IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS citizen scientists find microplastics have big presence in coastal waters

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, IFAS, Pollution

A Sea Grant Microplastics training to teach volunteers how to sample water for microplastics in New Smyrna Beach on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015.

Please see caption below story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Each time you do a load of laundry, you may inadvertently send tiny pieces of plastic to a nearby lake or ocean, according to Maia McGuire, Florida Sea Grant agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

That’s because when we wash synthetic fabrics, such as rayon and spandex, plastic threads get washed out with the rinse cycle and sent to a wastewater treatment plant, McGuire said. These threads are a kind of microplastic called microfiber. Like all microplastic, microfibers are less than 5 millimeters in size—less than the width of a pencil eraser. Because they are so small, microfibers pass through many filters used in treatment plants and end up in lakes and oceans.

A little over a year ago, McGuire began the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, a citizen science project that has trained volunteers throughout Florida to gather data about microplastics in coastal waters. So far, volunteers have collected and analyzed 770 water samples at 256 locations, McGuire said.

These citizen scientists found an average of eight piece of plastic per sample. 82 percent of plastic found was microfiber, McGuire said.

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Nature already dramatically impacted by climate change, study reveals

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Departments, Environment, Forestry, IFAS, Pollution, Safety, Weather

Lake Alice, trees, nature, water, landscape.    UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Global climate change has already impacted every aspect of life on Earth, from genes to entire ecosystems, according to a new study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and in cooperation with a broad international partner group, published in the prestigious journal Science.

“We now have evidence that, with only a ~1 degree Celsius of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt in natural systems,” said study lead author Brett Scheffers, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of wildlife, ecology and conservation. “Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are shifting their ranges and we see clear signs of entire ecosystems under stress, all in response to changes in climate on land and in the ocean.”

During this research, Scheffers, a conservation ecologist, collaborated with a team of researchers from 10 countries, spread across the globe. They discovered that more than 80 percent of ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems already show signs of responses to climate change.

“Some people didn’t expect this level of change for decades,” said co-author James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia. “The impacts of climate change are being felt with no ecosystem on Earth being spared.“

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UF/IFAS study: People who know about genetically modified food agree with science: They’re safe

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Pollution, Research, Safety

Brandon McFadden

Brandon McFadden

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — People who know a lot about genetically modified foods are inclined to agree with the scientific consensus that such foods are safe to eat. But, those who know plenty about global warming are cautious about the science that says humans cause the phenomenon, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

Furthermore, the study showed some people still make what researchers call “illusionary correlations,” such as “genetically modified foods cause autism.”

Perhaps science communication should address people’s perceptions about illusionary correlations versus their knowledge of global warming and genetically modified foods, said Brandon McFadden, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics and author of the study. Merely providing people with information is insufficient to change behavior, McFadden said.

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Inaugural UF Community Chats event focuses on allergies, asthma and climate change

Topic(s): Announcements, Environment, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Pollution, Weather

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On Sunday, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will hold the first in a series of educational panel discussions known as Community Chats, this one focused on the possible consequences of climate change for North Florida residents with allergies or asthma.

The event takes place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2 on the UF main campus in Gainesville. Registration for in-person attendance has closed, but the event will be live-streamed on the Community Chats website, http://communitychats.wordpress.com.

Expert panelists from several UF units will discuss the possible effects of climate change on air and water quality, as well as steps that communities can take against climate change. Audience members are welcome to submit questions to the panelists before or during the event, using the Community Chats website, Twitter account or Facebook page, using the hashtag #CCNCFL.

Community Chats is funded by UF/IFAS and is produced in partnership with the Florida Museum of Natural History and the UF College of Journalism and Communications. The next event is scheduled for late October.

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 Contacts

Source: Katie Stofer, 352-273-3690, stofer@ufl.edu

 

 

UF/IFAS expert has five tips for keeping your beach clean this summer

Topic(s): Environment, Extension, Pollution

Beach signage in Florida. Ocean, warning, protected, environmental.

Please see caption below story.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Maia McGuire was leading middle-schoolers on a local beach clean-up when she noticed a cluster of deflated balloons on the sand. It’s not unusual to find balloons on the beach, McGuire said, but these were different: Each balloon was printed with the name of a nursing home in Texas.

“Those balloons were probably the weirdest thing I’ve found on one of our beaches,” McGuire said. However, this discovery made it clear that, while beach clean-ups are often done by locals, keeping beaches clean is everyone’s responsibility, she said. That’s because, in the environment, trash travels, and one person’s trash can easily become another person’s clean-up hundreds of miles away.

McGuire works in St. Johns and Flagler counties as a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Sea Grant agent. Part of her job is to help the community keep its beaches and oceans clean. You can do your part this summer by following these five tips.

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Youth take the plunge into fish anatomy, environmental stewardship

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Extension, Pollution

Fish in an aquarium.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Can you tell me how old a fish is just by looking at a slice of bone? That’s one question youth will learn how to answer in the Manatee Marine Explorers Day Camp created by two University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agents.

“There is so much more to the ocean than what you can see on the surface,” said Angela Collins, UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agent in Manatee County and co-organizer of the camp.

She and fellow UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County agent Michelle Atkinson will introduce attendees to the diversity of marine life that may be less familiar than dolphins or sea turtles. During a fish dissection, Collins will show what makes fish unique—such as gills—and what makes them not so different from us. “We’ll show the kids where the heart is, the stomach, intestines—things they can relate to,” Collins said.

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Two key factors control phosphorus movement from soil to groundwater

Topic(s): Agriculture, Environment, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Pollution, RECs, Research, Soil and Water Science

 

Gurpal Toor working in his lab at the Gulf Coast REC in Balm Florida. UF/IFAS Photo: Tyler Jones.

See caption below

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New insights into how phosphorus leaches into groundwater could help reduce its potential impact on water and the environment, a UF/IFAS scientist says.

Phosphorus poses an environmental threat when it travels from soils to open water bodies, including lakes, streams and rivers. When too much phosphorus is applied to soils, the ground cannot hold all of the chemical, said Gurpal Toor, an associate professor of soil and water science at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida. As a result, phosphorus leaches out and migrates to water bodies, lowering water quality and leading to algal blooms. Such blooms can choke off oxygen to fish and underwater plants.

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Massive study shows climate change rapidly warming world’s lakes, UF/IFAS professor says

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, Pollution, Research

Small Lake Alice resized

Click photo for larger image; photo cutline at bottom of page.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Climate change is rapidly warming lakes around the world, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems, according to a new study spanning six continents.

More than 60 scientists took part in the research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and announced today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The study authors include Karl Havens, director of the Florida Sea Grant program and a professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The full study, titled, “Rapid and highly variable warming of lake surface waters around the globe,” is available free of charge here, or at the following link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL066235/full.

The study showed that lakes are warming an average of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit each decade. That’s greater than the warming rate of either the oceans or the atmosphere, and it could have profound effects, scientists say.

At the current rate, algal blooms, which can ultimately rob water of oxygen, are projected to increase 20 percent in lakes over the next century. Algal blooms that are toxic to fish and other animals would increase by 5 percent. And these rates imply that emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide, will increase 4 percent over the next decade.

“Lakes are critically important to people, because they are sources of drinking water, irrigation water and fisheries,” said Havens, an ecologist with the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. (more …)

UF study shows restored oyster reefs beneficial beyond the dinner plate – shellfish help create and protect habitats critical to wildlife and human communities

Topic(s): Agriculture, Aquaculture, Conservation, Environment, New Technology, Pollution
Researchers working on an oyster bar survey off of the coast of Cedar Key, Florida.  Airboat, storm clouds, coast.

Researchers working on an oyster bar survey off of the coast of Cedar Key, Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Oysters thrive under brackish conditions, and now a University of Florida study reveals that the bivalves can actually help create the mix of fresh water and brine they crave.

While evaluating a new method of restoring degraded oyster reefs, researchers with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and UF’s College of Engineering confirmed an observation that Cedar Key-area oystermen have made for years – some oyster reefs act as natural dams, impounding fresh water that flows seaward from nearby creeks and rivers.

The result: large areas of reduced-salinity water that help maintain near-shore estuarine habitats supporting oysters, sea grasses, juvenile game fish and invertebrates important to the marine food chain as well as seafood production and recreational opportunities for people.

This finding, published in a report available at http://www.projects.tnc.org/coastal, could aid ecological and fishery restoration projects along Florida’s Big Bend Coast, a largely undeveloped area bordering the Gulf of Mexico between Wakulla and Pasco counties, said project leader Peter Frederick, a professor with UF/IFAS’ Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

The Big Bend Coast is one of the nation’s few coastal areas featuring numerous oyster reefs that run parallel to shore and stand above the water’s surface at low tide. The study site, off the Levy County coast, is a chain of oyster reefs punctuated by a few openings that allow seawater to mix with fresh water that the reef holds back as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico from the Suwannee River.

“We’ve known about other ecosystem services that oyster reefs provide, like acting as breakwaters that reduce the impact of wave action on the shore,” Frederick said. “But the role of oyster reefs in modulating the salinity of water near the shore had not been demonstrated before.” (more …)

Strategies to keep pollutants out of your neighborhood storm water pond

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Pollution

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many people live in subdivisions with storm water ponds, which collect water from the neighborhood and help keep pollutants such as fertilizers, pesticides and pet waste from getting into the broader environment. Now, UF/IFAS researchers and Extension faculty have devised strategies to help homeowners limit their pollution contribution.

Before they crafted the strategies, outlined in a new Extension document, “Strategies to Encourage Adoption of Storm Water Pond Best Management Practices (BMPs) by Homeowners,” http://bit.ly/1M6SBrU,

UF/IFAS research and Extension faculty surveyed a large planned community in Manatee County, Florida. Among other things, they found that nearly half the homeowners either didn’t know what storm water runoff was or did not know where storm water runoff goes.

Paul Monaghan, an associate professor of agricultural education and communication and a co-author of the document, said the survey result is fairly typical of homeowners across Florida and elsewhere.

“They see the curb and gutter, and they think the water is going to be treated at a plant,” Monaghan said. “They don’t really know their water runs off into the storm water pond. It’s all accumulating. It matters what you do and what your neighbors do. If we can get homeowners to understand that and know it has an effect, we will be taking a step in the right direction.”

(more …)

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