Panhandle Outdoors

The Summer of Sharks

The Summer of Sharks

I am calling this “Summer of Sharks” as if this summer is more of a problem than others are. In fact, it is not… no more, so than any other summer –so we could call any summer the “summer of sharks”.

 

“Shark Fever” is more correlated with when and how the press covers the topic. During summer, more people see sharks near shore – and this is unnerving.  So are there more sharks? Are there more attacks? Do the unusually warm winter and Gulf waters cause the increase?

Pregnant Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) cruses sandy seafloor. Credit Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

Let us start with the first question – are there more sharks in the Gulf than there used to be?

Though most of the papers I reviewed were published over 10 years ago – they suggest several species of sharks have actually been on the decline due to incidental catch in long line operations. This reduction due to by-catch suggest a need for population management.  According to the NOAA Fisheries site, the quota for commercial sharks in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico for 2016 was 127.8 metric tons (amount varied by species).  The actually percent of the quota landed was around 70%.  In the Western Gulf during 2016, 350.4 metric tons were allowed and between 49 – 141% of the quota (depending on species) was logged by March of 2016; at which time those federal waters were closed to shark fishing.  So far, in 2017 the Western Gulf is again closed due to quota already taken while the Eastern Gulf has reached between 30-40% of the quota.

These data suggest that the fishermen in the Western Gulf are either dealing with a lot of sharks and making the quota quickly or there is heavy fishing pressure on this population.

 

So why more coastal encounters?

Discussing the recent increase in contact between anglers and mako sharks near Pensacola, Dr. Wayne Bennett (University of West Florida) believes this is due to more divers/fishermen in the environment and thus more encounters; and not more makos interested in inshore waters. In other words, they have always been here – there are just more of us in the environment, and thus more of us seeing them.  With Go-pros and cell phones, these encounters are moving through social media and more of us are aware of these encounters.  Dr. George Burgess (University of Florida) has a similar comment about recent white shark encounters along the Gulf coast.

 

Are there more attacks?

To answer this – we review the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

According to the ISAF data – 2016 was “average”. 84 unprovoked shark attacks occurred worldwide in 2016; compared to the annual mean of 82. 2015 however was a busy year with 94 unprovoked attacks logged.  ISAF goes on to state there is a correlation between the time humans spend in the sea and the number of attacks that occur.  They go on to state that if shark populations remain the same or increase; you might expect an increase in attacks.  However, if the populations were low or declining, you would expect a decrease in attacks.

ISAF has unprovoked shark attack data going back to 1580. During that time, the United States and Australia account for 67% of all attacks – but these are two nations where the citizens really love water sports.  The U.S. alone accounts for 46% of all attacks.  Within the U.S., Florida accounts for 58% of all shark attacks, followed by Hawaii, California, and the Carolina’s – all states where water sports are very popular.

Just because we are interested – in Florida, 54% of the attacks have occurred in Volusia (Daytona) and Brevard counties – both very popular with the surfing public. Along the Florida Panhandle, we have Bay County (Panama City Beach) with 9 attacks, Escambia (Pensacola Beach) with 6, Okaloosa (Destin) with 3, Gulf (Port St. Joe) and Franklin (St. George Island) both with 2, and finally Walton (Seaside), and Santa Rosa (Navarre) both with 1 attack each.  This is a total of 24 attacks that equates to 3% of the total number of attacks in the state of Florida since 1580.

White Shark (Carcharhinus carcharias). Credit: Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

So what does all of this mean?

  • There is concern about the decline of some shark populations due to either commercial catch or commercial by-catch. NOAA is trying to manage this.
  • More people are encountering sharks, but this in not believed to be due to more sharks in the water – actually, because there are more people in the water.
  • Shark attacks are rare, and in the panhandle – very rare.

 

Therefore, the sharks are here and it is fair to say that if tourism in the Panhandle continues to increase the number of human-shark encounters will as well. It will continue to be “the summer of sharks”.

 

 

Resources:

 

Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico: Facts

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2012/03/12/sharks-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-the-facts

Shifting baselines and the decline of pelagic sharks in the Gulf of Mexico

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2003.00564.x/full

Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishery Landings and Retention Limit Update from January 1 – December 31, 2016

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/news/news_list/2017/1/shk_landings_update_011717.html.

ISAF 2016 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/fish/isaf/worldwide-summary/

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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/2017/07/12/the-summer-of-sharks/

Our Panhandle Springs Provide a Magical Experience

Our Panhandle Springs Provide a Magical Experience

Imagine yourself as an early settler, migrating with your family into the area known as La Florida, with the hope of staking a claim and building a new life. You’ve heard stories of horrendous mosquitos, fierce native peoples, deadly snakes, and giant alligators. Regardless, the promise of abundant fish and wildlife, a year-round growing climate and a chance to start anew, override any doubts you might have and you pack your wagon, hitch up your mules and head south with great anticipation.

Florida’s springs are world famous. They attracted native Americans and settlers; as well as tourists and locals today.
Photo: Erik Lovestrand

Well, the mosquitos have been horrendous, one of your mules was bitten by a rattlesnake but survived, and one of your hounds was taken by an alligator at a river crossing. You are in your second month of travel and you’ve come into a strange area of forest that stretches for miles in all directions. Deep, white sands clutch at your wagon wheels and make tough going for the mules. The land is forested by tall majestic pines and the terrain is gently rolling with an open view across a landscape dominated by wiry grasses and other low growing herbaceous plants. The buzzing sound of insects in the trees makes it seem even hotter for some reason and everyone is tired and thirsty as you spy a dark line of hardwood trees just down-slope. You decide to take refuge in the shade to rest the lathered mules and hope for a water source to refill your dangerously low water cask.

As you walk back under the shady canopy you find an obvious trail that has been used by other humans for generations as evidenced by a deep rut worn into the ground between exposed limestone boulders. As luck would have it, you see the glint of water through the trees ahead. When you clear the trees near the water’s edge you stop abruptly in stunned amazement. The image of a deep blue pool of crystal clear water with a small stream exiting into the woods causes you to shake your head in disbelief. You must be dreaming, as you’ve never witnessed such a magical setting; water boiling out of a gaping hole in the earth, surrounded by white sand and long flat blades of grass waving in the current.

Just about everyone who has visited one of our sparkling North Florida springs probably has a similar, magical recollection of their first encounter. As surface water percolates downward through soil layers and the porous karst (limestone) bedrock, it is filtered and cleaned to incredible clarity. The clear water gushing forth in these artesian-spring flows remains 69-70 degrees year-round in our Panhandle springs. This is due to their open aquifer connection, from which many homes draw their drinking water directly.

However, there are some serious vulnerabilities that our springs are facing regarding the quality of the water that they provide for residents and visitors alike. One issue relates to the numerous sink holes throughout our landscape that also connect directly to this same Floridan aquifer. In the past, many of these holes have served as dumping grounds for items ranging from household garbage, to junk cars, old washing machines and refrigerators, and even the occasional murder victim. Imagine all of the pollutants that end up in our drinking water supply as a result of this. Another concern relates to pollution that goes onto the ground surface and ends up in the aquifer. This happens via runoff from paved surfaces, sediments and excess fertilizers or pesticides from the landscape, or even the intentional application of treated wastewater in spray fields located in a “spring-shed.” Water clarity and quality at many of our well-known springs has suffered from excess nutrients that cause algal growth and other unwanted, nuisance plant proliferation.

As we gain a better understanding of how water moves through our landscape and ends up flowing from these natural springs, we should become better stewards by minimizing our human impacts that degrade spring water quality. Let’s keep the magic alive for all of our future generations of nature explorers.

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Author: Erik Lovestrand – elovestrand@ufl.edu

Erik Lovestrand

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/30/our-panhandle-springs-provide-a-magical-experience/

Ecotourism in Northwest Florida

Ecotourism in Northwest Florida

Wakulla Springs is home to some of the best wildlife watching in all of northwest Florida. It’s not unusual to see manatees, alligators, and dozens of species of birds in one boat trip. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

What do you imagine when the word “ecotourism” comes to mind? I know  I usually daydream about a trip my husband I took to Costa Rica several years ago, surrounded by lush tropical rainforests as we ziplined through the canopy. I might also think about visiting a National Park, following a neatly maintained trail and stopping at signs placed at just the right spot so visitors can read and understand the special features of the place. Ecotourism, done right, brings a visitor to a unique place, tells its story, and immerses the visitor in the sights and sounds in a way that treads lightly on the location. I always know I’ve been on a good ecotour when I’m tired, happy, and have learned or seen something new.

A colleague with The Conservation Fund has stated that sustainable tourism includes: “Authentic experiences that are unique and specialized to the place (its culture, heritage, and natural resources), emphasizes quality over quantity, focuses on distinctive destinations, unspoiled landscapes, and historic buildings, and differs from mass-market tourism by favoring locally-owned businesses, thereby increasing circulation of money in the local economy.” The truly wonderful thing about ecotourism is that local touch; it exists solely because of the place, so it cannot be outsourced. The best storytellers about those places are usually the people who have lived there for many years, so by its very nature, ecotourism provides jobs for local residents.

Northwest Florida has hundreds of unique locations for visitors and locals to explore…we have centuries-old forts, clear-blue springs, endless rivers and creeks to paddle, trails on the coast and up our modest hills. We have caves and underground caverns, waterfalls, pitcher plant prairies, fishing, wildlife watching, and reefs for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. While millions come here for our quartz-sand beaches, other options that highlight our natural ecosystems deserve more attention and notoriety.

A few years ago, several Extension Agents received funding for a project called Naturally EscaRosa. The idea behind that project was to help promote and create businesses that sustainably used our agricultural and natural resources. The website (www.naturallyescarosa.com) has a list of over 100 businesses and locations where locals and out-of-town visitors can explore the less well-traveled areas of Escambia and Santa Rosa County. As you move east down the coast, Walton Outdoors, the local Visit Florida affiliates, and other privately managed media groups have done similar work, providing a showcase for these treasures in our midst.

This summer, try one of the local ecotourism or agritourism venues near you! Moreover, when your friends and family visit from out of town, encourage them to do the same. We cannot have a successful economy without a healthy ecosystem, and supporting these local and regional businesses is good for both.  

For more information on sustainable ecotourism, visit the Society for Ethical Ecotourism (SEE), and for information on starting or visiting an agritourism business, try Visit Florida Farms. And as always, reach out to your local County Extension agents, and we will be more than happy to point you in the right direction to discover to places to explore with your family.

 

 

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Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/17/ecotourism-in-northwest-florida/

The Status of Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture in the U.S. and Florida

The Status of Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture in the U.S. and Florida

ARTICLE WRITTEN BY DR. CHARLES ADAMS, FLORIDA SEA GRANT

 

The demand for seafood in the US continues to grow. This growth is a function of a number of factors, including the increased awareness of the healthful attributes of many finfish and shellfish products, the increased availability of several key imported, cultured species (shrimp, tilapia, pangasius), and more convenient packaging for home consumption, to name just a few.   In terms of wild-caught seafood, effective management at the state and federal level helps ensure the sustainable harvest of traditionally important species, such as reef fish, scallops, flounders, mackerels, and crab.

The famous blue crab.
Photo: FWC

According to the latest data from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the US domestic fisheries fleet landed about 7.8 billion pounds of edible seafood products, valued at $ 5.2 billion.  Florida plays an important role in this industry, particularly within the Gulf and South Atlantic region.  Approximately $ 250 million worth of seafood is landed by the commercial harvesters in Florida on an annual basis, with some species being landed in Florida, and virtually nowhere else … including pink shrimp, spiny lobster, grouper and stone crab.  But wild harvest is not the only source of finfish and shellfish products.

The commercial aquaculture industry is also growing, as the demand for species grown within controlled systems (such as catfish, oysters, striped bass, crawfish, and salmon) continues to increase.  The latest NMFS data indicates that the commercial aquaculture industry in the US harvests approximately $ 1 billion worth of freshwater and saltwater species annually.  The success story for aquacultured food items in Florida is molluscan shellfish, in particular cultured hard clams.

Though our wild seafood stocks are sustainably managed and aquaculture production is increasing, approximately 90% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported.  Our domestic harvest and culture of seafood simply cannot keep up with demand.  We are eating more and more seafood … with the latest NMFS estimate of annual, per capita seafood consumption being 15.5 lbs (edible meat weight).  This is the highest level of per capita consumption since 2010.  Even though demand is growing, consumers should be confident that the traditional species from our nation’s wild stocks will be there in the future.   In addition, the aquaculture industry will help the seafood industry keep pace with growing demand.  The seafood industry will continue to be an important source of incomes, jobs, and tax revenue for our coastal communities.  And given the increasing number of cultured species and innovative packaging/preparation methods … now is a great time to be a seafood consumer!!

For more information about the US seafood industry, go to https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/Assets/commercial/fus/fus15/documents/FUS2015%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

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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/2017/06/17/the-status-of-commercial-fishing-and-aquaculture-in-the-u-s-and-florida/

Water conservation crucial under current drought conditions in Florida

Water conservation crucial under current drought conditions in Florida

The Florida Panhandle received much needed rain this week, helping to alleviate dry conditions in many areas of the region. However, drought conditions persist in the rest of Florida. According to the US Drought Monitor drought conditions range from moderate in north central Florida to dire in the south-central portion of the state. Precipitation is at 25- 50% of normal rates in the Orlando region. In response, city and county governments and Water Management Districts in these areas are increasing restrictions on outdoor residential water use. In homes with irrigation systems, 50% of the water consumed is typically used for irrigation.

Indoors, we can all greatly reduce water use by adopting relatively simple conservation practices. In a typical household, flushing toilets consumes the most water (24%), followed by showers (20%), faucets (19%), the clothes washer (17%) and leaks (8%) (Source: 2016 report by the Water Research Foundation).

  • Consider replacing toilets installed before 1994 with new ones. Pre-1994, toilets used between 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush. From 1994 to date, regulations require toilets to use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush and some use as little as 1.28 to 0.8 gallons per flush.
  • Placing an object in your toilet tank (like a filled plastic bottle or a brick or two) reduces the amount of water needed to fill the tank and is an inexpensive alternative to replacing a toilet.
  • Reduce the amount of time you take per shower, and replace showerheads with low-flow models, which deliver 0.5 – 2.0 gallons per minute. Standard shower heads use 2.5 gallons per minute. Low flow models typically range from $ 10 to $ 30.
  • Placing a faucet aerator on the end of a faucet can reduce water used from 2.2 gallons/minute to 1.5 gallons per minute. Costs typically range from as low as $ 5 to $ 15 each.
  • Run the washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full.
  • Check for leaks in plumbing and appliances (and fix them!). You can check for toilet leaks by placing food coloring in the tank and seeing if the dye appears in the toilet bowl.

Conserving water at home has the double benefit of reducing your water bill and your energy bill since the amount of energy used to heat water and run the dishwasher and washer/dryer are reduced.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District provides an excellent, easy-to-use online Water Use Calculator, which you can access by going to https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/thepowerof10/. You can calculate your approximate current water use, and compare that to how many gallons your household could save by changing specific habits (like reducing shower times), reducing outdoor irrigation times and upgrading fixtures and appliances.

The US Drought Monitor can be accessed at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspx

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Author: Andrea Albertin – albertin@ufl.edu

Dr. Andrea Albertin is the Northwest Regional Specialized Agent in Water Resources.

Andrea Albertin

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/03/water-conservation-crucial-under-current-drought-conditions-in-florida/

Sea Turtles of the Panhandle: 2016 Nesting Numbers and Notes

Sea Turtles of the Panhandle: 2016 Nesting Numbers and Notes

There are five species of sea turtles that nest from May through October on Florida beaches. The loggerhead, the green turtle and the leatherback all nest regularly in the Panhandle, with the loggerhead being the most frequent visitor.  Two other species, the hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley nest infrequently.  All five species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Due to their threatened and endangered status, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Fish and Wildlife Research Institute monitors sea turtle nesting activity on an annual basis. They conduct surveys using a network of permit holders specially trained to collect this type of information.  Managers then use the results to identify important nesting sites, provide enhanced protection and minimize the impacts of human activities.

Statewide, approximately 215 beaches are surveyed annually, representing about 825 miles. From 2011 to 2015, an average of 106,625 sea turtle nests (all species combined) were recorded annually on these monitored beaches.  This is not a true reflection of all of the sea turtle nests each year in Florida, as it doesn’t cover every beach, but it gives a good indication of nesting trends and distribution of species.

If you want to see a sea turtle in the Florida Panhandle, please visit one of the state-permitted captive sea turtle facilities listed below, admission fees may be charged. Please call the number listed for more information.

  1. Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory, 222 Clark Dr, Panacea, FL 32346 850-984-5297 Admission Fee
  2. Gulf World Marine Park, 15412 Front Beach Rd, Panama City, FL 32413 850-234-5271 Admission Fee
  3. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, 1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548 850-243-9046 or 800-247-8575 Admission Fee
  4. Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Center, 8740 Gulf Blvd, Navarre, FL 32566 850-499-6774

To watch a female loggerhead turtle nest on the beach, please join a permitted public turtle watch. During sea turtle nesting season, The Emerald Coast CVB/Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council offers Nighttime Educational Beach Walks. The walks are part of an effort to protect the sea turtle populations along the Emerald Coast, increase ecotourism in the area and provide additional family-friendly activities. For more information or to sign up, please email ECTurtleWatch@gmail.com. An event page may also be found on the Emerald Coast CVB’s Facebook page: facebook.com/FloridasEmeraldCoast.

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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/2017/06/03/sea-turtles-of-the-panhandle-2016-nesting-numbers-and-notes/

Boating Safety Tips for REEL Summer Fun!

Boating Safety Tips for REEL Summer Fun!

Anticipation of the catch is what thousands of Panhandle boaters will have on their minds as they leave the docks this summer for a day of fishing. However, a hasty departure in their excitement to get to that favorite spot may be the recipe for an outing some would prefer to forget; or worse, a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Inshore fishing near Pensacola Pass
Photo: Molly O’Connor

Here are a few things to consider when planning a day on the water that will greatly increase your odds of having success in what matters most; a fun day and safe return for all. Heck, you can always make up some fish stories.

Equipment Check: A basic safety check involves many key aspects that can make or break a trip.

Trailer: (current tag, tires, lights, tie downs, safety chain and winch condition)
Boat: (current registration, navigation gear, vhf radio, motor condition, fuel/oil check, navigation lights, battery, anchor and rope, boat plugs, paddles)
Safety equipment: (flares, fire extinguisher, personal flotation, emergency locator beacon, sound producing device)
Tools: (basic kit with vice grips, needle nose pliers, wire cutters, screw drivers, adjustable wrench, etc.)
Miscellaneous: (sun screen, food, hat, rain gear, polarized glasses, drinking water, cell phone, dry bag, first-aid kit, medicine)
Fishing gear and bait, of course! (Insert garage full of “stuff” here)

Refer to this Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) LINK to know the legal requirements for safety gear on the size vessel you will be using. These vary depending on the length and design of the hull. In addition, the FWC provides information on the Boating Safety Education Course that is a requirement for anyone born on or after January 1, 1988; and a good idea for us “more mature” folks too.

Even if you are not taking to the water in a powerboat, many of the same common-sense and legal requirements apply to personal watercraft, kayaks and canoes. This FWC LINK provides the requirements for class-A recreational vessels less than 16 feet in length and canoes and kayaks.

In addition to all of the “stuff” you’ll need for a good day, you should also have knowledge of the waters that you will be boating on. Appropriate navigational charts are important but first-hand knowledge is always the best. If you are not familiar with the area you are boating on, at least talk to someone you know who has been in that area. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take along this friend, who would probably enjoy a day on the water too.

When you think about it, there really is a lot of stuff to keep up with when you are going out on the water as the responsible party. But the last thing you want to do is skimp on the safety aspects of your planned adventure. You would be better off to have left your favorite rod in the garage, next to your lucky hat.

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Author: Erik Lovestrand – elovestrand@ufl.edu

Erik Lovestrand

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/06/03/boating-safety-tips-for-reel-summer-fun/

Manatee Sightings in the Panhandle

Manatee Sightings in the Panhandle

On May 7, 2017 Marsha Stanton spotted a manatee swimming by her pier in Big Lagoon near Pensacola. I am sure this was an exciting moment and Marsha was interested in letting someone know so that the unusual encounter could be logged.

Manatee swimming by a pier near Pensacola.
Photo: Marsha Stanton

There are four species of manatee in the world; the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) is the one native to the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf region.  The Florida Manatee (T. manatus latirostris) is a subspecies that is found in Florida.  The historic range of the Florida Manatee included all of the Gulf coast and the east coast as far as the Chesapeake Bay.  However, the increase in humans triggered a decrease in manatees.  In the 1970’s it was rare to find the animal outside of the Florida peninsula.

 

Florida first began protecting the animal in 1893 and today it is protected by the state with the Manatee Sanctuary Act, the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the federal Endangered Species Act. In the 1970’s the population of Florida Manatees was estimated to be about 1000 animals, today there are an estimated 6000.  Due to the increase throughout its range, the animal has now been moved from ENDANGERED to THREATENED.  In 2016, 521 manatee deaths were logged with FWC.  The average for a month was 43.  The majority of these were logged as unknown or perinatal (associated with the weeks before and after birth) and the highest for a month was in February.  Boat strikes were logged as the largest problem for the months of January and July.

 

All that said, we would certainly like to protect any manatee that visit’s our area. So what can we do?

  • If boating, use the marked channels. There is evidence that manatees try to avoid boat traffic by staying out of the boating areas.
  • If you must leave the channel to reach your dock or the beach do so at idol speed. Wear polarized glasses and have a look out. Manatees do not break the surface as dolphins do, rather they generate “swirling eddies” as they move beneath the surface. So slow your movement and have a watchful eye and we can help reduce problems.
  • If snorkeling, diving, or swimming near a manatee do not approach the animal; this can be stressful for them and could be reported as harassment by FWC; which could come with a fine. Allow the animal to move as it wishes and enjoy the experience.
  • The same goes for a kayak or paddle encounter. Do not chase the manatee or separate mother from calf.
  • Another issue has been feeding manatees or providing them freshwater from a hose. This practice has gone on a long time but researchers now know that this decreases the fear of humans by manatees and they return. This can cause boat strikes to increase. It is also considered harassment.

Marsha was interested in letting researchers know about this unusual encounter. However, researchers, and FWC, do not necessarily consider this as unusual as we think.  Manatees have become a main stay at Wakulla Springs State Park during the colder months and are common enough in the Mobile Bay area that a manatee watch program has been developed.  If the animal is distressed, injured, or you find a dead one you can report this to FWC at (888) 404-3922.  If the animal is fine, healthy, and swimming just follow the basic rules listed above and enjoy a really cool experience with this really cool Floridian.

More information on “do’s” and “don’ts” can be found at

http://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines/.

http://myfwc.com/media/415226/manatee_fltreasure_bklt.pdf

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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/2017/05/27/manatee-sightings-in-the-panhandle/

With Hurricane Season Approaching, Are You Prepared for an Evacuation?

Hurricane season begins this year on June 1st and ends November 30th. As Floridians, we face the possibility of hurricanes each year. This simply goes with the territory. During these months, it’s important to plan for the threat of a hurricane, and at the same time hope, it never happens.

First and foremost, you may be asked to leave your home in emergency conditions. Emergency management officials would not ask you to do so without a valid reason. Please do not second guess this request. Leave your home immediately. Requests of this magnitude will normally come through radio broadcasts and area TV stations.

Figure 1. UF/IFAS Disaster Handbook.

Credit. UF/IFAS Communications.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to have your own, up to date plan for a possible evacuation. The University of Florida has developed, “The Disaster Handbook” to help citizens plan for safety. The handbook includes a chapter dedicated to hurricane planning. The chapter can be downloaded in pdf at http://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/chap7fr.htm.

Utilizing the 15 principles below will assist you in your evacuation planning efforts:

  1. Know the route & directions: keep a paper state map in your vehicle. Be prepared to use the routes designated by the emergency management officials.
  2. Local authorities will guide the public: Stay in communication with local your local emergency management officials. By following their instructions, you are far safer.
  3. Keep a full gas tank in your vehicle: During a hurricane threat, gas can become sparse. Be sure you fill your tank in advance of the storm.
  4. One vehicle per household: If evacuation is necessary, take one vehicle. Families that carpool will reduce congestion on evacuation routes.
  5. Powerlines: Do not go near powerlines, especially if broken or down.
  6. Clothing: Wear clothing that protects as much area as possible, but suitable for walking in the elements.
  7. Disaster Kit: Create a kit complete with a battery powered NOAA weather radio, extra batteries, food, water, clothing and first aid kit. The kit should have enough supplies for at least three days.
  8. Phone: Bring your cell phone & charger.
  9. Prepare your home before leaving: Lock all windows & doors. Turn off water. You may want to turn off your electricity. If you have a home freezer, you may wish not too. Leave your natural gas on, unless instructed to turn it off. You may need gas for heating or cooking and only a professional can turn it on once it has been turned off.
  10. Family Communications: Contact family and friends before leaving town, if possible. Have an out of town contact as well, to check in with regarding the storm and safety options.
  11. Emergency shelters: Know where the emergency shelters are located in your vicinity.
  12. Shelter in place: This measure is in place for the event that emergency management officials request that you remain in your home or office. Close and lock all window and exterior doors. Turn off all fans and the HVAC system. Close the fireplace damper. Open your disaster kit and make sure the NOAA weather radio is on. Go to an interior room without windows that is ground level. Keep listening to your radio or TV for updates.
  13. Predetermined meeting place: Have a spot designated for a family meeting before the imminent evacuation. This will help minimize anxiety and confusion and will save time.
  14. Children at school: Have a plan for picking up children from school and how they will be taken care of and by whom.
  15. Animals and pets: Have a plan for caring for animals and shelter options in the event of an evacuation. For livestock, contact your local county extension office.

Following these steps will help you stay safe and give you a piece of mind, during hurricane season. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Hurricane Preparation: Evacuating Your Home”, by Elizabeth Bolton & Muthusami Kumaran: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY74700.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is An Equal Opportunity Institution.

PG

Author: Ray Bodrey – rbodrey@ufl.edu

Gulf County Extension Director, Agent II Agriculture & Natural Resource, Horticulture, Sea Grant

Ray Bodrey

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/05/21/with-hurricane-season-approaching-are-you-prepared-for-an-evacuation/

Look Who Is Enjoying the Beach This Spring… An Alligator!

Look Who Is Enjoying the Beach This Spring… An Alligator!

I received a call the week before Earth Day to let me know that an alligator was laying on Pensacola Beach, on the Gulf side, near the gate to Ft. Pickens. This is certainly not something you see every day.

Alligator basking on the Escambia River; photo: Molly O’Connnor

Two questions came up…

One, Is this weird?

Two, Can alligators tolerate salt water?

Let us start with question 1 – is this weird?

Actually, it is not as weird as you may think. Alligators have been found on barrier islands of the northern Gulf of Mexico for decades.  I myself have seen them at Big Sabine (though it has been many years since I saw one).  As a student at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, we found them on Dauphin Island and on Petit Bois Island in Mississippi; I am sure they are on Horn Island in Mississippi as well.  It is listed on the Gulf Islands National Seashore guide as one of the animals you may encounter in the park.  They have been reported in the dune lakes of Walton County, and I have seen them at St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City.  So yea, they are found in our coastal areas – even the barrier islands.  However, they do prefer the freshwater bodies of water on these islands.  Which brings up the second question…

 

 

Question 2 – can they tolerate salt water?

The quick answer is yes, for a period. There are several reptiles in Florida that can tolerate periods of seawater. Those who spend long periods in brackish to marine waters have lachrymal glands to remove and excrete salt from their blood stream.  This keeps the cells of their body in a more “fresh” environment and thus, can tolerate salt water for longer periods.  Marine turtles, the most salt tolerant of all reptiles, excrete this salt through these glands located near their eyes.  This gives them the appearance of “tears” or “crying” when they are on land.  They are actually secreting salt from their body.

 

Alligators do not have well developed lachrymal glands. However, their tough skin is impermeable to absorbing seawater.  They have thinner areas of skin where saltwater can enter and of course they can swallow seawater.  Because of this, they cannot tolerate seawater very long and must eventually return to freshwater.

 

Alligators, like most Florida reptiles, do have to bask on land to warm their bodies in the morning. This is needed for proper digestion as well as other functions.  It is also another way that alligators can avoid salty water for periods of time.  I understand the alligator still had the faint yellow cross bands on its tail, indicating a younger animal, who may have wondered into the wrong location.

 

As far as being a danger to humans, you have to “read” the animal. Wild alligators have a natural fear of humans and would prefer to avoid us.  According to the FWC, there have been 388 alligator attacks on Floridians since 1948, about 6 per year.  263 of those were considered “major” attacks, about 3 per year.  24 were fatal, about 0.4 per year (1 every 3 years).  Wild alligators can be a problem if

  1. The animal is very large – it will consider larger prey like humans
  2. Attacking a pet (even on a leash) and indirectly attacking the pet owner
  3. Swimming in bodies of water with large alligators, especially at night (when they most often feed)
  4. The person was near a nest or young – alligators are very defensive of their young and nest

Any alligator can become a problem when fed. They lose their natural fear of humans and see us as a source of easy food – though they more often go after our pets, which are easier; they are more willing to approach us looking for an opportunity.  Thus, is against Florida law to feed alligators.

 

I am not sure whether the alligator seen that week was acting aggressively or not but certainly could have been a problem. A “nuisance” alligator is defined by FWC as one being larger than four feet and acting aggressively towards humans or pets.  If this is the case, they have a team of trappers who will come to collect the animal.  It is not recommended that individuals try to capture these animals.  As with snakes, many people bitten by alligators were trying to either catch them or kill them.  It is best to leave this to the professionals.

 

Though it is a bit nerve racking to see an alligator on the beach, they are part of Florida’s environment. Like sharks swimming along our shores, alligators should not be approached but rather contact a local authority to alert them of the possible danger.

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/2017/04/29/look-who-is-enjoying-the-beach-this-spring-an-alligator/

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