Tag Archive: Enjoying

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/

Enjoying Local Seafood; What’s in Peak Season for February?

Enjoying Local Seafood; What’s in Peak Season for February?

There has been an increase interest, from both visitors and residents, in purchasing local seafood.  Here we are going to define local seafood as anything caught or grown within 200 miles of your location.  For Pensacola that includes Alabama, Mississippi, and much of Louisiana; for St. Mark’s that would include the Big Bend and much of Florida’s west coast.

Though some seafood is caught, or grown, year round we will focus on species in peak season each month.  This peak season list is provided by the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation’s Gulf Coast Seafood Program.

Oysterman on Apalachicola Bay. Photo: Sea Grant

Oysterman on Apalachicola Bay.
Photo: Sea Grant

So What’s in Season for February?


Clams and Oysters

Winter is a good time to consume local bivalves.  These creatures are filter feeders and in the warm summer months there is more bacteria in the water.  Clams are a new item for Floridians but we are growing our own in Cedar Key! (see links below). There are many seafood markets providing them so ask for them by name – Cedar Key clams.

Everyone knows the historic oyster beds of Apalachicola have suffered in recent years, but there is an effort to restore oysters to beds all across the northern Gulf coast.  Oysters are a Florida classic and though many like to eat them raw, we do recommend you cook them.  For clams most people grill, roast, or steam them.  To learn more about bivalves and seafood safety visit www.flseagrant.org


Pink Shrimp 

Shrimp is hands down the most popular seafood species in the Gulf region.  There are three species we harvest here, and some are experimenting with culturing, but right now pink shrimp are at peak.  Pink’s are more common in the eastern Gulf, and they may trucked into your area, but local none the less.  If you want to know how to prepare shrimp – watch Forest Gump… there are 1000 ways.

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp. Photo: Mississippi State University

The famous Gulf Coast shrimp.
Photo: Mississippi State University

Mackerel – King and Spanish

Mackerel are members of a family of fish we call “ram letters” meaning they must move in order to flush water over their gills.  Constantly on the move, getting them to bite bait is not the hard part… it is finding them and getting the bait within their range.  This time of year is good for mackerel but king mackerel is one of the species of concern with mercury.  The current recommendation is that if the king is <31” you should not consume more than one meal / month; young children and women of child bearing age should not consume at all.  King mackerel >31” should not be consumed.  For Spanish you should not consume more than one meal/week; for young children and women of child bearing age – no more than one meal/month. Read more about mercury in Florida fish athttp://www.floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/prevention/healthy-weight/nutrition/seafood-consumption/_documents/advisory-brochure.pdf



This is a Gulf coast favorite anda great tasting fish.  I like mine grilled but there are plenty of other ways to prepare pompano.  This is one fish that many like to blacken.



There are 10 species of snapper in the Gulf but the red snapper is the one most are looking for.  Snapper are in season now but availability of some species is dictated by federal and/or state  quota’s and closures.  This is one of the most popular finfish species in the Gulf.


We’ll let you know what is in Peak Season in March.










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/2016/02/08/enjoying-local-seafood-whats-in-peak-season-for-february/

Enjoying Wildlife Safely and Responsibly

Enjoying Wildlife Safely and Responsibly

Last week, the Okaloosa County Health Department issued a rabies alert after three bats were determined to have the illness. A “drive-through” rabies vaccine clinic was organized for pets, and warnings were issued throughout the region about making contact with wild animals. One radio broadcast played an interview in which a health department staffer urged people “not to attract wildlife to your yard.” While they were focusing on unsecured trash and pet food, I found this advice unsettling, for as an Extension Agent I’ve promoted the practice of attracting wildlife to yards for many years—birds, butterflies, and even (especially) bats.  Raccoons, not bats, have the greatest incidence of rabies (based on data collected from 1992-2011), by a factor of almost seven times that of bats. In the scare of a rabies outbreak, it can be easy to overreact or overlook the many benefits that wildlife provide to our neighborhoods.

There are, of course, practical ways to go about living with wildlife without endangering your health or that of your family and pets (including making sure pets have the rabies vaccine).
Use Caution around Injured Wildlife
Most wildlife rescue organizations do not have the staff to pick up injured animals and ask those who find one to bring them in. However, sick or injured animals may respond aggressively as an intuitive protective measure. If you are taking an animal to a wildlife rehabilitator, be sure to approach it gently and use a blanket or large towel to pick up the animal, and place it gently in a box with a ventilated lid. Great information on responding to injured or deserted animals can be found at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida website. Keep in mind that bats are flying animals and spend almost no time on the ground. They do not chase people and are primarily concerned with catching insect prey. If you find a bat on the ground, it is most likely sick. County animal control or private wildlife responders can also help if you are concerned about interacting with a sick animal.


These twin Seminole bat pups were found on the ground with their mother and nursed back to health at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

These twin Seminole bat pups were found on the ground with their mother and nursed back to health at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

Use Care When Retrieving Dead Animals
When bird flu, West Nile or rabies hits an area, health departments sometimes ask that suspect animals be reported for testing to confirm the cause of death. Even if you are just disposing of the animal, be sure to use gloves and place the animal in a sealable plastic bag to prevent spreading germs, and wash your hands after handling it. If burying, place at least three feet deep and away from wells or water sources.
Enjoy Wildlife from a Distance
Disturbing healthy animals while they are feeding or resting can cause unnecessary stress and reduce their hunting success. Animals’ natural behaviors are fascinating to watch, so be sure and do so from a respectful distance to allow them to interact normally with their environment.


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/2014/10/09/enjoying-wildlife-safely-and-responsibly/