Posted by: sarahegner | October 13, 2014

Seagrass monitoring program expands, thanks to Mickey

We recently received funding from Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund to expand our seagrass monitoring program.  In addition to the seagrass survey site we set up in 2012, we will be adding two additional permanent sites in Largo Sound.  One of the sites is meant to serve as a replicate of our initial site while the other, being next to a man made trench, we expect to show us the effects of human disturbance.  The grant will fund needed equipment- GPS, cameras, transects, etc. to allow the sites to be established correctly and the surveys to be conducted efficiently.

We will survey all three sites quarterly, following Seagrass Watch protocols.  With the additional sites, we will be providing Seagrass Watch with more information to aid in conservation of this habitat, monitoring changes over time and reporting them accordingly, and teaching our students appropriate research techniques for properly aiding in conservation.

Thanks Disney!

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transect plan

3 sites

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Posted by: sarahegner | October 7, 2014

Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by changing environmental conditions, most often temperature.  The corals are considered bleached  when the mutualistic algae, zooxanthellae, living inside each coral polyp is expelled.  Zooxanthellae not only provides the coral with much needed energy, it is also the source of the coral’s color.  When the zooxanthellae is no longer present, the corals look white.

Here in the Keys, bleaching events are most common in the summer when the water temperatures often exceed the limits corals prefer.  Cold temperatures, such as the “Keys Freeze” we experienced in January of 2010, can also cause the corals to bleach.  Bleached corals are still living, but they can only survive for short periods of time without the algal symbiont.  When temperatures return to a normal range, if the corals are still alive, the zooxanthellae will return and the coral survive; these corals, however, are now weakened and become even more susceptible to becoming diseased.

This summer, our waters have been WARM!  And our BleachWatch reports have been off the charts (http://isurus.mote.org/Keys/bleachwatch.phtml).  We are hopeful that the cold front we are currently experiencing will bring color back to our reefs!!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_4700IMG_4757 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted by: sarahegner | October 1, 2014

MarineLab’s Staghorn Babies

Some MRDF staff recently revisited our most recent coral restoration site at Grecian Rocks.  With Coral Restoration Foundation’s assistance, we planted 300 staghorn coral fragments on South Grecian in August.  We headed out in late September to collect some data for CRF and to “check on our babies.”

As expected because of the extreme warm water temperatures this summer and because of our extremely shallow site, many of our fragments were bleached.

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Fortunately, we were relieved and hopeful to see that though the top of the majority of our planted fragments were bleached, most were looking healthy on the underside.

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Some sites did not survive.  This is expected.

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A few of the sites were healthy and experiencing no bleaching at all.

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It’s not all work!  We obviously made sure to look around a little bit as well and enjoy our dive.IMG_4750

 

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Posted by: sarahegner | September 24, 2014

Marine Debris

Why does MarineLab and so many other organizations throughout the world participate in Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup?  This is why:

FWC

FWC

FWC

FWC

Ben Gutzler

Ben Gutzler

This turtle was most likely going for a free lobster snack but ended up getting it's head stuck in the trap.

This turtle was most likely going for a free snack but ended up getting it’s head stuck in the trap.

Ben Gutzler

Ben Gutzler

FWC

FWC

FWC

FWC

Marine debris—whether from fishermen, beachgoers or boaters- has become a huge problem in our oceans and most definitely within our subtropical ecosystem here in the Keys.  The plastics and lost fishing gear harm corals, sponges, lobsters, turtles, manatees, etc.  Seagrasses, hardbottom, patch reefs, bank reefs and mangrove habitats are all affected by marine debris.

According to a long term study by researchers from Nova Southeastern University, in 2012 debris recovered from nine acres of survey sites weighed 1000 lbs, and included 2027 feet of fishing line and 6561 feet of lobster and crab trap line (http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/scisummaries/marinedebris2013.pdf).  As was found in previous surveys, the Nova researchers  concluded that hook-and-line angling gear is the most frequent type of debris recorded, making up 45% of the total number of items.  Lost lobster and crab trap fishing gear was the second most abundant type of debris.  This included lines, wooden slats, plastic trap throats and cement weights.  Trap debris was more responsible than angling gear, however, for impacts on marine life.

There is plenty of “weird” trash found as well.  According to the Ocean Conservancy’s 2014 coastal cleanup report, debris removed on September 20 included toilets, a blond wig, guitars, a working Ipad, a letter in a bottle, a voodoo doll in a jar and most of the items necessary for a wedding (wedding gown, wedding ring, veil, top hat, bowties) (http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/icc-data-2014.pdf ).

 

Two sites to visit to learn more about the effects of marine debris and how you can help:

http://mrrp.myfwc.com/home.aspx

http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/international-coastal-cleanup/

Posted by: sarahegner | August 20, 2014

Coral Outplanting at Grecian Rocks

During the past two days, MarineLab staff has been assisting the Coral Restoration Foundation in outplanting 300 (!!!) staghorn corals to Grecian Rocks reef.  MarineLab will be monitoring the restoration site monthly for the next year and sending CRF the necessary data  (% survival, disease, predation, bleaching, etc.).

The first stop was to CRF's nursery by the Elbow to collect fragments for outplanting.

The first stop was to CRF’s nursery by the Elbow to collect fragments for outplanting.

CRF uses "trees" to hang coral fragments.  They have found this to be the most efficient method, keeping the corals off of the bottom where they are more greatly affected by sediment, nutrients and predators.

CRF uses “trees” to hang coral fragments. They have found this to be the most efficient method, keeping the corals off of the bottom where they are more greatly affected by sediment, nutrients and predators.

CRF has genetic information for all of the corals.  The frags being outplanted must be tagged according to genotype once removed from the tree.

CRF has genetic information for all of the corals. The frags being outplanted must be tagged according to genotype once removed from the tree.

The corals are then crated for transport to the outplant site

The corals are then crated for transport to the outplant site

Staghorn babies enjoying their boat ride from the nursery to their forever home.

Staghorn babies enjoying their boat ride from the nursery to their forever home.

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The first step is choosing a site and chiseling at the substrate in order to have bare limestone for the epoxy to adhere to.

The first step is choosing a site and chiseling at the substrate in order to have bare limestone for the epoxy to adhere to.

Coral fragments are attached to the limestone substrate using a two part epoxy.

Coral fragments are attached to the limestone substrate using a two part epoxy.

Each site has a cluster of 10 coral fragments, all of the same genotype.

Each site has a cluster of 10 coral fragments, all of the same genotype.

Each site is tagged so that all of the corals can be monitored and maintained.

Each site is tagged so that all of the corals can be monitored and maintained.

It sure is fun to restore peace to our underwater world.

It sure is fun to restore peace to our underwater world.

Posted by: sarahegner | August 12, 2014

It’s the most wonderful time of the year- CORAL SPAWNING!

 

Star Coral releasing gamete bundles

Star Coral releasing gamete bundles

Stony corals reproduce throughout the year using asexual methods, primarily through budding.  But once a year, usually around the end of August/beginning of September (all dependent on water temperatures, lunar cycle, tidal cycle, 24 hours light cycle, and other unknown abiotic cues), most stony corals will release millions of gametes in synchronized mass spawning events.  It is a spectacular sight to see.  Scientists are unable to predict exactly what night or exactly what time, but are able to narrow possible spawning days down for each species dependent on the moon.  For example, stony branching corals usually spawn 2-4 days after the August full moon whereas the star corals are expected 5-9 days after the full moon.

Coral sexual reproduction is complicated because the methodology is species dependent.  Some corals are hermaphroditic, producing the eggs and sperm in the same colony, while other coral species are gonochoristic, having separate male and female colonies.  Some of the hermaphroditic species can self fertilize, while others cannot.  Additionally, some coral species are referred to as brooders, meaning fertilization and development of planula larvae takes place inside the colony, whereas other species, known as broadcast spawners, release eggs, sperm or both into the water column, which with some luck, will cross fertilize and form a planula larva.

Planula will follow tides and currents for 2-3 months before it settles on a hard substrate and will begin secreting calcium carbonate.  This is the start of a coral colony that could live for hundreds of years!

Asexual Reproduction

Asexual Reproduction

Photograph of coral polyps releasing their gametes during coral

Posted by: sarahegner | August 6, 2014

HABs are not only a problem in Ohio…

Last week, over a half million Ohio residents had no access to freshwater because of a harmful algal bloom (HAB).  The toxic cyanobacteria Microcystis was to blame for this particular bloom but HABs are becoming more and more common, in part due to global climate change.  Generally, the algae and bacteria that cause HABS need warm temperatures and high nutrient levels (think fertilizer and sewage) in order to reproduce in mass quantities, thus causing a bloom.  Climate change is creating warming waters in many parts of the world, including the Great Lakes. Global warming is also creating more intense storms in some parts of the world, which can increase the nutrient runoff.

Many blooms have a toxin associated with them and as that toxin is accumulated in tissues throughout the food chain, it is generally those at the top that are most affected (i.e. manatees, dolphins, barracuda, and humans too).  The bloom does not have to be toxic, however, to be harmful.  Blooms can produce anoxic conditions in the water column- when algae is covering the surface, sunlight cannot reach the bottom, plants begin to die and decompose which then uses all the oxygen in the water, killing fish, etc.  Eventually the massive blooms die as well, removing any additional oxygen from the water column.  It is estimated that HABs contribute to an estimated 100 million dollar loss per year in the US.  During harmful algal bloom events, there are closures of shellfish beds, lost production in fisheries, and reduction in tourism.  Public illness, medical treatment and advisories cost money.

As HABs are becoming more common, they are also becoming more closely monitored.  Here at MarineLab, in the past few years, we have partnered with NOAA on various HAB studies including the correlation of toxic phytoplankton at a healthy versus unhealthy reef, NOAA’s ongoing phytoplankton monitoring network program which requires us to monitor our site in Key Largo bimonthly, and the newest project, which is going to be making use of the Upper Keys community in assisting us in monitoring our phytoplankton populations throughout various bodies of water off of the Upper Keys.

Some of the target species we look for in our waters are pictured below.

Chaetocerous

Chaetoceros. Though not toxic, the whiskers on Chaetoceros can tear up fish gills like saw blades, causing mass fish kills.

Pyrodinium bahamense.  Pyrodinium has a saxitoxin which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning

Pyrodinium bahamense. Pyrodinium has a saxitoxin which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning

Gambierdiscus.  Gambierdiscus has a ciguatoxin that causes Ciguaterra Fish poisoning (why it is usually recommended not to eat large barracuda)

Gambierdiscus. Gambierdiscus has a ciguatoxin that causes Ciguaterra Fish poisoning (why it is usually recommended not to eat large barracuda)

Posted by: sarahegner | July 7, 2014

Gotta love the parrotfish!

Originally posted on MarineLab's Research Projects & Partnerships:

stoplight

On July 2, 2014, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network released a report on “Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012.”  The new report reveals a more than 50% decline in living corals throughout the Caribbean over the past half century!

The scientists involved in creating this report explain that the loss of herbivores, such as parrotfishes, has been the leading cause of Caribbean reef decline.  While climate change is indeed a risk for the future of our corals, they predict that a healthy reef will be resilient to the environmental alterations that climate change will cause.  Reefs protected from overfishing are better able to cope with other disturbances.

Reefs currently with active fishing management practices, including Flower Garden Banks, Bermuda and Bonaire, are currently healthy and are considered to be resilient reefs.  The silver lining in the report, therefore, is that if more islands in the Caribbean make…

View original 64 more words

Posted by: sarahegner | July 7, 2014

Gotta love the parrotfish!

stoplight

On July 2, 2014, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network released a report on “Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012.”  The new report reveals a more than 50% decline in living corals throughout the Caribbean over the past half century!

The scientists involved in creating this report explain that the loss of herbivores, such as parrotfishes, has been the leading cause of Caribbean reef decline.  While climate change is indeed a risk for the future of our corals, they predict that a healthy reef will be resilient to the environmental alterations that climate change will cause.  Reefs protected from overfishing are better able to cope with other disturbances.

Reefs currently with active fishing management practices, including Flower Garden Banks, Bermuda and Bonaire, are currently healthy and are considered to be resilient reefs.  The silver lining in the report, therefore, is that if more islands in the Caribbean make an effort to manage fisheries, there is a much greater likelihood the reefs will become more resilient and will better withstand future disturbances.

Read more about the recently published report here: http://www.icriforum.org/caribbeanreport

At MarineLab, we are excited to once again, have our students participate in parrotfish feeding surveys for Dr Burkepile’s work studying the impact of parrotfish on coral restoration efforts. (http://marinelabresearch.wordpress.com/category/fiu-parrotfish/)

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Posted by: sarahegner | June 17, 2014

Ocean Sampling Day

MarineLab students will be participating in Ocean Sampling Day on June 21st.  OSD is a simultaneous sampling campaign of the world’s oceans and will take place on the summer solstice.  MarineLab is just one of hundreds of stations throughout the world that will be participating in this event.

OSD

 

We will be collecting water quality data such as water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pH.  Read more about the project here: http://www.microb3.eu/osd

 

 

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