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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.
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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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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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 …)
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 …)
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.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As a Florida Sea Grant agent with the University of Florida’s Extension program, Maia McGuire has spent years educating Floridians about how plastic garbage can kill large animals such as turtles and sea birds if they eat discarded plastic items or become ensnared by them.
Now, McGuire is trying to raise awareness about microplastic, a much smaller form of seaborne garbage that threatens much smaller marine animals. Measuring 5 millimeters or less, smaller than the width of a pencil eraser, these fragments end up in coastal waters when large plastic items such as food packages break apart, or small particles such as plastic microbeads from personal-care products are washed out to sea.
To raise awareness about microplastic among Floridians, McGuire and a team of colleagues have just launched the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, or FMAP, a one-year project funded by a $17,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. The FMAP program aims to use a vigorous citizen-science training effort to draw attention to the problem and educate citizens on ways of reducing their potential contributions of microplastic to the environment.
One important facet of the project’s citizen-science effort is an informal microplastic assessment that will be conducted at 200 to 300 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Volunteers will take water samples, then filter and analyze the samples to determine how much microplastic is present. The results will be posted on a Google Maps database, accessible through the FMAP website, http://www.plasticaware.org. (more …)
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — River beds in urban areas worldwide store pharmaceuticals, and University of Florida scientists warn they can pose a potential environmental danger to aquatic organisms.
UF/IFAS Post-Doctoral Researcher Yun-Ya Yang conducted a study along rural and urban areas of the Alafia River, which runs through parts of Hillsborough County and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In her study, Yang collected sediment samples at several sites along the river and found 17 pharmaceuticals.
Yang found a lower amount of pharmaceuticals than in previous similar studies because river beds in Florida do not contain enough silt and clay, but they can still present an environmental concern.
These types of chemicals are not confined to the Alafia River or urban-area rivers in Florida, said Gurpal Toor, an associate professor in soil and water science, who supervised Yang’s study. The scientists say their findings are representative of urban rivers worldwide, partly because wastewater treatments plants, septic systems and industrial wastewater empty into water bodies. Landfill chemicals also leach into water bodies. All these sources contribute these contaminants in the environment.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Five years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 men and sent at least 210 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, people along the coast are gathering for a three-city regional forum Thursday. Participants will discuss the spill’s effects on their communities, its lasting impacts and how to prepare for another major disaster.
The regional forum will include the release of results from a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences survey of Gulf Coast residents from Baldwin County, Ala., to Cedar Key, Fla. The survey looked at coastal residents’ opinions of the status of their recovery five years after the DWH disaster.
Findings indicated that respondents’ levels of satisfaction were lower five years after the spill than before it in several topic areas. This included levels of satisfaction with their community’s economy, community leadership and programs, local media, Gulf coast seafood industry, faith-based organizations and emergency response efforts. (more …)
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A sampling of more than 1,000 Gulf of Mexico fish, shrimp, oysters and blue crabs taken from Cedar Key, Fla., to Mobile Bay, Ala., between 2011 to 2013, shows no elevated contaminant levels, according to a seafood safety study conducted by Dr. Andrew Kane and colleagues at the University of Florida. In fact, some 74 percent of the seafood tested showed no quantifiable levels of oil contaminants at all.
“Seafood appears as safe to eat now as it was before the spill,” said Kane, associate professor of environmental and global health and director of the Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratory at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. (more …)