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.

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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

Posted by: sarahegner | March 6, 2015

Staghorn babies 6 months post outplant

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In collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation, MarineLab staff outplanted 300 staghorn corals in August of 2014.  We planted 30 colonies, 10 corals each with 5 different genotypes represented at our site.   You can read about outplanting here.

We went and surveyed the site in Sept 2014, per CRF protocols.  Due to the extreme warm water temperatures in the summer, many of our corals had bleached.  Read about the results here.

The good news is many of our corals have recovered from the bleaching event!  MarineLab staff ventured out to our outplanting site for the 6 month monitoring protocol.  Coral bleaching tends to happen when corals are stressed, often the source of that stress is extreme water temperatures.  While coral bleaching does not necessarily kill the coral automatically, if the coral does survive, these corals are more susceptible to diseases.  We will continue to monitor our corals to help determine survival rate and provide data to determine if some genotypes are more resilient than others.

GENOTYPE K1 CLUSTER 8

Genotype K1 Cluster 8 in September 2014

SEPT 2014

Genotype K1 Cluster 8 Feb 2015

FEB 2015

GENOTYPE K1 CLUSTER C10

Genotype K1 Cluster 10 Sept 2014

SEPT 2014

K1 C10 Feb 2015

FEB 2015

GENOTYPE U52 CLUSTER 4

U52 C4 Sept 2014

SEPT 2014

U52 C4 Feb 2015

FEB 2015

GENOTYPE U52 CLUSTER 8

U52 C8 Sep 2014

SEPT 2014

U52 C8 Feb 2015

FEB 2015

Posted by: sarahegner | February 12, 2015

Yet another reason to love (and restore!) our mangroves…

mangrove coral blog

A recent study on reef-building corals growing on mangrove roots in St John, USVI, is giving us yet another reason to conserve and restore mangrove habitats.

We already know mangroves are important to coral reefs (if YOU don’t know why, you better read the Alert Diver article written by MRDF’s Director of Research, Sarah Egner: http://www.alertdiver.com/MangrovesAndSeagrass)

But now, the mangrove habitat could be coral’s saving grace in the climate change effects that some scientists are considering inevitable.  Risk analyses indicate that more than 90% of the world’s reefs will be threatened by climate change and local anthropogenic impacts by the year 2030. Increasing temperatures and solar radiation cause coral bleaching and increasing CO2 levels reduces seawater pH (ocean acidification), slowing coral growth and impacting the integrity of the reef structure.

Amongst the mangroves of Hurricane Hole in St. John, USVI, researchers found more than 30 coral species.  The older corals survived recent bleaching events that killed corals at nearby reefs, perhaps due to protection from the mangroves in the shade they provide.  The corals found in the mangrove habitat may have also evolved to be more resistant to bleaching.  Previous studies have shown that corals that become accustomed to environmental fluctuations, as is common in a mangrove habitat, have a higher survival rate in extreme heat.  Perhaps these more resilient corals will be able to recolonize reefs in the future?

Just when I thought I couldn’t love mangroves any more…

Yates, K. K., Rogers, C. S., Herlan, J. J., Brooks, G. R., Smiley, N. A., and Larson, R. A.: Diverse coral communities in mangrove habitats suggest a novel refuge from climate change, Biogeosciences, 11, 4321-4337, doi:10.5194/bg-11-4321-2014, 2014.

Posted by: sarahegner | February 4, 2015

Coral Restoration

MarineLab has had a partnership with the Coral Restoration for many years.  We have sponsored restoration sites, created our own restoration sites, worked on an ongoing research project at a Molasses Reef restoration site and have logged hours underwater with coral transplant maintenance and monitoring.  Recently, we are excited to assist CRF with maintenance of their nursery near Elbow Reef.  It is an awesome opportunity for staff to get underwater, use their skills and get their hands “dirty.”  The following are some photos from yesterdays dive at the nursery.  MarineLab staff spent their dives scrubbing the “trees” to allow the coral babies to grow without the algal competition.

 

IMG_1832 IMG_1833 IMG_1834 IMG_1835 IMG_1836 IMG_1838 IMG_1839 IMG_1840 IMG_1842 IMG_1843 IMG_1845

 

 

Posted by: sarahegner | January 30, 2015

Winter Fun at MarineLab

When MarineLab staff have off time from molding visiting students to become our future’s scientists, they are conducting valuable research on the habitats they teach about.  The winter months are especially busy for the Research Department.

Mangrove Restoration.  Growth and % survival fata are collected quarterly.

Mangrove Restoration. Growth and % survival data are collected quarterly.

Lizzie conducting one of our MANY seagrass surveys.  Now that we have three sites established, our quarterly seagrass surveys can be time consuming (especially in the COLD water!)

Brittany conducting one of our MANY seagrass surveys. Now that we have three sites established, our quarterly seagrass surveys can be time consuming (especially in the COLD water!)

Water quality samples have to be collected, filtered and prepared for pickup by Florida State researchers every month.

Water quality samples have to be collected, filtered and prepared for pickup by Florida State researchers every month.

Ryan is getting ready to head out into the Bay next week to collect water samples for cyanobacteria analysis by U of Miami researchers.

Ryan is getting ready to head out into the Bay next week to collect water samples for cyanobacteria analysis by U of Miami researchers.

Phytoplankton samples are normally analyzed bimonthly.  Now that we have a huge team of Key Largo locals collecting samples for us every month, it is all hands on deck to go through the samples.  If specific target species are found, samples are preserved,packaged and shipped to NOAA.

Phytoplankton samples are normally analyzed bimonthly. Now that we have a huge team of Key Largo locals collecting samples for us every month, it is all hands on deck to go through the samples. If specific target species are found, samples are preserved,packaged and shipped to NOAA.

Next week,staff will be heading out to one of the Coral Restoration Foundation's coral nurseries to assist with maintenance.

Next week,staff will be heading out to one of the Coral Restoration Foundation’s coral nurseries to assist with maintenance.

 

 

 

 

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