Posted by: sarahegner | January 19, 2016

MRDF Research Department Update for 2016

MarineLab Research Department is starting 2016 off strong.  Just before break in December, MarineLab instructors outplanted 100 corals from the Elkhorn nursery to one of our favorite spots to take students snorkelling on Minnow Caves.

CRF 12.10.15 041

We had many phytoplankton samples brought to us this month in support of our grant funded community phytoplankton project in conjunction with NOAA.  Check out some of the cool critters we found while analyzing for target species:

dino

dinoflagellate

furca

ceratium furca

pennate diatom

chain of pennate diatoms

snail veliger

snail veliger

zooplankton

zooplankton

This month staff will be heading out to Coral Restoration Foundation’s coral nursery off of Elbow reef to do some routine maintenance.

CRF 12.10.15 019

We will also be collecting samples from Florida Bay for Dr. LArry Brand of RSMAS who analyzes the water for cyanobacteria levels.

IMG_0631

We also will be surveying all three of our survey sites within Largo Sound, monitoring our mangrove planting project, and collecting water samples and water quality data for FWC on the oceanside and University of Florida on the Bayside.

the gang having the best time ever while filtering

the gang having the best time ever while filtering water samples

One of the mangrove babies planted last year that we will measure this week

One of the mangrove babies planted last year that we will measure this week

Sarah assisting in Porites surveys

Sarah assisting in Porites surveys

And most importantly, the MarineLab instructors are preparing for another busy season filled with students!!!

 

Posted by: sarahegner | November 12, 2015

Microplastics have become a MACRO problem!!

florida microplastic

 

This is what we know about microplastics right now:

  • Microplastics are generally defined as plastics that are LESS THAN 5mm in size
  • There are two categories of microplastics, primary and secondary.  Primary microplastics were originially created to be tiny pieces of plastic.  They include industrial scrubbers used in abrasive blast cleaning, nurdles (little balls in beanie babies and the like) and microbeads ( beads in facewash, soap, etc.).  These plastics float so they are not typically removed by wastewater treatment plants which are designed to remove solids by allowing them to settle.  Secondary microplastics are small pieces resulting from the degradation of larger plastic items.  EVERY PIECE OF PLASTIC EVER MADE STILL EXISTS SOMEWHERE.
  • They are in our environment and MICROPLASTICS NEVER BIODEGRADE
  • Microplastics can contain TOXINS
  • Microplastics can become an ATTACHMENT SITE FOR TOXINS
  • Microplastics are CONSUMED BY MARINE LIFE.  Check out this video!

Some numbers we know:

  • In 1999, plastic measured in an ocean gyre outweighed zooplankton by 6:1. By 2008, the ratio in the same gyre was 45:1!!
  • In 2010, enough plastic entered the ocean globally to fill 5 grocery bags for every foot of shoreline of the 192 countries studied!!!
  • 8 trillion microbeads estimated to enter waters in the US daily !!!

There is much that we do not (yet) know about the impacts of plastics in the environment. Hopefully research over the next several years will help answer some of these questions. Several studies (generally looking at individual species of marine organisms) show that filter feeders can remove microplastics from the water. However, what happens next is not understood. One study published in 2014 shows that it is possible for microplastics to be passed from predator to prey (in a lab setting), another study indicates that chemicals that are sorbed to the surface of plastics could leach into tissues of marine worms if those plastics become incorporated into the benthos.  Probably the biggest unknown is that of human health risks.

MarineLab recently became a regional coordinator for the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project (FMAP).  Read about the project and how you can get involved here.  We are busy sampling our waters to count microplastics and determine the greatest source of microplastics in our waters.  This information will aid in the current research of all of the microplastic unknowns.

 

film

Grid is 3mm x 3mm

?

Now, what can YOU do to help???

  • Participate in MarineLab’s microplastic lab when your school visits MarineLab.  You will collect samples, anylyze the sample’s following FMAP protocols and your data will be entered into the FMAP database.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and REFUSE (find plastics that you can JUST SAY NO to i.e. straws, microbeads, etc.)  You can do it!
  • Participate in coastal cleanups.  If you are in South Florida, check MarineLab’s facebook page for opportunities to come down and help us.
  • Check labels on personal care products.  Look at the ingredients.  Don’t buy personal care products with POLYETHYLENE!  Refer to this site for products with polyethylene.
  • Sign Florida Microplastic Awareness Project pledge.

Teuten et al. 2007. Potential for plastics to transport hydrophobic contaminants. Environ. Sci. Technol. 41: 7759-7764

Setala et al. 2014. Ingestion and transfer of microplastics in the planktonic food web. Environmental Pollution 185: 77-83

 

Posted by: sarahegner | September 25, 2015

Mickey, seagrass and MarineLab success!

Last year, we received funding from Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund that allowed us to expand the seagrass sites we regularly monitor in Largo Sound AND expand our seagrass ecology service learning program.

student recording seagrass survey data

student recording seagrass survey data

three sites surveyed quarterly by MarineLab staff in Largo Sound

three sites surveyed quarterly by MarineLab staff in Largo Sound

sharks love the seagrass too!

sharks love the seagrass too!

MarineLab students excited to finally board the boat and conduct surveys after learning about seagrass ecology, survey protocols and a practice survey session in the parking lot

MarineLab students excited to finally board the boat and conduct surveys after learning about seagrass ecology, survey protocols and a practice survey session in the parking lot

Students who visit MarineLab interested in gaining more experience in the marine science field are taught a seagrass ecology lesson, protocols on conducting a proper seagrass survey, given the tools to conduct a survey with their classmates, and then an opportunity to discuss and analyze their data with MarineLab’s marine scientist staff.

While not every student who visits us here at MarineLab leaves with a solid goal of becoming a marine scientist, we do want students who participate in our service learning programs to go home with ambitions to continue with service learning elsewhere, in whatever field is of interest to them.

While we have only offered our updated seagrass survey program for a year, so far we feel like it has been a success.  Students are learning!  Seagrass is being appreciated!  Science is being completed!  Citizen scientists are being created!

citizen science

Students were asked before and after the program: “On a scale of 1-10 (1 not being likely and 10 being very likely) how likely are you to actively pursue a citizen science program in your hometown?”

sg

Students were given a pretest with 5 questions relating to seagrass beds, ecological sampling techniques and seagrass survey protocols before and after participating in the Disney funded seagrass survey program.

Students were given a pretest with 5 questions relating to seagrass beds, ecological sampling techniques and seagrass survey protocols before and after participating in the Disney funded seagrass survey program.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: sarahegner | September 11, 2015

Our Grecian Coral Babies are Looking Good!

The eagle ray that must have been assisting Lizzie when she was monitoring our corals in August - every other photo is of this good looking guy!

The eagle ray that must have been assisting Lizzie when she was monitoring our corals in August – every other photo is of this good looking guy!

In August of 2014, MarineLab staff spent two days assisting the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) with outplanting 300 staghorn corals at Grecian Rocks reef.  Read more about the actual outplanting here.

As required by CRF staff scientists, MarineLab has gone out to collect monitoring data on our corals one month, 6 months and a year after the initial outplanting.  (During this time we have also outplanted hundreds more corals!)  While some of our corals have succumbed to disease and/or predators, we are pleased with our overall success rate so far, especially with the extreme bleaching events we have had each summer.

Let us know if your group is interested in assisting our coral monitoring efforts as a part of your MarineLab program!

Posted by: sarahegner | July 9, 2015

Shark Week!

scalloped_hammerhead_sphyrna_lewini_simon_rogerson

Shark week has arrived!  And along with it, plenty of shark buzz with all of the attacks recently along the East coast.  As we all know, Discovery’s Shark Week has become less and less about shark science and more and more about instilling fear in every beach-goer.  Before you let the recent shark attacks and Discovery Channel’s “Return of the Megaladon” make you change your vacation plans, let’s talk some some shark facts.

Fact: Sharks live in the water and have been there far longer than we have. When we enter the water we are entering shark habitat and an encounter is possible.  However, remember that the chances of you getting hurt are more likely during your drive to the beach or while you are sitting under that coconut laden palm tree.  Even digging in the sand is more dangerous…  The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1990 to 2006, 16 people died by digging until the sand collapsed and smothered them. ISAF counted a dozen U.S. shark deaths in the same period. Clearly, you’d be safer in the water, with the sharks.  While “man-eating sharks” may seem like a widespread threat to health and safety, shark attacks are still extremely unusual. You have a one in 11.5 million chance of being attacked by a shark in the United States.

Even with this year’s unusually high number of attacks in the Carolinas, in context, there are more pressing dangers at the beach than sharks. The world saw only three known shark-attack fatalities in 2014. The last fatal shark attack in South Carolina was in 1852.

Fact:  While it may seem like sharks are everywhere, shark populations are actually dwindling.  The human population, however, has increased exponentially over the years and the majority of that population has inhabited coastal areas. With an increase in people and, in turn, an increase in the amount of people entering the water, there will be an inevitable increase in the possibility for shark encounters.  There are more people in the shark’s habitat than ever before.  Even economics play a role. There were 29 unprovoked shark confrontations in 2009, a recession year when many Americans were too busy trying to keep their homes to spend time in the tides. In these somewhat better times, however, more Americans are vacationing at the beach. In 2013, there were 47 attacks, and 52 last year.

A study published in Science in 2003 found that hammerhead populations were declining by an average of 89%; great whites by 79%; tiger sharks by 65%, thresher sharks by 80%, blue sharks by 60%, and mako sharks by 70%.  While it might seem like good news that there are fewer sharks around, it’s actually a very big problem for the rest of us.  In many places, sharks are apex predators, meaning they occupy the spot right at the top of the food chain. If their populations aren’t healthy and stable, it throws all of the other life in the oceans out of balance.

Baum2003

Fact:  A number of ecological factors could be contributing to the apparent rash of attacks recently, such as warmer water and drought conditions, said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

North Carolina had an unseasonably warm June.  Warmer waters have sharks in North Carolina ahead of schedule.  The warm water rapidly raised ocean temperatures off the NC coast and prompted fish to migrate North earlier than usual.   Some studies have also suggested that certain species become agitated above a certain temperature – 27ºC (80ºF) – so it may be that warmer waters are altering their behavior.

Low rainfall along the coast has increased the salinity.  The saltier water is more favorable to both sharks and their prey.

Unfortunately, shark fishing has not been banned in the area, and fishermen put fish guts, or “chum,” into the water to attract the animals, which could be inviting them into areas used by swimmers. It is also sea turtle nesting season so there have been turtles and hatchlings for sharks to feed on.

Ultimately, it could be any or none of these things that have contributed to the attacks, but until the year is over, we don’t even know whether what we are seeing is truly an anomaly. Last year, there were a total of 72 confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks on humans, 52 of which occurred in the U.S. So far this year, the U.S. has experienced 25, and since we’re already in July, we may not exceed last year’s number.

Picture1

At the end of the day, sharks need to be more scared of people than we are of them.  After all, they may have bigger teeth, but we have bigger brains.  Happy Shark Week!!

 

Baum, JK, Myers, RA, Kehler, DG, Worm, B, Harley, SJ and Doherty, PA. (2003) Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science, 299: 389-392.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/opinions/burgess-shark-attacks/

http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/topics/saf_attacks.htm

http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=18597#more-18597

Posted by: sarahegner | June 15, 2015

PLANTAPALOOZA!!!

MarineLab staff celebrated World Oceans Day in style this year by participating in Coral Restoration Foundation’s first annual Plantapalooza.  CRF set the lofty goal of planting 1,000 corals in one day off of the Upper Keys, something CRF has never done before.  The goal was exceeded with 1,600 corals being planted in celebration of Mother Ocean.  In the morning, we went out to the Elbow nursery to prepare staghorn corals for outplanting.  We spent the afternoon underwater- MarineLab staff helped to plant over 400 corals at Grecian Rocks!  It was a long, exhausting day but we were so happy to be a part of an event that helps to restore our reefs and brings so much awareness to the habitat we all love so much.

Worker bees in the coral nursery

Worker bees in the coral nursery

Tagging corals that will be outplanted.

Tagging corals that will be outplanted.

Crates and crates of corals to be taken from the nursery out to the reef to be outplanted.

Crates and crates of corals to be taken from the nursery out to the reef to be outplanted.

Posing with some outplanted coral

Posing with some outplanted coral

Posted by: sarahegner | June 1, 2015

Marine Debris Mania

A past MarineLab instructor with a haul of lines and plastic

A past MarineLab instructor with a haul of lines and plastic

Did you know????

  • Most commonly used plastics NEVER go away!!  They just break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics.
  • Microplastics have now been documented in all five of the ocean’s subtropical gyres – and have even been detected in Arctic sea ice.  Some of the highest accumulations occur thousands of miles from land.
  • Plastics affect wildlife directly when ingested but also affect wildlife indirectly by accumulating pollutants such as PCBs.  PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1979 and internationally since 2001.
  • Microplastics have been found in organisms ranging in size from small invertebrates to large mammals,

If you want to learn more, go to: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/plastic.html

If you are interested in how you can get involved in a marine debris cleanup during your next MarineLab adventure ask us about our Service Learning Programs.

http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/

 

 

Posted by: sarahegner | April 16, 2015

Just another reason to ALWAYS stop to pick up marine debris

It was just another day at sea for Captain Ryan and his trusty mate Chelsea when they were driving students from the reef back to MarineLab.  Someone spotted plastic in the water so Cap’n stopped to retrieve it.  Turns out the plastic they were picking up was part of a NOAA radiosonde.  Once back to the dock, we were all intrigued and immediately got online to figure out what it was that they found.

The radiosonde is a small, expendable instrument package (weighs 100 to 500 grams) that is suspended below a large balloon inflated with hydrogen or helium gas. These “weather balloons” are deployed by NOAA National Weather Service to get data on forecasts, weather and climate change research, input for air pollution models, and ground truthing for satellite data.   As the radiosonde rises at about 1,000 feet/minute, sensors on the radiosonde measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These sensors are linked to a battery powered radio transmitter that sends the sensor measurements to a sensitive ground tracking antenna.

If the radiosonde could talk, oh the places it has been…

  • A typical “weather balloon” sounding can last in excess of two hours, and  the radiosonde can ascend to over 115,000 feet and drift more than 180 miles from the release point.
  • During the flight, the radiosonde is exposed to temperatures as cold as -130oF and an air pressure less than 1 percent of what is found on the Earth’s surface.
  • If the radiosonde enters a strong jet stream it can travel at speeds exceeding 250 mph

When released,  the balloon is about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) in diameter and gradually expands as it rises owing to the decrease in air pressure.  When the balloon reaches a diameter of 6 to 8 meters (20 to 25 feet) in diameter, it bursts.   A small,  orange colored parachute slows the descent of the radiosonde, minimizing the danger to lives and property. 

IMG_0245

Southwest Florida Christian Academy students assisted with the collection of the radiosonde

Ryan, Chelsea and Southwest Florida Christian students retrieved the waterlogged radiosonde (with it’s balloon and parachute) from the water just after seeing some see turtles mating at the surface.  An exciting day and we all get to learn something new.  The science never stops at MarineLab!

 

Posted by: sarahegner | April 8, 2015

MRDF Research Department Lowdown

The research department has been busy the past few weeks.  Whenever we have a lull in student groups (they are far and few between this time of year) MarineLab’s instructors are making the most of them.  Just in the past two weeks we have been cruising Florida Bay collecting water samples to be analyzed by UM researchers for cyanobacteria, collecting and filtering samples from Tarpon Basin for a University of Florida program (with assistance from visiting students), surveying our (3!) seagrass sites in Largo Sound and entering data for Seagrass Watch scientists, and analyzing phytoplankton samples collected by 10 different local community members for a collaborative project with NOAA.  Looking forward to getting out to our mangrove restoration site this Friday to check on the babies.

Days that look like this aren't so bad...  Every other month we head out into Florida Bay to collect water samples at 15 different sites.  The samples are analyzed by University of Miami's Dr. Brand who is specifically looking for cyanobacteria levels.

Days that look like this aren’t so bad… Every other month we head out into Florida Bay to collect water samples at 15 different sites. The samples are analyzed by University of Miami’s Dr. Brand who is specifically looking for cyanobacteria levels.

One of the mangrove babies planted last year that we will measure this week

One of the mangrove babies planted last year that we will measure this week

Cap'n Driver taking us out to seagrass site #2

Cap’n Driver taking us out to seagrass survey site #2

SK looks super excited after an afternoon of seagrass surveys.  (I know Breege is smiling behind that bubble...)

SK looks super excited after an afternoon of seagrass surveys. (I know Breege is smiling behind that bubble…)

Posted by: sarahegner | March 18, 2015

Ghost Fishing…

Does ghost fishing sound like a spooktacular good time?  Watch this and think again!

Ghost fishing is actually a term that describes what happens when derelict fishing gear “continues to fish.”  Derelict fishing gear, sometimes referred to as “ghost gear,” is any discarded, lost, or abandoned, fishing gear in the marine environment. This gear continues to fish and trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life, smother habitat, and act as a hazard to navigation. Derelict fishing gear, such as nets or traps and pots, is one of the main types of debris impacting the marine environment today.

If you have been to MarineLab during stone crab or lobster season, you have probably noticed your captain weaving around the trap buoys (though students often think we are just trying to take them on a crazy roller coaster of a ride).  If not aware, running over and cutting a trap line is easy enough to do.  That trap then becomes a ghost trap.  Anything caught in the trap will  starve to death.  The traps can also harm the sea floor- seagrass, hardbottom, coral reef- as the traps move around.  No sea creature is safe- the marine debris affects dolphins, sea turtles, fish and invertebrates.  As you can imagine, derelict fishing gear is a huge problem in South Florida.

A MarineLab instructor from years past, Casey Boleman Butler, now works for Florida Fish and Wildlife as a lobster biologist and spends much of her time researching the effects of ghost fishing and finding ways to eradicate the problem.  Casey created this video to better explain the issue.

lob 2 lob trap

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