Tag Archive: Beach

Snorkel the Gulf Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary

Snorkel the Gulf Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary

Photo Credit: Mike Sandler

Join the UF/IFAS Natural Resource Extension Agents as we explore the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary.

Thursday, August 17, 2017 from 9 am until 1 pm.

Register today at: https://nbsnorkel.eventbrite.com

The Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary consists of 30 reef structures in the Gulf of Mexico. The whole site is as large as a football field. Reefs are located in 6 to 15 feet of water.

Participants will enjoy a brief introduction about the history of the reefs and economic impacts for the community. We will then head out to snorkel the reefs and observe the wildlife that can found in the area.

Participants will be expected to swim at least 375 feet to access the site and be experienced swimmers/snorkelers. Participants may see marine life such as: sea turtles, octopi and many fish species that inhabit the reef. Participants will need to bring a mask, snorkel and fins, flotation device such as a boogie board or a buoyancy compensator vest, sunscreen, etc. Cost is $ 20.00, lunch is included.

We will meet at the Sea Oat Pavilion which is at the second Gulf side parking lot in the NB Marine Park. There are picnic tables, restrooms, changing area and shower at the Pavilion.

This adventure is weather dependent, refunds (minus the Eventbrite fee) will be provided if we have to cancel due to inclement weather conditions or poor water visibility. If you have questions, please contact Chris Verlinde, 850-623-3868 or chrismv@ufl.edu.


Author: Chris Verlinde – chrismv@ufl.edu

Chris Verlinde

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/07/29/snorkel-the-gulf-navarre-beach-marine-sanctuary/

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.


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/

NISAW 2017: Trying to Stay Ahead of Beach Vitex

Beach Vitex Blossom. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor

Research shows that the most effective time to deal with an invasive species, both in terms of controlling or eradicating the species and money spent to do so, is early on…. What we call Early Detection Rapid Response. Beach vitex is a good candidate for this.

The first record for vitex in the Florida panhandle was in 2012. A local citizen in Gulf Breeze (Santa Rosa County) reported it on her beach and believed it may have come from Santa Rosa Island… it did.  The barrier island location was logged on EDDmaps and the Gulf Breeze plants were removed.  A quick survey of Florida on EDDmaps found that the only other location was in Duval County – 3 records there.  So this was not a wide spread plant in our state and could be a rare case for eradication.  That was until I surveyed Pensacola Beach on a bicycle and found 22 properties with it.  Soon afterwards, it was found on the shores of Perdido Bay and concern set it that it might be more widespread than we thought.

Vitex beginning to take over bike path on Pensacola Beach. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor

We tried to educate the property owners about the issue based on what we learned in South Carolina, where there is a state task force to battle the plant, and suggested methods of removal. Many property owners began the process, which can take several treatments over several years, and, with the help of University of West Florida students, removed all of the vitex from public land on Santa Rosa Island.  We were feeling good that we might still be able to eradicate this plant from our county… and then I went for a hike in the Gulf Islands National Seashore… yep… found more… almost 10,000 m2 of the plant.  UWF and Sea Grant have worked hard over the past year to remove these plants, and have removed all but one section.  Recently I received an email letting me know that it was found in Franklin County.  They have since logged this on EDDmaps and have begun the removal process.  However, this begs the question… where else might this plant be in the panhandle?


Beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) is a salt tolerant plant that does well in dry sandy soils and full sun; it loves the beach.  We have found it in dune areas above the high tide line.  It was brought to the United States in the 1950’s for herbarium use.  By the 1980,’s the plant was used in landscaping and sold at nurseries.  It was first used in dune restoration in South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo, and that was when the trouble began.

Vitex growing at Gulf Islands National Seashore that has been removed. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor

The plant grows very aggressively during the warmer months. It out competes native dune plants and quickly takes over.  Growing 2-3 foot tall, this woody shrub has above ground rhizomes that can extend over 20 feet.  Secondary roots begin to grow from the nodes along these rhizomes and it quickly forms an entangled mat of vines that blocks sun for some of the native plants.  There has also been concern for nesting sea turtles.  The rhizomes can over take a nest while incubation is occurring and entrapping the hatchlings.  The plant has become such a problem in both North and South Carolina that a state task force has been developed to battle it.  Vitex can spread either vegetative or by seed, both can tolerate being in salt water and can be dispersed via tides and currents.  The plant has 1-2” ovate leaves and violet colored blossom, which can be seen in late spring and summer.  The leaves become a rusty gray color during winter.  The seeds, which are found in late summer and fall, are spherical and gray-purple in color.  Vitex produces many seeds, an estimated 22,000/m2, and – in addition to being carried by the tide – can be transported by birds as well.

Again, we are hoping that the plant has been discovered early enough to control, if not eradicate, it… HOWEVER, WE NEED YOUR HELP. If you think you may have seen this plant along your coasts, please contact your county Sea Grant Extension Agent for advice on how to manage it.


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/2017/03/02/nisaw-2017-trying-to-stay-ahead-of-beach-vitex/

Bay County Deploys First Super Reefs in Panama City Beach

Bay County Deploys First Super Reefs in Panama City Beach

Super Reef Deployment Location Graphic

Earlier this year, Bay County completed an artificial reef project in Gulf waters approximately 3 nautical miles (nm) south of the Panama City Beach Pier (Pier Park) and 11 nm west of St Andrew Bay Pass in Small Area Artificial Reef Site D. On May 14, five Super Reefs were deployed, each weighing approximately 36,000 lbs and rising 18 feet from the ocean floor. Typical artificial reef modules are only about 8 feet tall. This was the first time Super Reefs were deployed in western Bay County in the Panama City Beach area. The project provides marine habitat comparable to sinking a large vessel.

Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) supported Bay County and Walter Maine during the deployment efforts. MBARA provided this YouTube video documenting the deployment and post-deployment dive survey. During the survey, divers noted baitfish already utilizing the new habitat. The Super Reef module coordinates and details were verified as follows:


Patch Reef # Latitude Longitude Depth (ft) Permit Area
BC2015 Set 17 (1) 30° 10.196N 85° 54.607 W 74 SAARS D
BC2015 Set 18 (2) 30° 10.179 N 85° 54.567 W 75 SAARS D
BC2015 Set 19 (3) 30° 10.176 N 85° 54.603 W 75 SAARS D
BC2015 Set 20 (4) 30° 10.153N 85° 54.594 W 73 SAARS D
BC2015 Set 21 (5) 30° 10.138 N 85° 54.602 W 73 SAARS D

Previous monitoring and research suggest it takes 3 to 5 years for new reefs to reach full development of the associated marine ecosystem. Bay County will work with local anglers, divers, reef associations, and agencies to evaluate the performance of the new reef materials and the reef design.

Bay County artificial reef projects seek to use material that meets program goals and objectives. In this case, larger reef materials were selected to support larger reef fish such as amberjack, grouper, and snapper. Individual reef modules were spaced to support fish forage areas and accommodate multiple users including anglers and divers.

FL Artifcial Reefs FB



Funding for this $ 60,000 project was provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Artificial Reef Program. Additional reef projects were deployed by the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association earlier in the week. The Bay County Artificial Association (BCARA) is also planning new reef deployments in Bay County. Learn more about Bay County’s public artificial reefs at http://x.co/reefm. Florida Sea Grant hosts a Facebook page focused on news and information related to Florida’s Artificial Reefs. You can visit the page for latest information from around the state at https://www.facebook.com/floridaartificialreefs.




Walter Marine’s Maranatha deploying one of the five Super Reefs placed 3 nm south of Pier Park. The Super Reefs weigh greater than 18 tons and are 18 feet tall. Photo by Bay County Artificial Reef Coordinator, Allen Golden.

Walter Marine’s Maranatha deploying one of the five Super Reefs placed 3 nm south of Pier Park. The Super Reefs weigh more than 18 tons and are 18 feet tall. Photo by Bay County Artificial Reef Coordinator, Allen Golden.


















Deployment of Super Reefs. Pictures provided by Bob Cox Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Foundation Picture2 Picture3 Picture4 Picture5 Picture6 Picture7






Author: Scott Jackson – lsj@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Extension Florida Sea Grant Regional Specialized Agent (Artificial Reefs and Fisheries)

Scott Jackson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/08/18/bay-county-deploys-first-super-reefs-in-panama-city-beach/

Transient Birds and Beach House Refuge

Transient Birds and Beach House Refuge

Birds, migration, and climate change. Mix them all together and intuitively, we can imagine an ecological train wreck in the making. Many migratory bird species have seen their numbers plummet over the past half-century – due not to climate change, but to habitat loss in the places they frequent as part of their jet-setting life history.

Migrating songbirds forage for insects in coastal scrub-shrub habitat. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS

Migrating songbirds forage for insects in coastal scrub-shrub habitat. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS Extension

Now come climate simulation models forecasting more change to come. It will impact the strands of places migrants use as critical habitat. Critical because severe alteration of even one place in a strand can doom a migratory species to failure at completing its life cycle. So what aspect of climate change is now threatening these places, on top of habitat alteration by humans?

It’s the change in weather patterns and sea level that we’re already beginning to see, as the impacts of global warming on Earth’s ocean-atmosphere linkage shift our planetary climate system into higher gear.

For migratory birds, the journey itself is the most perilous link in the life history chain. A migratory songbird is up to 15 times more likely to die in migration than on its wintering or breeding grounds. Headwinds and storms can deplete its energy reserves. Stopover sites for resting and feeding are critical. And here’s where the Big Bend region of Florida figures prominently in the life history of many migratory birds.

According to a study published in March of this year (Lester et al., 2016), field research on St. George Island documented 57 transient species foraging there as they were migrating through in the spring. That number compares favorably with the number of species known to use similar habitat at stopover sites in Mississippi (East Ship Island, Horn Island) as well as other central and western Gulf Coast sites in Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas.

We now can point to published empirical evidence that the eastern Gulf Coast migratory route is used by as many species as other Gulf routes to our west. This confirmation makes conservation of our Big Bend stopover habitat all the more relevant.

The authors of the study observed 711 birds using high-canopy forest and scrub/shrub habitat on St. George Island. Birds were seeking energy replenishment from protein-rich insects, which were reported to be more abundant in those habitats than on primary dunes, or in freshwater marshes and meadows.

So now we know that specific places on our barrier islands that still harbor forests and scrub/shrub habitat are crucial. On privately-owned island property, prime foraging habitat may have been reduced to low-elevation mixed forest that is often too low and wet to be turned into dense clusters of beach houses.

Coastal slash pine forest is vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS

Coastal slash pine forest is vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS Extension

Think tall slash pines and mid-story oaks slightly ‘upslope’ of marsh and transitional meadow, but ‘downslope’ of the dune scrub that is often cleared for development.

“OK, I get it,” you say. “It’s as if restaurant seating has been reduced and the kitchen staff laid off. Somebody’s not going to get served.” Destruction of forested habitat on our Gulf Coast islands has significantly reduced the amount of critical stopover habitat for birds weary from flying up to 620 miles across the Gulf of Mexico since their last bite to eat.

But why the concern with climate change on top of this familiar story of coastal habitat lost to development? After all, we have conservation lands with natural habitat on St. Vincent, Little St. George, the east end of St. George, and parts of Dog Island and Alligator Point. Shouldn’t these islands be able to withstand the impacts of stronger and/or more frequent coastal storms, and higher seas – and their forested habitat still serve the stopover needs of migratory birds?

Let’s revisit the “low and wet” part of the equation. Coastal forested habitat that’s low and wet – either protected by conservation or too wet to be developed – is in the bull’s eye of sea level rise (SLR), and sooner rather than later.

Using what Lester et al. chose as a reasonably probable scenario within the range of SLR projections for this century – 32 inches, these low-elevation forests and associated freshwater marshes would shrink in extent by 45% before 2100.  It could be less; it could be more. Conditions projected for a future date are usually expressed as probable ranges. Experience has proven them too conservative in some cases.

The year 2100 seems far away…but that’s when our kids or grandkids can hope to be enjoying retirement at the beach house we left them. Hmm.

Scientists CAN project with certainty that by the time SLR reaches two meters (six and a half feet) – in whatever future year that occurs, 98% of “low and wet” forested habitat will have transitioned to marsh, and then eroded to tidal flat.

But before we spool out the coming years to a future reality of SLR that has radically changed the coastline we knew, let’s consider where the crucial forested habitat might remain on the barrier islands of the next generation’s retirement years:

It could remain in the higher-elevation yard of your beach house, perhaps, if you saved what remnant of native habitat you could when building it. Or if you landscaped with native trees and shrubs, to restore a patch of natural habitat in your beach house yard.

Migratory songbird stopover habitat saved during beach house construction. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS

Migratory songbird stopover habitat saved during beach house construction. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS Extension

We’ve all thought that doing these things must be important, but only now is it becoming clear just how important. Who would have thought, “My beach house yard: the island’s last foraging refuge for migratory songbirds!” even in our most apocalyptic imagination?

But what about coastal mainland habitat?

The authors of the March 2016 St. George Island study conclude that, “…adjacent inland forested habitats must be protected from development to increase the probability that forested stopover habitat will be available for migrants despite SLR.” Jim Cox with Tall Timbers Research Station says that, “birds stop at the first point of land they find under unfavorable weather conditions, but also continue to migrate inland when conditions are favorable.”

Migratory birds are fortunate that the St. Marks Refuge protects inland forested habitat just beyond coastal marshland. A longer flight will take them to the leading edge of salty tidal reach. There the beautifully sinuous forest edge lies up against the marsh. This edge – this trailing edge of inland forest – will succumb to tomorrow’s rising seas, however.

Sea level rise will convert coastal slash pine forest to salt marsh. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS

Sea level rise will convert coastal slash pine forest to salt marsh. Photo credit: Erik Lovestrand, UF IFAS Extension

As the salt boundary moves relentlessly inland, it will run through the Refuge’s coastal buffer of public lands, and eventually knock on the surveyor’s boundary with private lands. All the while adding flight miles to the migration journey.

In today’s climate, migrants exhausted from bucking adverse weather conditions over the Gulf may not have enough energy to fly farther inland in search of forested foraging habitat. Will tomorrow’s climate make adverse Gulf weather more prevalent, and migration more arduous?

Spring migration weather over the Gulf can be expected to change as ocean waters warm and more water vapor is held in a warmer atmosphere. But HOW it will change is difficult to model. Any specific, predictable change to the variability of weather patterns during spring migration is therefore much less certain than SLR.

What will await exhausted and hungry migrants in future decades? Our community decisions about land use should consider this question. Likewise, our personal decisions about private land management – including beach house landscaping. And it’s not too early to begin.

Erik Lovestrand, Sea Grant Agent and County Extension Director in Franklin County, co-authored this article.


Author: Will Sheftall – sheftall@ufl.edu

Will Sheftall is the Natural Resources Extension Agent for Leon County

Will Sheftall

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/22/transient-birds-and-beach-house-refuge/

Bacteria at the Beach

Bacteria at the Beach

Recent news reports have Panhandle Beaches trending on social media. Beaches are open and ready for holiday weekend. Here's information to help make sure you are ready too.

Recent news reports have Panhandle Beaches trending on social media. Beaches are open and ready for the holiday weekend. Here’s information to help make sure you are ready too. Photo by Florida Sea Grant.

The threat of bacteria in coastal waters can be scary and a challenge to understand. Here is information that helps clarify the threat to beach visitors and recreational users of marine waters. This is a good opportunity to think about bacteria exposure risks related to the coastal environment that we can control. It is important to remember the probability of severe illness in a normal healthy individual is very low.

There are two different un-related groups of bacteria species that often are cited in the news.  One general group is fecal coliform and the other group are marine specific known as Vibrio.

Fecal coliform including Enterococci bacteria are used by public health managers as indicators of water quality. High levels of these bacteria can indicate an elevated health risk for beach visitors. For some individuals contact in impacted waters can result in gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, headache or fever. Other symptoms might include rashes, sore throat, ear ache, and other cold-like or upper respiratory symptoms.

When “no-swimming” advisories are posted you can avoid these concerns by following warning and guidance information. Many times advisories are for specific locations due to storm run-off and water circulation patterns. If an area has a warning or is closed, usually there are better choices for swimming activities nearby. The Florida Department of Health has an established testing of many of Florida’s coastal swimming areas. The latest guidance information can be found at http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/beach-water-quality

On the other hand, Vibrio exposure that results in illness is potentially more severe. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate 80,000 Vibrio illnesses and 100 deaths occur annually in the United States. In perspective, The Clean Beaches Coalition estimates 180 million Americans annually make 2 billion visits to ocean, gulf and inland beaches.

According Georgia Sea Grant’s SafeOysters.org website and research, many Vibrio infections are not reported and usually do not cause serious or life-threatening illness in healthy people, although they may cause gastroenteritis (nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea) or cellulitis (skin infection). For a Vibrio infection to occur there must be an entry point into the body. This usually is either through water entering an open wound or eating raw or undercooked seafood.

Symptoms of infection due to consumption of raw or undercooked seafood often develop in 12 to 48 hours and may include:

  • Fever/chills

  • Nausea/stomach pain/vomiting

  • Diarrhea

Individuals with weakened immune systems, chronic diseases or conditions, or undergoing certain medical treatments (see list below) are more susceptible to Vibrio vulnificus infections and are also more likely to become seriously ill or die from them. The fatality rate may be as high as 61% for Vibrio vulnificus infections in people that have been diagnosed with one or more of the following health conditions:

  • Liver disease (from cirrhosis, hepatitis, or cancer)

    No need to feel left out! Fully cooked oyster dishes like Oysters Rockefeller are a coastal classic that's safe and tastes great!

    No need to feel left out! Fully cooked oyster dishes like Oysters Rockefeller are a coastal classic that’s safe and tastes great! Photo by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

  • Diabetes

  • Alcoholism

  • Kidney disease or failure

  • Cancer (includes lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s disease)


  • Stomach disorders including surgery, taking acid reflux medication or antacids

  • Hemochromatosis (iron overload disease)

* If you are unsure of your risk, consult your doctor. You can always indulge in great oyster recipes that are fully cooked like Oyster Rockefeller or oyster chowder.

Perhaps one of the most common group of listed individuals are those taking acid reflux or heartburn medications. This would also include antacids and prescription medications for acid reflux and other common digestive conditions. Many of these medications work by reducing acid which can potentially increase pH in the digestive system. This lowers the natural defense barrier to several foodborne bacteria including Vibrio. If you take these medications do not eat raw or under cooked seafood. If you have any question about your risk, consult your doctor.

An oysterman uses his 11 foot long tongs to collect oysters from the bottom of Apalachicola Bay Photo: Sea Grant

An oysterman uses his 11 foot long tongs to collect oysters from the bottom of Apalachicola Bay
Photo: Sea Grant

Shellfish harvesting is managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Aquaculture and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. This is done in cooperation with Florida’s certified shellfish harvesters and processors. While Vibrio counts may be higher in warmer weather, shellfish harvest areas are monitored all year. A system of specific harvest protocols are consistently maintained. Florida’s regulatory agencies and seafood industries work together with the goal of having the safest shellfish supply at all times of the year.

As mentioned earlier, Vibrio can also enter the body through open wounds. Vibrio is sometimes misnamed as “flesh-eating” bacteria.  “Flesh-eating” is not a medical term and was likely derived from the fact that tissue death, or necrosis, can occur during advanced, late stages of infection around a wound if it is left untreated, especially in those with weakened immune systems (Oliver 2005). The best advice is to seek medical attention early if you experience any of these symptoms or have suffered cut or puncture injury in coastal waters. (See Vibrio FAQs from UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant)

The rod-shaped bacterium known as Vibrio. Courtesy: Florida International University

The rod-shaped bacterium known as Vibrio. Courtesy: Florida International University

Wound infection symptoms may develop within 3 to 24 hours and include:

  • Rapid swelling, pain, and reddening of skin around wound (present in 100% of infections)

  • Large blisters, die-off of tissue around wound (30 – 50% of infections)

  • Gangrene (<10%)

If Vibrio vulnificus infections are left untreated in people at risk for serious infection, symptoms may quickly increase in severity and include:


  • Fluid accumulation, especially in legs

  • Blood-filled large blisters, mainly on extremities

  • Septicemia (bacteria enter and spread through blood stream)

  • Shock (rapid drop in blood pressure)

  • Death

For additional information and details please visit SafeOysters.org

Here are some final thoughts and advice:

  • Remember the majority of healthy individuals will not have any problems.

  • If you are recovering from illness know your limits and use the above resources to make informed decisions to protect your health.

  • Plan your beach vacation for safety but then confidently relax and enjoy the experience.

  • For additional beach safety and enjoyment of our natural resources see our other articles on the UF/IFAS Panhandle Outdoors website.

A great blue heron at sunset stalks the shoreline ready for his next meal. Scenes like this await coastal visitors. It's an experience like no where else. Photo by the author.

A great blue heron at sunset stalks the shoreline ready for his next meal. Scenes like this await coastal visitors. It’s an experience like nowhere else. Photo by the author.

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.


Author: Scott Jackson – lsj@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Extension Florida Sea Grant Regional Specialized Agent (Artificial Reefs and Fisheries)

Scott Jackson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/02/bacteria-at-the-beach/

Remember Safety when at the Beach!!

Remember Safety when at the Beach!!

Navarre Beachtourists

The sugary white sands along the Panhandle, attract millions of visitors to our area throughout the year. It is important for locals and visitors to understand and consider the following tips for safety at the beach.

The danger of rip currents far outweighs the danger of having a shark encounter. As a result of past storms, the nearshore sandbars along our beaches have changed and the frequency of rip currents has increased. A rip current is a turbulent, fast flowing current that can carry a swimmer out to sea very quickly. The currents are formed when water rushes out to sea in a narrow path (like a break in the nearshore sandbar or from an obstruction of the current caused by a groin or jetty or other type of barrier). Rip currents can last for a few hours or may be permanent; they usually exist when the surf is rough and after storms, but can occur on calm days.

Some signs of rip currents include:

  • A difference in water color. The water may be murkier from increased sediments or appear darker because it is deeper.
  • A channel of churning, choppy water.
  • A line of foam, seaweed or debris being carried directly out to sea.

Rip currents can be difficult to spot. Wearing polarized sunglasses will help you recognize changes in water color. Click here to learn more about rip currents.

If you are caught in a rip current, try not to panic or swim against the current. Swim to the left or right of the current, parallel to shore until you are out of the current. Rip currents range in width from a few feet to many feet wide.  If you can’t break out of the current, float calmly out until it ends, usually just beyond the breakers. Then swim diagonally to shore.

Remember, always use common sense and swim responsibly. For current surf conditions check out the National Weather Service rip current forecast.

Know the meaning of the beach warning flags:

  • beachflags A double red flagmeans the water is closed to the public.
  • A single red flag means the surf is very dangerous and you should stay out of the water.
  • A yellow flag indicates that you should take caution when in the water.
  • A green flag indicates that conditions are safe for swimming.
  • A purple flag means there could be dangerous marine life such as jellyfish.




When swimming at the beach it is important to remember that the Gulf of Mexico is a wilderness, not a swimming pool. Use common sense when enjoying the Gulf.  Some safety tips to remember include:

  • Swim near a life guard.
  • Know your swimming abilities and limits, if you can’t swim stay out of the water.
  • Swim in groups or use the buddy system; never swim alone.
  • Be aware of weather conditions; get out of the water and away from the beach during electrical storms. Taking shelter in a building is best, but otherwise a car.
  • Always enter the water, feet first every time!
  • Don’t swim in murky waters or between dusk and dawn.
  • Stay calm in the event of an emergency.
  • Pay attention and know the meaning of beach warning flags. Pay attention to lifeguards.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where people are fishing.
  • To avoid being stung by a sting ray, shuffle your feet, this will stir up the sand and scare away sting rays.
  • Always wear sunscreen or protect your skin with clothing.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the victim something that will float and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many drown while trying to save someone from a rip current.

Follow these tips to help make a visit to the beach a safe one!


Author: Chris Verlinde – chrismv@ufl.edu

Chris Verlinde

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/04/08/remember-safety-when-at-the-beach/

Be Beach Aware with Jellyfish Out There

Be Beach Aware with Jellyfish Out There

Summertime and swimming at the beach just go together naturally in Florida with our state’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline. Many fond memories are created along these salty margins and the Panhandle region of the state has some of the top-rated beaches in the world. It is a great place to experience a relaxing, cool dip in the Gulf of Mexico on a balmy summer day. One thing to be aware of though is the possibility of an encounter with one of the Gulf’s “stinging” inhabitants and what to do if this occurs.

The Moon Jelly is a Common Inhabitant Along Panhandle Shores. Photo courtesy Florida Sea Grant

The Moon Jelly is a Common Inhabitant Along Panhandle Shores. Photo courtesy Florida Sea Grant

There are actually several different organisms that have the capability to sting. This is primarily their mechanism for capturing food but it may also serve to deter predators. Most belong to a group of organisms called “Cnidarians,” which includes the jellyfish. Most jellyfish are harmless to us and are important food sources for many other marine creatures, including some sea turtles, fish and even other jellies! Some species are even dried, shredded and eaten by humans. However, there are several types of jellyfish that will inflict a sting when brushed against and some that are actually a serious hazard. Keep in mind that people also react differently to most venoms, exhibiting varying degrees of sensitivity. The most dangerous types include some of the box jellyfish species (visit HERE for general map of worldwide jellyfish fatalities), and the blue-colored Portuguese man-o-war, which is sometimes common on our shores after sustained southerly winds during summer. A few of our locally common species that cause pain but of a generally less-severe nature include the moon jelly, sea nettle, and cannonball jellyfish. We even have some species of hydroids that look very much like a bushy brown or red algae. They are usually attached to the bottom substrate but when pieces break off and drift into the surf they can provide a painful encounter.

If you are stung there are a couple of things you can do to help and a couple of things you should not do. First, move away from the location by getting out of the water so you don’t encounter more tentacles. Carefully remove any visible tentacle pieces but not with your fingers. You should also change out of swimwear that may have trapped pieces of tentacles or tiny larval jellyfish against the skin. Do not rinse the area with fresh water as this causes the remaining stinging cells to fire their venomous harpoons. If symptoms go beyond a painful sting to having difficulty breathing or chest pain you should immediately call the Poison Information Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.

Another thing to watch for in areas where public beaches display the beach warning flag system is a purple flag. This flag color at the beach indicates dangerous marine life and quite often it is flown when jellyfish numbers are at high levels. All of this is being written, not to scare you away from our beaches, but to help you enjoy our beautiful coastline with a little better understanding of what is out there and what to do if you happen to have a brush with a jellyfish. The vast majority of encounters are a minor irritation in an otherwise pleasant experience.


Author: Erik Lovestrand – elovestrand@ufl.edu

Erik Lovestrand

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/03/25/be-beach-aware-with-jellyfish-out-there/

Life’s a Beach! Practice Beach Safety and Etiquette

Life’s a Beach!  Practice Beach Safety and Etiquette

It is that time of year again. Spring Break brings locals and visitors back to the beach for fun in the sun. It is important to remind folks that part of having fun is playing it safe. At the beach, this means knowing and following some pretty basic safety guidelines.

Not all beaches have lifeguards present, you have to be responsible for your own safety.  When visiting the beach, it is important to consider the tide and surf conditions. To minimize the risks of drowning or serious injury, a uniform warning flag program was developed for use by Florida’s beachfront communities. Florida’s beach warning flag program uses flags in four colors accompanied by interpretive signs along the beach to explain the meaning of each color in both English and Spanish. Please follow the guidelines and flags posted.

You also need to check for the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore. They can pull even a strong swimmer out to sea. It is best to not enter the water where a rip current is present. However, if you find yourself caught in one, try to relax and don’t fight the current, swim out of the current parallel to the shore and swim to shore when you no longer feel the pull of the current.

Protect your skin. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for developing melanoma later in life. Racking up more than five sunburns at any age also doubles the risk for melanoma. Keep sunburn at bay by properly applying sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. Try to spend some time in the shade, wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Remember to hydrate by drinking plenty of water too.

It is good to know a little bit about and appreciate the ocean life you might meet on the beach. Shark attacks aren’t common, especially in shallow shore areas, but always be on the lookout. Shells on mussels, clams and oysters can be very sharp so be careful walking near them. Some species of jellyfish have tentacles that contain venom and can sting you. Avoid them if you can.  Learn about the animals you will find at the beach and you will be able to co-exist with little risk.

Many ocean creatures need our protection. Sea turtles and many shorebirds are protected and there are things you can do to help them. For sea turtles, keep the beach clean (remove all trash and furniture), dark (turn off lights on beach and don’t use flashlights) and flat (fill in any holes you dig so that turtles don’t become trapped). In fact, it’s recommended that you take only pictures and leave only footprints. Stay away from nesting shorebird habitat. Many beaches do not allow you to bring your pets to the beach for health and safety reasons and to protect venerable wildlife. Be sure to know the rules before you bring Fido to the beach.

Finally, please help keep the beach tidy. When your visit is over, take back everything you brought. Food scraps attract unwanted animals, fishing line injures and kills birds and other wildlife and plastic is harmful to both the environment and the animals that sometimes mistake it for food. Abandoned beach furniture and toys can obstruct sea turtle nesting and hatching. The best policy is to leave the beach cleaner than you found it.

Have a good time at the beach. Take a little time to learn and follow the safety rules that are there for your protection. Practice good citizenship by caring for and conserving the beach and ocean ecosystems in order to keep them beautiful in the present and for future generations.

Many counties in the panhandle have lighting and barrier ordinances to protect wildlife and workers. Photo: Rick O'Connor

Many counties in the panhandle have lighting and barrier ordinances to protect wildlife and workers.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.


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/2016/03/12/lifes-a-beach-practice-beach-safety-and-etiquette/

NISAW 2016 – Beach Vitex in the Florida Panhandle

NISAW 2016 – Beach Vitex in the Florida Panhandle

This yard on Pensacola Beach has become over run by vitex.

This yard on Pensacola Beach has become over run by vitex. Photo courtesy of Rick O’Connor.

In 2013 we began writing about a potential invasive plant in the Florida panhandle called Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia). The first record we knew of was reported from Pensacola Beach and was posted on EDDmaps.org. According to this website only two other records had been found in Florida, both in the Jacksonville area. It did not seem like a real problem and was not listed as an invasive species in the state. But I decided to survey Pensacola Beach and see if the plant might be growing in other places – it was – in 22 other places!

Based on the severe problems they have had with this plant in coastal communities of North and South Carolina, and the fact that more records were coming in of the plant in northeast Florida, both the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and the University of Florida / IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants listed the plant as “invasive – not recommended”.

So is the plant a problem?

In the Carolina’s it certainly is. Used in dune restoration projects it quickly became a monoculture and displaced many species of native dune plants – including sea oats. It grows aggressively in the summer months, crossing bike paths and driveways and can extend towards the water impeding sea turtle nesting. One fear is that the plant will grow fast enough that a turtle nest will become overwhelmed by the plant before the eggs hatch, in a sense entrapping them. The plant produces a large tap root and extends above ground stolon in all directions. I have measured stolon over 20 feet in length and many secondary roots extending from these. Stolon extending from nearby vitex can form an intermingle mess of vines that can be very difficult to remove.

Another issue is the taproot. Most are small and manageable but we have measured some 3-4” in diameter and one, on Pensacola Beach, was about 10” in diameter. Once they reach this size removing becomes very difficult, if not impossible. The key is to identify and remove the plant early. It has become such a problem in the Carolina’s that a state task force has been created to address it.

So where does this plant stand in the Florida Panhandle?

Since the initial survey conducted on Pensacola Beach the plant has been found on 21 properties on Pensacola Beach itself and 1 property on Perdido Bay (both in Escambia County). It has been verified at two locations within the Naval Live Oaks Reservation within Gulf Islands National Seashore in Santa Rosa County. A survey of Perdido Key in 2015 found no evidence of the plant – but the Key will be surveyed again in 2016. As for coastal counties to the east – we are not sure.

This maybe one invasive plant we may be able to manage before it gets too far out of control.


(If you live in a coastal county between Pensacola and Aucilla River, and believe you may have the plant, please contact your local Extension Office to let them know. We would like to log the occurrence on EDDmaps and can provide advice to the property owner on how to safely remove it). 


Vitex Wanted



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/2016/02/23/nisaw-2016-beach-vitex-in-the-florida-panhandle/

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