Posted by: sarahegner | April 17, 2014

FWC approves sea cucumber management changes!

A few weeks ago I posted on the huge increase of sea cucumbers being harvested in the Florida Keys: http://marinelabresearch.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/anyone-up-for-a-sea-cucumber-sandwich/

While sea cucumbers have been harvested in Florida for the aquarium trade for many years, only recently has the commercial industry begun to fish for sea cucumbers to export to Asia where they are eaten as a delicacy.  In 2012, 14,000 sea cucumbers were harvested in the Florida Keys; in 2013, the number jumped to 54,000.

These numbers  immediately set off red flags because sea cucumbers are especially susceptible to overfishing.  They are sedentary invertebrates that live in shallow water habitats, such as seagrass beds and nearshore reefs, which makes them easy to locate and collect.   Sea cucumbers do not mature until they are at least 2 years old and they are broadcast spawners, meaning they release their sperm and eggs into the water column.  This spawning behavior requires dense population in order to be successful.

As sea cucumbers have been depleted in other areas of the world, it was important for Florida managers to act quickly.  And they did!  At FWC’s April meeting in Tallahassee, a commercial daily trip and vessel limit of 200 sea cucumbers was approved.  This proactive change to the commercial fishing regulations will ensure Florida’s populations of these ecologically important species and the fisheries they support remain sustainable.

Why do we care about sea cucumbers???

Money talks!  Florida’s commercial sea cucumber fishery has historically been a low-value fishery, averaging $14,000 per year for marine life endorsement holders prior to 2012. However, the value of landings during 2013 exceeded $43,000, more than three times the previous average.

  • Nutritional studies have reported high levels of vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3 as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc
  • Sea cucumbers contain essential amino acids that help regulate immune function
  • Sea cucumbers have omega-3 and other essential fatty acids, which are thought to reduce heart disease, certain cancers, asthma, depression, ADHD and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Several studies have also isolated compounds from sea cucumbers that may be useful for drug development – many of these compounds have been found to potentially slow the progression of or treat cancer, reduce blood clotting, treat osteoarthritis, reduce fatigue and speed wound healing

In addition to their economic value, sea cucumbers play an important role in marine ecosystems:

  • Nutrient cycling in otherwise nutrient poor tropical reefs
  • Recycle nutrients from sediment to seagrass
  • Oxygenate sediments for other bottom-dwelling organisms by burying themselves

The new limit will begin June of 2014.  The hope is that the sea cucumbers will be able to be fished sustainably so that we continue to receive both the economic and ecological benefits.

sea cucu

The donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria mexicana) is the primary target in Florida's sea cucumber fisheries

The donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria mexicana) is the primary target in Florida’s sea cucumber fisheries

 

Posted by: sarahegner | April 10, 2014

Florida Bay HABs

Tomorrow MarineLab biologists are planning on heading out into Florida Bay to collect water samples for Dr. Larry Brand.  Dr. Brand of University of Miami’s RSMAS is particularly interested in getting data for cyanobacteria levels in Florida Bay before the Everglades Restoration efforts, specifically the diversion of freshwater flow into Florida Bay, is completely under way.  There is a concern that the restoration effort could have a negative impact in Florida Bay waters, primarily through an increase in Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  Cyanobacteria, also known as blue green algae, is in fact a bacteria but is photosynthetic and toxic and can bloom in the same way phytoplankton can.  Currently, much of the fresh water in Florida is diverted from the inland Everglades through hypereutrophic Lake Okeechobee.  Redistributing the water flow to achieve a more natural hydropattern will require substantial treatment for nutrient removal, at a minimum.  The lands planned to be restored as wetlands or used for water storage have been previously used for agriculture and therefore have high nutrient levels and persistent pesticides; these will add further challenges to meet for their use in restoring a pristine, oligotrophic ecosystem.

Find more information about Dr Brands work at RSMAS: http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/people/faculty-index/?p=larry-e.-brand

MarineLab's FL Bay Sampling Sites

MarineLab’s FL Bay Sampling Sites

 

Oscillatoria

Oscillatoria

IMG_0631

Navigating the shallow waters of Florida Bay

Navigating the shallow waters of Florida Bay

 

Posted by: sarahegner | March 28, 2014

Anyone up for a sea cucumber sandwich?

Sea cucumbers come in all shapes and sizes and are a treat to see underwater.  In some countries, they are a treat on the plate, as well.  In the US, sea cucumbers have been harvested for years for the aquarium trade, but more recently, they have been harvested for sale in the Asian market where sea cucumbers are not only a delicacy, but also used medicinally.  According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, in 2012, 14,000 sea cucumbers were harvested in the Florida Keys.  Last year, the number jumped to 54,000!  This is indeed a cause for alarm as sea cucumbers are not only interesting to watch while in the water, but are also important ecologically.  Managers are not taking this huge increase lightly and discussions are underway for new limits.  Immediate action is necessary as populations have been depleted in other well protected areas such as the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef due to over harvesting for human consumption.  Read more in the articles below to learn more about the issue:

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/12/02/3792690/sea-cucumbers-could-be-next-on.html

http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/move-to-regulate-florida-sea-cucumber-driven-by-asian-appetite/2165865

three-rowed sea cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus)

three-rowed sea cucumber (Isostichopus badionotus)

 

Posted by: sarahegner | March 20, 2014

Sponge Restoration Video

Dont start crying about the sponge die off in Florida Bay just yet, because there are plenty of scientists out there working hard to attempt to restore our sponge population in Florida Bay.  Watch and sing along: http://butlerj1.wix.com/jackbutler#1videos/c18b7

 

Posted by: sarahegner | March 20, 2014

Sponge Loss in Florida Bay

In 2007, there was a massive sponge die off in Florida Bay due to cyanobacteria blooms.  The loss of the sponges affects many other organisms.  In addition to providing a habitat for many ecologically and economically important animals such as crabs, lobsters and fish, the sponges are essential for constantly filtering the water column.  Recent research is showing that we have had a similar sponge die off- thousands to tens of thousands of sponges lost- due to blooms in the recent fall and winter.  Studies on the effects of this die off are currently under way and we continue to collect water samples for cyanobacteria analysis.  Read recent newspaper article to get more information: http://keysnews.com/node/54224

Posted by: sarahegner | March 10, 2014

Citizen Science at its Best

For the past few months, 3rd and 4th grade students from Ocean Studies Charter School have been growing red mangroves in their classroom in preparation for planting at MarineLab’s restoration site.  The students monitored the mangrove propagules while in their classroom, conducting their own study on the salinity preference the propagules grew best in.  Today, the students came to MarineLab to put their baby mangroves back into the wild where they belong.

Some students stayed on land to record necessary data.

Some students stayed on land to record necessary data.

Four local high school students from Coral Shores came to assist the younger students with the planting and to record video for their own school assignment.

Four local high school students from Coral Shores came to assist the younger students with the planting and to record video for their own school assignment.

The students filled the PVC with peat (aka "muddy fugde") and decaying seagrass

The students filled the PVC with peat (aka “muddy fugde”) and decaying seagrass

The peat and seagrass was packed in tight by the “shover”

The peat and seagrass was packed in tight by the “shover”

And, finally, the students had to say goodbye to their "babies" as the propagules were put into place within the PVC

And, finally, the students had to say goodbye to their “babies” as the propagules were put into place within the PVC

As we had more propagules than PVC, we decided to give the remaining mangroves a fighting chance with a closing ceremony sendoff that included everyone yelling “Rhizophora!” and tossing them in to Largo Sound.

As we had more propagules than PVC, we decided to give the remaining mangroves a fighting chance with a closing ceremony sendoff that included everyone yelling “Rhizophora!” and tossing them in to Largo Sound.

Posted by: sarahegner | March 6, 2014

Mangrove Restoration: A work in progress

As seen in previous posts we are working hard to determine the best methodology and protocols to follow at the restoration site at MarineLab.  As there is not ample protection from the wind, waves and wrack line, the restoration site is not ideal.  We are slowly learning the techniques that work best at this site.  As we prepare for a group of local fourth grade students to come and plant the propagules they have been growing in their classroom for the past few months, the site was recently monitored, taking notes of height growth, growth in trunk circumference, and the  number of prop roots.  In the past few years, we have had some great successes.  Check out the photo below of mangrove #35 and #44- big and healthy!  We have constantly been learning about what works and doesnt work and updating our methodology accordingly.  In one of the photos below, you can see that #46 was completely submerged, even at low tide- doomed for failure!  It is important that the PVC is at the correct height where the planted propagule spends a portion of the day submerged and a portion completely out of the water.

Mangrove #35

Mangrove #35

Mangrove #44

Mangrove #44

Mangrove #46

Mangrove #46

Posted by: sarahegner | February 20, 2014

FIU graduate students use MRDF to conduct coral research

Earlier this month, two graduate students from FIU, working under Dr. Laurie Richardson, came to use MRDF’s vessels to conduct an ongoing project on coral disease.  Two different sites were visited and MarineLab staff even got to assist in data collection.

FIU graduate student Zoe Pratte and her dive buddy preparing for another dive

FIU graduate student Zoe Pratte and her dive buddy preparing for another dive

Zoe putting her samples on ice

Zoe putting her samples on ice

MarineLab instructor Sarah excited to join Zoe and assist in removing a sample of mucous from one of Zoe's corals for lab analysis

MarineLab instructor Sarah excited to join Zoe and assist in removing a sample of mucous from one of Zoe’s corals for lab analysis

Posted by: sarahegner | February 13, 2014

Cyanobacteria Water Sampling

Since 2012, MRDF’s MarineLab instructors have been assisting University of Miami’s Dr. Larry Brand in collecting water samples in Florida Bay for cyanobacteria analysis.  Read more about the project here:   http://marinelabresearch.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/why-are-we-concerned-about-cyanobacteria-in-florida-bay/

Sarah checking the chart as we navigate through Florida Bay’s shallow waters

Lizzie collecting a water sample at one of our 13 sites in Florida Bay

Lizzie collecting a water sample at one of our 13 sites in Florida Bay

 

 

Posted by: sarahegner | January 31, 2014

While many of MarineLab’s students are enjoying the end of their holiday break, our MarineLab staff was hard at work collecting research data for our various research partnerships. On a particularly beautiful day last week, the MarineLab staff headed out to retrieve our phytoplankton monitoring screens at our various study sites on the reef

These phytoplankton screens are deployed as a part of NOAA’s Phytoplankton monitoring network (See experiment apparatus here: http://marinelabresearch.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/toxic-phytoplankton-study/) Phytoplankton are an important biotic component of the coral reef ecosystem, and are the principle primary producers of the ocean food web. In this particular study, NOAA scientists and MarineLab staff are investigating a specific group of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates. If there is a bloom of dinoflagellates, it can potentially lead to Ciguatera Fish Poisoning!

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