Panhandle Outdoors

Horseshoe Crabs; the Ancient Mariner

Horseshoe Crabs; the Ancient Mariner

Growing up in the Pensacola area, I do not remember seeing many horseshoe crabs around here, but I do remember them.  What I actually remember was how common they were further east in the Panama City and St. Joe area.  These animals are big fans of grass beds, as are sea urchins and scallops, and all are uncommon in our area now. However, there have been local sightings in recent years, so they may be returning.

Horseshoe crabs breeding on the beach.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Horseshoe crabs are actually not crabs at all but members of a group of arthropods called chelicerates, which include spiders, mites, and scorpions.  They differ from crabs in the absence of antenna, in which the crabs have two pairs. Their “horseshoe” shaped body is a body design to plow through the sand and mud searching for food.  They are scavengers and feed on mollusk, worms, and other invertebrates – even algae at times.  They do not have the large claws that blue crabs have, so they grab small bits of food where they can.  Horseshoe crabs do possess a crop and gizzard and have tooth-like structures within the gizzard to grind their food.  When digesting, the flesh is swallowed and the shell is regurgitated.  The large spine near at the end of their bodies makes them appear similar to stingrays, which they are often confused, but the spine is actually a telson and non venomous.  It is used to right itself when flipped and to push themselves in a forward direction.

 

They like shallow water and grassbeds are prime habitat for them. Breeding season is in the spring and early summer.  During the full and new moons, both the large females and smaller males approach sandy beaches in protected areas of the bay.  During the evening, they will begin to emerge into the intertidal zone where the female digs a depression and lays her eggs.  The males, usually riding her back attached by a special hook, will then fertilized the eggs before they are buried.  There may be more than one male trying to court the female (known as satellite males) and the numbers of horseshoe crabs on the beaches can be amazing.

 

Shorebirds, fish, and crabs will feed on the eggs and the young. Sea turtles are known to consume adults.  Being members of the phylum Arthropoda, they will have to molt their exoskeletons as they grow.  Many people will find these thin, tan-colored, molts along the shoreline.

 

There is a fishery for them in some parts of the southeast. They are collected for their blood, which is used in many medical processes needed for surgery and injections, and as bait for eels.  The decline of these animals has been problematic for some species of migratory birds, who feed on their eggs during their migration.  The horseshoe crab is also one of those rare animals that have been around longer than the dinosaurs.  It would be sad to lose this animal on “our watch”.  FWC is interested in where they are nesting.  If you are out walking the beaches of the Florida Panhandle and encounter one of them, please contact the Sea Grant Agent at your county extension office; we are particularly interested in where they may be nesting.  FWC has a website where sightings can be logged, http://www.myfwc.com/research/saltwater/crustaceans/horseshoe-crabs/documenting-beaches/.

 

The full and new moon cycles for spring and summer (2017) are:

 

Full Moon                                                                   New Moon

Apr 10                                                                         Apr 26

May 10                                                                        May 25

Jun 9                                                                            Jun 23

Jul 8                                                                            Jul 23

 

They could nest a few days before or after. We hope you get to see one, they are pretty cool!

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/15/horseshoe-crabs-the-ancient-mariner/

Respecting the Rip

Respecting the Rip

It was disheartening to read that even with double red flags flying, 22 people had to be recused from the Gulf near Destin, FL recently, and one person lost their life.  In that spirit, I believe it is important to review information on the importance of respecting our sometimes-unforgiving gulf.

 

First of all, stay calm.

Photo By: Laura Tiu

 

Swimmers getting caught in rip currents make up the majority of lifeguard rescues. These tips from Florida Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS) can help you know what to do if you encounter a rip current.

 

What Are Rip Currents?

Rip currents are formed when water flows away from the shore in a channeled current. They may form in a break in a sandbar near the shore, or where the current is diverted by a pier or jetty.

From the shore, you can look for these clues in the water:

  • A channel of choppy water.
  • A difference in water color.
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving out to sea.
  • A break in incoming wave patterns.

If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic! Stay calm and do not fight the current. Escape the current by swimming across it–parallel to shore–until you are out of the current. When you get out of it, swim back to the shore at an angle away from the current. If you can’t break out of the current, float or tread water until the current weakens. Then swim back to shore at an angle away from the rip current. Rip currents are powerful enough to pull even experienced swimmers away from the shore. Do not try to swim straight back to the shore against the current.

Tips for Swimming Safely

You can swim safely this summer by keeping in mind some simple rules. Many people have harmed themselves trying to rescue rip current victims, so follow these steps to help someone stuck in a rip current.  Get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions to the swimmer from the shore and call 9-1-1. If you are a swimmer caught in a rip current and need help, draw attention to yourself–face the shore and call or wave for help.

Photo by: Laura Tiu

 

How Do I Escape a Rip Current?

  • Rip currents pull people away from shore, not under the water. Rip currents are not “undertows” or “rip tides.”
  • Do not overestimate your swimming abilities. Be cautious at all times.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Swim near a lifeguard for maximum safety.
  • Obey all instructions and warnings from lifeguards and signs.
  • If in doubt, don’t go out!

 

Adapted and excerpted from:  “Rip Currents”  Florida Sea Grant

The Foundation for the Gator Nation, An Equal Opportunity Institution.

 

 

 

 

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Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Laura Tiu

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/14/respecting-the-rip/

A Florida Native; Tape Grass

A Florida Native; Tape Grass

Article by Gadsden County Extension Agent

DJ Zadarreyal

 

Vallisneria americana, also known as tape grass or eel grass, is a common native aquatic weed in the state of Florida. Tape grass has tall, grass-like leaves that are a light green in coloration and rise vertically from the crown to the top of the water. Once the leaves reach the top of the water, they casually float along the surface.

Common tape grass Vallisneria americana.
Photo: UF IFAS

The technique of propagation is by runners. These runners grow out from the crown along the sand and new plants arise from the end of them. There are separate male and female plants, although they grow on the same plant. The female flowers are on lengthy stems, which reach to the surface. However, the male flowers are loosely attached at the base of the leaves. When released, the male flowers float to the surface where they move alongside the female flowers to fertilize them.

 

A good way to distinguish tape grass from other weeds is to observe the leaves and the tips. Tape grass have round leaf tips while many other weeds have pointed leaf tips. In addition, tape grass is a submerged weed that possesses long, ribbon like leaves.

 

There are several uses for tape grass. Restoration of the pond floor is a useful purpose. One of the benefits of tape grass is that they are great oxygenators. Tape grass is also a common home based aquarium plant. They provide an eye-catching scene that fish and humans enjoy.

 

 

Source:

Guide of Tropical Fish, Everything You Need to Know About Tropical Fish

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Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/14/a-florida-native-tape-grass/

Sea Grant Publications on the Impacts of the BP Oil Spill

Sea Grant Publications on the Impacts of the BP Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was one of the worst natural disasters in our country’s history.
Photo: Gulf Sea Grant

 

We are pleased to announce the release of a pair of new bulletins outlining how the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacted the popular marine animals dolphins and sea turtles. To read these and other oil spill science publications, go to http://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/publications/

 

The Deepwater Horizon’s impact on bottlenose dolphins – In 2010, scientists documented a markedly increased number of stranded dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Was oil exposure to blame? Could other factors have been in play? Read the answers to these questions here: http://masgc.org/oilscience/oil-spill-science-dolphins.pdf.

 

Sea turtles and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – This publication reviews the estimated damage oil exposure caused to sea turtles and discusses continued research and monitoring efforts for these already endangered and threatened species. Click here to read this bulletin: http://masgc.org/oilscience/oil-spill-science-sea-turtles.pdf.

 

Also –

 

“Sea turtles and oil spills” presentations – On March 23 in Brownsville, Texas, more than 100 participants gathered in person and online to listen to scientists, responders, and sea turtle specialists explain what we know about how these creatures fared in 2010 and detail ongoing conservation programs. Watch videos of the presentations here: http://gulfseagrant.org/sea-turtles-oil-spills/.

 

Our oil spill science outreach team hopes you will find these resources useful! J

 

 

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Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/14/sea-grant-publications-on-the-impacts-of-the-bp-oil-spill/

The Florida Master Naturalist Program Training Local AmeriCorps Volunteers

The Florida Master Naturalist Program Training Local AmeriCorps Volunteers

By: Laura Tiu and Sheila Dunning

 

For the second year in a row, University of Florida Extension Agents Sheila Dunning (horticulture) and Laura Tiu (marine science) taught a Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) Coastal Module to a newly recruited AmeriCorps group in Okaloosa and Walton counties. The AmeriCorps members have been recruited to work with local the non-profit Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance during the 2016-17 school year teaching Grasses in Classes and Dunes and Schools at the local elementary schools.

AmeriCorp volunteers learning about coastal environments by attending the Florida Master Naturalist class.
Photo: Laura Tiu

As part of the training, FMNP students participated in an aquatic species collection training to enable them to collect species for touch tanks used throughout the school year. At the training, we met two Fort Walton Beach High School science teachers. Teachers Marcia Holman and Ashley Daniels (an AmeriCorps 2013 member herself) were surprised to see two former students in our AmeriCorps 2016 FMNP class; Dylan and Kaitlyn.  Dylan, they reported, was a student that many teachers worried about during his freshman year.  However, he just blossomed because of his involvement in the marine classes and environmental ecology club.  They were most proud of his leadership designing and implementing a no-balloon graduation ceremony.  This prevented the release of potentially harmful balloons into our coastal waterways where they pose a hazard to marine life.

 

The teachers were so happy to see both students had joined AmeriCorps and were receiving FMNP training. They realized that they were making a difference in the lives of their students and the students they had trained were working to preserve and protect the environment in their communities.  When asked if they had any other students that we need to be prepared for Holman replied, “It’s hard to tell at this point in the year if we have any rising marine science stars, but we did have 20 kids show up for the first meeting of the ecology kids club.”  We can’t wait to meet them.

PG

Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Laura Tiu

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/31/the-florida-master-naturalist-program-training-local-americorps-volunteers/

Local Bluebirds Have Started Nesting

Local Bluebirds Have Started Nesting

Bluebirds are very energetic birds. If you enjoy watching wildlife in your yard, now is a fantastic time to put up a few bluebird houses. You might gain hours of entertainment watching all the hard work these small birds put into gathering materials to build nests and gather food to feed their chicks.

In the Panhandle, bluebirds begin in March to create their first nests of the year. They carefully weave a basket of pine needles and twigs, and line it with fine grasses. Photo by Holly Ober.

March is when bluebird nest-building begins in the Panhandle. Believe it or not, these enterprising birds are likely to continue building nest after nest from now through July or even August!

The reason we can observe bluebirds more closely than many other birds is because they prefer to nest in cavities situated in open, sunny locations. These birds readily use nest boxes because natural cavities in clearings are quite scarce.

If you’re considering putting up a nest box to attract bluebirds, be aware that these birds are rather fussy when it comes to selecting nest boxes. They prefer structures that are approximately 4”x4”x9” or 5”x5”x9”. These structures could be rectangular, cylindrical, or wedge-shaped. It’s best if the entrance hole is 1.5” in diameter, and located about 5” above the floor of the box. Each house should be mounted on a pole 4-8’ above the ground.

We have been conducting an experiment the past few years to determine which of three common nest box designs local bluebirds prefer. The three types of houses we tested were:

  • traditional wooden rectangular house (4”x4”x9”)
  • Gilbertson (cylindrical houses made of a PVC tube with a wooden floor and roof)
  • Peterson (wedge-shaped houses made of wood and covered in metal, with a sloping floor and roof).

We tested bluebird preferences for 3 types of houses: the traditional rectangular wooden house (left), the Gilbertson (cylindrical house of PVC, center), and Peterson (wooden wedge-shaped, right).

We put up 18 houses during the summer of 2013 and have been keeping track of the number of nest attempts, eggs laid, and chicks fledged ever since. The ambitious birds using these 18 houses have fledged 124 chicks during the past three years! The standard rectangular wooden houses have performed best, with bluebirds laying an average of 8.3 eggs per house per year, and fledging 4.3 chicks per house per year. The other two house types performed similarly, with bluebirds laying an average of 4.3 eggs per house per year in each. An average of 2.4 chicks fledged from each of the Gilbertson houses each year, whereas 1.8 chicks fledged from each of the Peterson houses each year.

Regardless of which type of house you choose to put up for bluebirds, be sure to place the houses at least 100 yards apart. These birds are very territorial and will not allow other bluebirds to nest nearby.

PG

Author: hollyober – holly.ober@ufl.edu

hollyober

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/18/local-bluebirds-have-started-nesting/

Beavers – Engineering Marvel or Farmer’s Frustration

Beavers – Engineering Marvel or Farmer’s Frustration

Beaver lodge, Calhoun County Florida. Photo by Judy Biss

Even though the “work” beavers do can sometimes cause frustration to land owners, they are truly amazing creatures.  A number of questions have come into the Extension Office lately about managing beavers, so it is a good time to discuss a little about the history and biology of these unique animals, as well as the management options available for land owners.

Beavers in the American Landscape

Hundreds of millions of beaver once occupied the North American continent until the 1900s, when the majority had been trapped out in the eastern United States for the fur trade (Baker, B.W., and E.P. Hill. 2003. Beaver (Castor canadensis)).  “Growing public concern over declines in beaver and other wildlife populations eventually led to regulations that controlled harvest through seasons and methods of take, initiating a continent-wide recovery of beaver populations.” (Baker, B.W., and E.P. Hill. 2003. Beaver (Castor canadensis)).  In its current range, the beaver “thrives throughout the Florida Panhandle and upper peninsula in streams, rivers, swamps or lakes that have an ample supply of trees.”  (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Aquatic Mammals, Beaver: Castor canadensis).

Adaptations

Beavers are the largest rodent in North America.  In Florida, they commonly weigh between 30 – 50 pounds.  Beavers are considered an aquatic mammal, having adaptations such as a streamlined shape, insulating fur, ears and nostrils that close while underwater, clear membranes that cover their eyes while underwater, large webbed feet, and a broad flat rudder-like tail that aid in swimming.  They can remain underwater for 15 minutes at a time!  Their tree-cutting, bark-peeling front teeth grow continuously, and as a result, are continuously sharpened as they grind against the lower teeth.  (Baker, B.W., and E.P. Hill. 2003. Beaver (Castor canadensis), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Aquatic Mammals, Beaver: Castor canadensis).

Habitat and Behaviors

Beavers typically mate for life and live in family groups consisting of the adult male and female, and one or two generations of young kits before they are old enough to disperse on their own.  They are primarily nocturnal, being active from dusk to dawn.  Beavers eat not only tree bark, leaves, stems, buds, and fruits, but  herbaceous plants as well.  Their diet is broad and can consist of aquatic plants, such as cattails and water lilies, shrubs, willow, grasses, acorns, tree sap, and sometimes even cultivated row crops.  (Baker, B.W., and E.P. Hill. 2003. Beaver (Castor canadensis)).

Top of beaver dam in Calhoun County FL. Water level difference is nearly 3 feet. Photo by Judy Biss

Dam and Lodge Construction

The sound of moving water triggers beavers to build, repair, or maintain their dams.  (Baker, B.W., and E.P. Hill. 2003. Beaver (Castor canadensis)).  The two main structures they build are the water-slowing dam and their living quarters or lodge.  The lodge is separate from the dam and is oftentimes located in the stream or pond bank.  “The ponds created by dams also provide beavers with deep water where they can find protection from predators — entrances to dens or lodges are usually underwater.  Some beavers in Florida do not build the massive stick lodges associated with northern colonies.  Instead, they are more likely to live in deep dens in stream banks…” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Aquatic Mammals, Beaver: Castor canadensis).

Pear tree felled by beaver in Calhoun County FL. Photo by Judy Biss

Impacts

Beavers are called “nature’s engineers” for good reason.  Their tree cutting and building behaviors certainly alter surrounding landscapes.  Outside of any connection to human civilization, their activities tend to increase diversity and habitat options for both plants and animals.  Many scientists have examined the intricate biological and ecological effects beavers have on surrounding landscapes.  Their activities in our backyard, however, do not always result in positive outcomes.  Often, beavers are triggered to build dams in running water through road culverts causing significant impacts to road drainage, and surrounding flood management.  Their construction of dams along creeks can flood farm fields and woodlands.  Their feeding and tree cutting can kill desired trees in nearby timberland and orchards.

Management Options for Land Owners

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) publication, “Living with Beavers” provides excellent advice, along with a summary of the regulations regarding this native wildlife species.  As per this document, “The beaver is a native species with a year-round hunting and trapping season in Florida.”  Beaver hunting and trapping regulations can be found on the FWC Furbearer Hunting and Trapping website.  A beaver can be taken as a nuisance animal, if it causes or is about to cause property damage, presents a threat to public safety, or causes an annoyance in, under, or upon a building, per Florida Rule 68A-9.010.”  Other recommendations from this FWC publication are:

  • “Beaver dam removal provides immediate relief from flooding and can be the simplest and cheapest way of dealing with a beaver problem. However, beavers often quickly rebuild a dam as soon as it is damaged. “
  • “When removing a dam is infeasible or unsuccessful, installing a water level control structure through the dam can allow for the control of water flow without removing the dam. This technique also reduces the likelihood of the beaver continuously blocking water flow. For technical assistance, contact a wildlife assistance biologist at a regional FWC office near you.”
  • “If a beaver dam is blocking a culvert or similar structure, installing a barrier several feet away from the culvert can be the most effective solution. This prevents the beavers from accessing the culvert to dam it. Please contact a wildlife assistance biologist at a regional FWC office near you for technical assistance.”
  • “Protect valuable trees and vegetation from beaver damage by installing a fence around them or wrapping tree trunks loosely with 3-5 feet of hardware cloth or multiple wraps of chicken wire. This prevents the beavers from chewing on the trees and other plants.”
  • “Lethal control should be considered a last resort.”

FWC also points the reader to this publication from Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, Department of Aquaculture, Fisheries and Wildlife, “The Clemson Beaver Pond Leveler.”  This publication provides diagrams and a list of materials needed to construct a device which is designed to “minimize the probability that current flow can be detected by beavers, therefore minimizing dam construction.”

All questions regarding beaver management should be directed to your local FWC Regional Office.  Land owners can also request a list of Nuisance Wildlife Trappers available in their area:

FWC Northwest Region Office
3911 Highway 2321
Panama City, FL 32409-1659
(850) 265-3676

 Links to the references used for this article:

 

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Author: Judy Biss – judy.biss@ufl.edu

Judy Biss is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent in Calhoun County, Florida

Judy Biss

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/18/beavers-engineering-marvel-or-farmers-frustration/

Miniature Plants with Sizeable Character

Water meal, the world’s smallest flowering plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Some of the world’s smallest flowering plants grow in aquatic environments.  And a number of these tiny aquatic plants grow natively right here in Florida!  Aquatic plants of all kinds display an amazing array of adaptations for growing in water.  They can tolerate drought, flood, flowing water, stagnant water, cold spring runs, and warm brackish marshes.  They grow in sun and shade and nutrient rich to nutrient poor waters.  Some of their adaptations include the ways in which they grow such as being rooted in bottom sediments, submerged, emerged, leaves floating on the surface, or completely free floating with their roots dangling into the water below.

The tiniest of aquatic plants are in this group of free floating plants.  Let’s take a look at five of these tiny (less than ½ inch wide) plant species in Florida.  They are most noticeable in slow moving waters, ponds, or coves protected from wind where many thousands of them form floating mats almost like paint on the water surface. Even though individual plants are small, some of these plant species are used by wildlife and invertebrates for food and cover.  Oftentimes, especially in small ponds, these tiny floating plants can cover the entire water surface resulting in the need for management, especially if the ponds are used for irrigation or livestock watering.

In this article we will look at the native species, but as you are probably aware, there are also non-native representatives of these tiny plants established in our waters, but that is a story for another time…

The images and text below are from the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Species website, list of Plants Sorted by Common Name.

Watermeal
“Water meal, native to Florida, is a tiny, floating, rootless plant. At 1 to 1.5 mm long, it is the smallest flowering plant on earth. It is occasionally found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs of the peninsula and central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003).”

Water meal has a grainy feel and can be used as one clue in identifying this plant.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


American Waterfern

“There are six species of Azolla in the world. American waterfern is the species commonly found in Florida. American waterfern is a small, free-floating fern, about one-half inch in size. It is most often found in still or sluggish waters. Young plants are, at first, a bright or grey-green. Azolla plants often turn red in color. American waterfern can quickly form large, floating mats.”

A large area of waterfern showing the reddish coloration. Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

Close up of individual water fern plants.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


Giant Duckweed

“Giant duckweed is a native floating plant in Florida. Though very small, it is the largest of the duckweeds…..frequently found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs from the peninsula west to the central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003)…  Giant duckweed has two to three rounded leaves, which are usually connected. Giant duckweeds usually have several roots (up to nine) hanging beneath each leaf. The underleaf surface of giant duckweed is dark red.”

Close up of individual duckweed plants showing roots hanging freely below the plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

A typical scene of duckweed in a quiet cove or pond.  Photo by Ann Murray, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


Small Duckweed

“Small duckweeds are floating plants. They are commonly found in still or sluggish waters. They often form large floating mats…. Small duckweeds are tiny (1/16 to 1/8 inch) green plants with shoe-shaped leaves. Each plant has two to several leaves joined at the base. A single root hangs beneath.”

This is small duckweed, note the single root below each plant.  Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


Mudmidget

“Mud-midget, native to Florida, is another small duckweed, but this one has narrow, elongated fronds. The fronds are usually connected to form starlike colonies. The fronds are 5-10 mm long; the flowers are extremely small and difficult to see.  Mud-midget plants float just beneath the surface of the water and is frequently found growing in rivers, ponds, lakes, and sloughs from the peninsula west to the central panhandle of Florida (Wunderlin, 2003)….”

Mudmidget, Photo by Vic Ramey, University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.

If you have any questions about aquatic plant identification or management options, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension County office.  And, for more information on Florida’s aquatic plants, please see the following resources used for this article:

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Species

Plants Sorted by Common Name

USDA Forest Service – Duckweed

USDA Forest Service – Water Fern

Native Aquatic and Wetland Plant Fact Sheets 

Aquatic Plant Identification List with Pictures and Videos

 

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Author: Judy Biss – judy.biss@ufl.edu

Judy Biss is the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent in Calhoun County, Florida

Judy Biss

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/17/miniature-plants-with-sizeable-character/

Slow the flow: Why should we care about stormwater runoff?

Slow the flow: Why should we care about stormwater runoff?

Stormwater runoff is water from rainfall that flows along the land surface. This runoff usually finds its way into the nearest ditch or water body, such as a river, stream, lake or pond. Generally speaking, in natural undeveloped areas only 10% of rainfall is runoff. About 40% returns to the atmosphere though evapotranspiration, which is the water evaporated from land and plant surfaces plus water lost directly from plants to the atmosphere through their leaves. The remaining 50% of rainfall soaks into the ground, supporting vegetation, contributing to streamflow and replenishing groundwater resources. In Florida, where 90% of the population relies on groundwater for their drinking water, aquifer recharge from infiltrating rainwater is vital.

Stormwater runoff from a drainage pipe flowing into a creek.
Photo: Andrea Albertin

As landscapes become more developed, areas that use to absorb rainwater are replaced by impervious surfaces like rooftops, driveways, parking lots and roads. Additionally, we are levelling our land, removing natural depressions in the landscape that trap rainwater and give it time to seep back into the ground. As a result, a higher percentage of rainfall is becoming runoff and which flow at faster rates into storm drainages and nearby water bodies instead of soaking into the soil.

 

A major problem with stormwater runoff is that as it flows over surfaces, it picks up potential pollutants that end up in our waterways. These include trash, sediment, fertilizer and pesticides from lawns, bacteria from dog waste, metals from rooftops, and oil from parking lots and roads. Stormwater runoff is often the main cause of surface water pollution in urban areas.

 

Luckily, there are ways in which we can all help slow the flow and reduce stormwater runoff. These reductions can give rainfall more time to soak back into the ground and replenish our needed stores of groundwater.

 

What can you do to help “slow the flow” of stormwater?

 

The UF/IFAS Florida Friendly Landscaping Program provides the following recommendations that you, as a homeowner, can do to reduce stormwater runoff from your property:

  • Direct your downspouts and gutters to drain onto the lawn, plant beds, or containment areas, so that rain soaks into the soil instead of running off the yard.
  • Use mulch, bricks, flagstone, gravel, or other porous surfaces for walkways, patios, and drives.
  • Reduce soil erosion by planting groundcovers on exposed soil such as under trees or on steep slopes
  • Collect and store runoff from your roof in a rain barrel or cistern.
  • Create swales (low areas), rain gardens or terracing on your property to catch, hold, and filter stormwater.
  • Pick up after your pets.
  • Clean up oil spills and leaks on the driveway. Instead of using soap and water, spread cat litter over oil, sweep it up and then throw away in the trash.
  • Sweep grass clippings, fertilizer, and soil from driveways and streets back onto the lawn. Remove trash from street gutters before it washes into storm drains. The City of Tallahassee’s TAPP (Think About Personal Pollution) Campaign is another excellent resource for ways in which you can help reduce stormwater runoff (http://www.tappwater.org/).
  • For more information on stormwater management on your property and other Florida Friendly Landscaping principles, you can visit the Florida Friendly Landscaping website at: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.

TAPP also provides a manual for homeowners on how to build a raingarden, which can be found at http://tappwaterapp.com/what-can-i-do/build-a-rain-garden/. Raingardens are small depressions (either naturally occurring or created) that are planted with native plants. They are designed to temporarily catch rainwater, giving it time to slowly soak back into the ground.

Grass covered drainage ditches slow the flow of stormwater runoff and allow more rainwater to soak back into the ground.
Photo: Andrea Albertin

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Author: albertin – albertin@ufl.edu

albertin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/11/slow-the-flow-why-should-we-care-about-stormwater-runoff/

Aquaponics: A Growing Hobby

Aquaponics: A Growing Hobby

There has been an increasing demand by clientele for information and training on small-scale food production methods to meet the growing demand for locally produced food and for personal consumption. One of the University of Florida Extension’s high-priority initiatives is “increasing the sustainability, profitability, and competitiveness of agricultural and horticultural enterprises.” One food production method currently being investigated is aquaponics.

Koi are a popular fish species used in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu

Aquaponics is a technique for sustainable food production that utilizes the combination of aquaculture with hydroponics to grow fish and vegetables without soil. The process begins with fish producing waste, which is then pumped through a bio-filter to convert into fertilizer for the plants. Plants use nutrients from that water, and the freshly oxygenated water is returned to the fish tank. By recirculating the water from the fish tank to the grow bed, the need for water is greatly reduced compared to traditional irrigation. Additionally, producing crops aquaponically can reduce leaching, runoff, and water discharges to the environment by reusing nutrient effluent from aquaculture and hydroponic systems.

For new growers, being able to have access to training and to see a demonstration unit can eliminate many of the pitfalls typically encountered. A small aquaponics system, using local-sourced materials, is being constructed at the Walton County Extension office in DeFuniak Springs, FL.  This system will demonstrate the technology and capability of small-scale aquaponics. The system is expected to be operational in April 2017. Working together, the Sea Grant, Horticulture, and Agriculture agents will be able to share construction and operation information with interested clients.  Data will be collected from the system in order to give clientele real-world expectations of the operating costs and production potential from the system.  Information will be shared in face-to-face interactions, at workshops, via webinar and in published articles.  The goal is to see an increase in the number of aquaponics operations in the Panhandle of Florida contributing to an increase in availability of locally and sustainably produced food.

If you would like to see the system or learn more about aquaponics by subscribing to our Aquaponics list serve, please email Laura Tiu, lgtiu@ufl.edu.

Greens tend to do very well in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu

A panhandle favorite, tomatoes can be grown using aquaponics.
Photo: Laura Tiu

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Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Laura Tiu

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/03/11/aquaponics-a-growing-hobby/

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