter is a researcher from the University of Technology, Sydney, who is visiting Randall and David.

In part, this lack of attention is due to the fact that seagrasses typically live completely underwater, except at very low tide, and so they are not as noticeable as marshes are. In addition, seagrasses often occur in shallow estuaries not known for their great visibility (and thus not as ideal a location as coral reefs for snorkelers or scuba divers). And, although I disagree, some people just don’t find them very pretty.

Last week as I was starting to think about this post, there was a small uptick in the number of media articles related to seagrasses, at least in Australia. The increased interest was in response to a proposal by the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to require greater seagrass protection from mining and development projects (read more in this article from the Brisbane Times). As justification for the increased financial burden on companies, Mr. Burke cited the many benefits that seagrasses provide. And just what are those?

Scallop in St. Joseph BaySeagrasses (like salt marshes and oyster reefs) provide habitat for many, many fishes and invertebrates. Studies have found that the number of animals living in seagrasses beds can be an order of magnitude higher than the number living in adjacent coastal habitats. Many of these animals rely on the seagrass beds as a “nursery” that protects them from predators until they grow larger. And lots are recreationally and commercially important species that we like to eat. (Scallops, anyone?)

Seagrasses are also incredibly productive plants, sometimes growing more than 1cm per day, and rivaling our most productive crop species like corn. Because a significant portion of this plant material (particularly the roots and rhizomes below ground) stays in place once the plants die, seagrasses can also serve as important ‘carbon sinks’, or buried reservoirs of carbon. In fact, a recent study estimates that the carbon stored in the sediments of seagrass beds is on par with that stored in the sediments of forests on land!

Although lots of the productivity of seagrass beds makes its way underground, some of it does get eaten. Major consumers of seagrasses include urchins and fishes, as well as the more charismatic dugongs, manatees, and sea turtles.

Spider Crab in St. Joe BaySeagrasses (like salt marshes) also play an important role in reducing nutrients that run off from land into the water. Unfortunately, these nutrients can also lead to the loss of seagrasses, by promoting increased growth of algal “epiphytes” that grow on the blades of the seagrasses themselves. When there are not enough small fishes and invertebrates around to eat these algae, they can overgrow and outcompete the seagrass, leading to its decline. And when the seagrasses become less abundant, the animals that rely on them are also often in danger.

The Big Bend and Panhandle of Florida are home to expansive seagrass beds that also often go unnoticed. But they contribute to the productivity, diversity, and beauty of this area in many ways, as anyone who has been scalloping recently has surely realized!

Here is a quick guide to the animals featured in the video above:
0:40 Horse conch and sea urchin joined suddenly by a stingray
1:41 Juvenile pinfish
1:18 Two shots of a bay scallop
1:33 Sea urchin
1:49 Pen shell clam covered in sea stars (2 shots)
1:56 Horse conch

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

Coastal Roundup August 17th – August 24th, 2012

Rebecca Wilkerson WFSU-TV

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance Volunteer Opportunities
August 20th-August 23rd
Fort Walton Beach, FL
(850) 833-9927
For more information visit this Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance volunteer call.

Treasure Hunt Scallop Drop
Bay scallop in St. Joe Bay seagrass bedAugust 17th-September 10th
St. Joseph Bay, FL
(850) 229-7800

16th Annual MBARA Kingfish Tournament

August 25th
Mexico Beach, FL
For more information visit the MBARA tournament page.

“Sopchoppy Stop” Eco-Heritage Tour
P1000534August 25th
Sopchoppy, FL
(850) 926-3376
For more information visit the Sopchoppy Stop tour page.

Riverkeeper’s 4th Saturday Paddle
Apalachicola River at Bloody BluffAugust 25th
Apalachicola River, FL
(850) 653-8936
For more information visit the Apalachicola Riverkeeper site.

License-Free Saltwater Fishing Day
September 1st
Gulf of Mexico
For more information visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page.

 

Lionfish

Lionfish 3For the next year, harvesting lionfish will no longer require a fishing license when using certain gear. The recreational and commercial bag limits have also been removed. These changes are effective through August 2013. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hopeful that the changes will increase harvest opportunities of this nonnative invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico.  For more information on lionfish and the new harvest regulations view this FWC news release.

Lucky for us, these invasive lionfish are delicious. Give these Hot Lionfish Poppers a try after a long day of harvesting.

Crab Trap Closures

Derelict crab trap 3Blue crab trap closures began last week for Florida. These two 10-day trap closures give the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the opportunity to identify and retrieve lost or abandoned traps that could become a problem for the marine environment. The scheduled closures vary by region. For more information on  the closures or the trap-retrieval program visit this FWC news release.

 Inspiring Adventures

Author Peter Heller sat down with Fresh Air host Terry Gross for an interview about his debut novel, The Dog Stars. An expedition kayaker, Heller explains how he draws inspiration through his often-dangerous adventures and how he relates his experiences to those of his characters. To learn more about Heller’s new novel and his paddling journeys, listen to the full interview on the NPR Books blog.

Safe Sun

Scientists from the University of Strathclyde are looking to put an end to outdoor clock-watching and blistered skin. They’ve created an ultraviolet-ray-detecting wristband that will give a visual warning that you’ve been in the sun long enough, using an acid detecting trigger that will turn the band from yellow to pink. Partners in the project are hopeful that the wristband will be available in spring 2013. Read more about the wristband, and the technology behind it, here.

On WFSU-TV

This Wednesday on WFSU-TV’s dimensions, viewers will be taken to various state parks in our viewing area. This one-tank-adventure will also bring us to Grayton Beach, near where producer Rob Diaz de Villegas shot a previous dimensions segment on the 2008 Back to Nature Festival.

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

P1000319

Coastal Roundup August 10th – August 17th, 2012

Rebecca Wilkerson WFSU-TV

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance Volunteer Day – Oyster Reef Bagging
Oyster reefAugust 17th
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
(850) 200-4173
For more information and a list of volunteer opportunities visit the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance volunteer page.

Treasure Hunt Scallop Drop
Bay scallop in St. Joe Bay seagrass bedAugust 17th- September 10th
St. Joseph Bay, FL
(850) 229-7800

16th Annual MBARA Kingfish Tournament
August 25th
Mexico Beach, FL
For more information visit the MBARA tournament page.

“Sopchoppy Stop” Eco-Heritage Tour
P1000534August 25th
Sopchoppy, FL
(850) 926-3376
For more information visit the Sopchoppy Stop tour page.

In the Kitchen

This week will mark the 100th birthday of Julia Child on August 15th. In celebration of the cooking legend, Marc Matsumoto uses Child’s Bouillabaisse to set the framework for a simple Seafood Stew using local ingredients. Learn more about his technique on the PBS Food Blog.

While we’re on the subject of local ingredients, check out how Gulf shrimp from Franklin County is used in this Buffalo Shrimp recipe.

On the East Coast

Near Dr. Hughes and Dr. Kimbro’s  St. Augustine research sites is the Fort Matanzas National monument. This National Park includes beach habitat that is crucial to several iconic Florida species. The National Park Service 2012 management plan has been drafted and some of the changes pose a risk to the wildlife here. The National Park Service will be hearing public input on the draft until August 24th. Visit this Audubon Florida news release for more information.

Clean Water Act

October will mark the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. It is important to understand the importance of this piece of legislation, and to remember that there is still work that needs to be done. Visit this National Geographic News Watch article to read more about the Clean Water Act and its past, present, and future.

Apalachicola River

Apalachicola River at Bloody BluffOctober is also when the 2012 RiverTrek paddle is happening. This five-day  journey along the Apalachicola River helps raise awareness of the plight of the river system. RiverTrek also raises money for the Apalachicola Riverkeeper. For more information about RiverTrek , check out Doug Alderson’s Visit Tallahassee blog.

Summer Reading

If your summer reading was taken up by technical manuals, historical tales, or academic studies, you’re not alone. Although these aren’t the typical “beach books” we associate with summer lounging, many people use vacation time to catch up on the reading they’ve pushed aside throughout the year. Read more about which books are being packed for vacations on the NPR Books Blog.

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

P1000350

Coastal Roundup July 27th – August 3rd, 2012

Rebecca Wilkerson & Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Fish, lobsters, and scallops, oh my!

Greater Amberjack CatchGreater Amberjack Season opens August 1st. For more information including tips, limits and requirements visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page on recreational amberjack season. (Photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida spiny lobsterAlthough the special two-day Spiny Lobster Sport Season has passed, the recreational Spiny Lobster Season opens on August 6th and will remain open through the end of March 2013. For more information, including restrictions and license requirements, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page on spiny lobster. Also, this Florida Fish and Wildlife article has a few great tips on making the most of your lobster chasing. (Photo copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Anglers, FWC is looking for your opinions.  Members will be asked to complete one web-based survey per month for the Florida Saltwater Fishing Panel.  The surveys will take 10-15 minutes to complete and will be taken into consideration as a part of management and policy decisions. New members will be accepted throughout the duration of the panel’s operation. To find out more visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife page on the panel.

The C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle will host the 9th Annual Kingfish Shootout August 4th and 5th, with a captain’s meeting on the evening of the 3rd. All participants must be registered prior to the tournament. Cash prizes will be awarded at the end of Sunday’s events. Visit the C-Quarters Marina site for more information or to register online.  (Photo copyright C-Quarters Marina)

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.

scallopThose of you enjoying scallops out of St. Joe Bay this season, come out and celebrate!  The 16th Annual Florida Scallop & Music Festival will take place August 3rd and 4th along St. Joseph Bay. This year’s festival includes live music, a classic car show, the kid zone, and, of course, seafood. Naturally, scallops will be prepared and sold in almost any way desired, and you can take home some frozen scallops. Visit the Florida Scallop & Music Festival site to find out more.

While we’re celebrating bivalves, let’s take a moment to recognize the one that’s nearest and dearest to our hearts on In the Grass, On the Reef.  August 5th is National Oyster Day. You might consider this quick and hearty Oyster Stew Supreme recipe as part of your celebration.

FSU Coastal & Marine Lab news

Construction on a new FSUCML research vessel began in early January 2012.  The custom design is tailored for coastal and offshore research in the Gulf of Mexico. The new vessel will have more space and stability than the previous vessel, and will also allow easy adaptation for the specific needs of individual research projects. Visit the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab site to follow the construction progress. (Photo copyright FSU Coastal and Marine Lab)

Corine Samaras is an undergraduate student in the certificate program at the Florida State University. She will be working with Deep-C Consortium on an experiment to study how crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill decomposes in Gulf of Mexico sediments. You can follow her experiment through her blog on the Deep-C Consortium site.

RESTORE Act

After two years, a deal has been reached concerning potential fine money that BP will pay for its role in the 2010 oil spill. Under the RESTORE Act, 80% of the money levied will go to the Gulf Coast states-Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with up to 21 billion dollars flooding into Florida’s panhandle counties.  As this Tallahassee Democrat blog post points out, this money could be a boon to our area.  Florida’s money will be distributed by the Governor’s office.  The Northwest Florida Daily News reports that officials from panhandle counties are wary of how the state will decide to divide the money.

Florida Regulators Request Standard for Mercury Levels in Fish

Mercury contamination in fish is a global problem. Florida environmental regulators are looking to set standards for the maximum amount of mercury allowed in the state’s fish to make them safer to eat. Studies show that human activity is responsible for two-thirds of the mercury contamination in Florida. Environmental officials are holding public meetings and will continue to to take public input on the issue until August 27th. They will then publish a mercury-level recommendation for approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If you missed it, listen to this WFSU-FM story for more information.

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