When we get to the mouth of Chaires Creek, the tide has gone out enough to see the tops of some oysters. It’s a little after 1 pm- high tide was 10:16 am, and low tide is 4:02 pm. If we stay too much longer, the mouth of the creek will be choked by oyster bars, and sand bars will make the kayak back to Tucker Lake slow going.
An oyster is tonged from Apalachicola Bay. It is shucked, handed to me, and eaten just minutes after it left the water. Almost immediately, a wave of energy washes over me. This must be what Popeye feels when he eats spinach, or Mario when he eats the mushroom and becomes Super Mario.
We’re pleased to introduce our newest blogger, Jessie Mutz. A graduate student in the Florida State University Department of Biological Science, Jessie will be taking a closer look at some of the many fascinating plants and animals in our area. In the process, she’ll introduce us to FSU students and faculty conducting research across various ecosystems. She starts in a place familiar to this blog when it comes to FSU research- our very own Forgotten Coast.
Jessie MutzGraduate Student, FSU Department of Biological Science
With summertime officially and emphatically here in North Florida, many of us are coastward bound. Like long walks on the beach? As it turns out, you’re not the only one.
Meet Dr. Scott Burgess, a marine evolutionary ecologist and one of the newest faculty in FSU’s Department of Biological Science. Although it’s only the start of his first full summer in Tallahassee, Scott has already been hitting the beach – a prime location for researching the reproductive strategies of intertidal invertebrates like the crown conch, Melongena corona. “This area has a lot of species with an unusual life history type, one that is typically less common in other areas,” he says. “So that’s a big interesting thing: Why are there lots of these weird ones here? Why have all of the species chosen this particular life history in this area of the world?” Continue reading Crown Conchs, Parenting, and Walks Along the Gulf Coast→
Four years ago, we traveled out into the oyster reefs of Alligator Harbor with Dr. David Kimbro. It was both the start of an ambitious new study and of our In the Grass, On the Reef project. Last June, we went back to those reefs with Dr. Randall Hughes as she, David, and their colleagues revisited study sites from North Carolina to the Florida Gulf. In 2010, they sampled the reefs with nets and crab traps, and harvested small sections of reef. This more recent sampling, which unfolds in the opening scenes of our recent documentary, Oyster Doctors, was conducted with underwater microphones. Randall explains how sound became a tool in further understanding fear on oyster reefs.
We hope you’re enjoying the new look! The biggest change is the Facebook commenting system, which we hope encourages more people to join or start a conversation about what we’re covering. We’re also pleased to announce that the latest In the Grass, On the Reef documentary, Oyster Doctors, is now online for your viewing pleasure.
Update March 9, 2014 – We’d like to thank everyone who came out for one or more of our events on Saturday. It was a pleasure to meet all of you (photos will be posted soon). If you missed the premiere, Oyster Doctors will air on WFSU-TV on Wednesday March 19, 8 pm/ 7 ct. Look for it online shortly after.
Video: Critters galore at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
If there’s one thing we have learned in 3-plus years of doing this project, it’s that everything eats blue crabs. If you’ve watched our videos over the years, you’ve seen a gull eating one on Saint George Island. You’ve seen (and heard) a loggerhead turtle crunch into one. And in the video above, two octopi wrestle for the tasty treat at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea, Florida (That turtle shot was taken there as well, a few months back). Lab founder Jack Rudloe spent some time with us, feeding sharks, hermit crabs, and various fish species. It gave us a great chance to see many of the species that we cover in this blog, and many that we don’t, in action. Continue reading Video: Turtles, Octopus, & Crabs at the Gulf Specimen Lab→
RiverTrek paddlers are raising funds for the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, an organization whose mission is to “provide stewardship and advocacy for the protection of the Apalachicola River and Bay, its tributaries and watersheds…” (participating media members do not raise funds). At the end of the paddle, on October 12, there will be a reception in Battery Park in Apalachicola. There, people can greet the paddlers and bring non-perishable food items in benefit of Franklin’s Promise. Franklin’s Promise aids the families affected by the failure of the Apalachicola Bay oyster reefs.
“The Good Lord giveth, and Georgia and the Corps taketh away.” Those words were spoken by Jon Steverson, Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. He was testifying before Florida senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) during a special field hearing to address the collapse of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery. The high-profile event, held two weeks ago in Apalachicola, marked almost one year into a particularly turbulent era for this region. Just one year ago, I was preparing to kayak the Apalachicola River for RiverTrek 2012. The winter bars in the bay were just days away from opening. When they did, a lot changed, including the nature of the RiverTrek videos we were to make, and the In the Grass, On the Reef project as a whole. Continue reading RiverTrek 2013 Preview: A Year in the Apalachicola River and Bay→
Since they’ve deployed their experimental cages in Apalachicola Bay, David Kimbro’s crew has had some go missing, while others have been found in this condition. Missing buoys make potentially unharmed cages nearly impossible to find. Until just yesterday, there have been no leads as to the identities of possible culprits.
Dr. David KimbroNortheastern University/ FSU Coastal & Marine Lab
I’ll eventually get to how our research on Apalachicola Bay oysters ties into shark week. But first, let me tell you about my history with the annual Shark Week, which is put on by the Discovery Channel. Growing up as a surfer in North Carolina, the best time to surf was in the late summer and early fall. After many warm months of zero waves in the spring and summer, we lived for tropical storms that would make their way into the south east….but not get too close. I hated those suckers that got too close, because fun waves would quickly turn into pigs being on the roof and lots of misfortune for my fellow North Carolinians. Continue reading Apalachicola Oyster Research: SHARK WEEK→
In January, David Kimbro’s lab did a preliminary survey of Apalachicola Bay oyster reefs, looking at the overall health of oysters and the presence of predators. They followed this up with an experiment meant to monitor oyster health and predator effects over time. Many of their experimental cages were displaced, likely due to the buoys marking them breaking off. But what they found in the cages that remained intact was that oyster drill numbers appear to be exploding in warmer waters. David is looking for help keeping tabs on them.
Dr. David KimbroNortheastern University/ FSU Coastal & Marine Lab
Wishing that you were wrong is not something that comes naturally to anyone. But that is how I felt at the most recent oyster task force meeting in April. There, I shared some early research results about the condition of the oyster reefs. In our surveys, we found that the oyster reefs in Apalachicola Bay were in really bad shape and that there were not any big bad predators hanging around the reefs to blame. Even though I had originally shot off my big mouth about the oyster fishery problem being caused by an oyster-eating snail, I hoped that our first bit of data meant the snails were never there. Or better…that they were gone. The story of the boy who cried wolf comes to mind.
But an alternative of this David-cries-wolf story is that our January sampling didn’t turn up many predators because it’s cold in January, and because they were hunkered down for a long winters nap. Unfortunately, this option is looking stronger.
Since the task force meeting, we have been figuring out how conduct field experiments in Apalachicola. To be honest, an underwater environment without any visibility is an experimentalist’s worst nightmare. Still, we deployed fancy equipment, big cages, and then little mini experiments inside each big cage to figure out how much of the oyster problem is due to the environment, to disease, or to predators.
Even though we lost over half of our experiment and instrumentation, we recovered just enough data to show that the problem could be predation and that the culprit is a voracious snail. So, after learning some lessons on how to not lose your equipment, we decided to take another crack at it. In fact, Hanna and crew just finished sampling half of our second experiment today. We got the same results….lots of snails quickly gobbled up all of the oysters that were deployed without protective cages. But the oysters that were protected with cages did just fine.
This photo illustrates what Apalachicola oyster reefs are dealing with. This is one clutch of eggs laid by one adult snail. Within each little capsule, there are probably 10-20 baby snails. After a long winter’s nap, these snails are hungry.
We are going to keep at this, because one week long experiment doesn’t really tell us that much. But if we keep getting the same answer from multiple experiments, then we are getting somewhere.
In addition to updating y’all, I wanted to ask for your help. Because my small lab can’t be everywhere throughout the bay at all times, there are two things you could do if you are on the water.
First, if you come upon our experiment, can you let me know when you happened upon them and how many buoys you saw? If you report that all buoys are present, then I’ll sleep really well. And if you alert us that some buoys are missing, then I’ll be grateful because we will stand a better of chance of quickly getting out there before the cages are inadvertently knocked around, so that we can recover the data. Click here for GPS coordinates and further instructions.
Second, if you are tonging oysters, then you are probably tonging up snails. It would really help us to know when, where, and how many snails you caught. Take a photo on your phone (Instagram hashtag #apalachcatch – Instagram instructions here) or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be posting the photos and the information you provide on this blog.
This is kind of a new thing for us, attempting to use technology and community support this way. There may be some bumps along the way. If you’re having trouble trying to get photos to us, contact us at email@example.com.
Thanks a bunch!
David’s Apalachicola Research is funded by Florida Sea Grant
In the Grass, On the Reef is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.