Water-Related News

Newly discovered shark species named for Mote Marine founder Eugenie Clark

Dr. Eugenie Clark was a pioneer in shark biology, known around the world for her illuminating research on shark behavior. She was also a pioneer in another critical way, as one of the first women of prominence in the male-dominated field of marine biology.

Fondly labeled the “Shark Lady,” Clark founded Mote Marine Laboratory and continued studying fishes until she passed away in 2015 at age 92. She will now be recognized with another distinction: namesake of a newly discovered species of dogfish shark.

The species, named Squalus clarkae, also known as Genie’s Dogfish, was identified from the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic Ocean. The confirmation of this new species was reported this month in the journal Zootaxa (link to full article").

Tampa Bay most at risk of repeated flooding, says climate scientist

As sea levels continue to rise in Florida, repeated flooding and storm surge are major concerns for Tampa Bay.

David Hastings, a climate scientist at Eckerd College, said the region could experience some of the most severe effects of climate change. He told the civic group Cafe Con Tampa on Friday that in the next 30 years, sixty-five thousand homes in Florida will flood twice a month affecting 100,000 Florida residents.

"We're predicting that there's going to be chronic inundation in many, many homes in Florida and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area is one of the hotspots for that chronic inundation," Hastings said.

Hurricanes and storm surge will become more intense as the ocean warms and sea levels rise in Florida. Hastings said water from warmer oceans will evaporate, creating more energy in the atmosphere and resulting in more severe hurricanes.

While people think hurricane winds cause the most damage, he said storm surge is the bigger concern for residents in Tampa Bay.

Private beach owners in Pinellas County should seek permits for any changes

Pinellas County Environmental Management is advising beachfront property owners not to install fences or signage or make any other structural changes seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) without first obtaining state and local approvals.

The new state law does not grant beach property owners unfettered rights to the dry beach behind their properties above the mean water line (MHWL). While the new law limits the ability of local governments to enact ordinances impacting private beaches, beach ownership is complicated, and in many cases portions of the upland are either owned by the State of Florida, protected by environmental regulations, or open to the public by virtue of other rules or agreements. All Pinellas County barrier island municipalities have ordinances that apply to beach activities, and the state has rules governing activities seaward of the CCCL.

Beach property owners should first check with their local barrier island government and then contact the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to learn what is allowed seaward of the CCCL.

For more detailed information including links to the CCCL map and permitting resources, visit the link below.

Mote Scientists tag two whale sharks off southwest Florida Coast

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Thanks to whale shark sightings reported by the public off the southwest Florida coast in early June, scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory located five of the polka-dotted, filter-feeding giants and tagged two of them with tracking devices on the afternoon of June 14.

All five whale sharks were found offshore of Longboat Key and New Pass, feeding at the surface possibly on fish eggs as well as other forms of plankton.

“It is not uncommon for whale sharks to be spotted feeding in the Gulf this time of year, but the duration of their stay is longer than in previous years,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote. “Reported sightings are usually scattered, but the sharks’ locations have stayed pretty stable, as most sightings have been about 30-40 miles off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.”

The first shark, a 16-foot-long male nicknamed “Colt,” was tagged around 12:30 p.m., about 40 miles offshore of Sarasota County. As the team was traveling back to shore around 2 p.m., they found and tagged a 22- to 25-foot female nicknamed “Minnie” and photographed her unique spot patterns for later identification. Three more whale sharks were found and photographed in a group closer to shore.

The trip was made possible by Captain Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts, who transported the research team on his large vessel, allowing them to travel far and fast enough to locate the animals.

The tracking tags will store data about the whale sharks’ location, and the depths and temperatures they encounter.

Registration open for Florida Waters Stewardship course

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Become a Water Steward – Working With Water, Working With People

To make a difference concerning the issues surrounding water quality and quantity in our communities, we must understand the various ways in which we interact with water. As Floridians, we are connected to our oceans and bays by our faucets and laundries, to our neighborhood ponds and lakes by our yards and streets, and to our regional and statewide neighbors by our surface and groundwater supplies. Course fee is $125 per person, or $200 for two people registering together.

This new program will use expert presentations, online explorations, experiential learning, field experience in watershed science, and communication skills training to foster a greater understanding of these interactions and provide the tools necessary to become stewards of our water resources.

During the course, participants will travel to locations across Pinellas County to explore the natural beauty, learn about emerging water issues, and meet with local experts.

Participants will also work together to plan and implement a stewardship project that makes a difference in the community, attend a relevant stakeholder meeting and explore online resources to learn more about water between class sessions.

The evening classes will meet on the following dates at various locations: Aug. 23, Sept. 6, Sept. 18, Oct. 2, Oct. 16, Oct. 30, Nov. 13.

In addition to the sessions listed above, the group will meet informally on other dates to discuss a class stewardship project in more detail, tentatively Sept. 15 and Sept. 29.

Course requirements:

  • Attend at least five of the seven sessions, two of which MUST be the first and last ones (Session #1 and Session #7)
  • Attend and briefly describe a stakeholder gathering
  • Complete online mini-sessions
  • Participate in the online forum discussions
  • Be actively involved in our class stewardship project

This course has limited seating/availability. Register early to reserve your spot. Youth (under 18) are eligible to register as long as an accompanying adult is also registered for the program)

For more information about this course, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County Natural Resources Agent, Lara Milligan at lara317@ufl.edu or 727-453-6905.

Will sargassum be the next algae problem in Florida?

The Gulf Coast of Florida is already dealing with two different algae blooms: a red tide on many beaches south of Manatee County and blue-green algae spilling into the Gulf from Lake Okeechobee; but now outbreaks of a larger species of seaweed have even reached Florida. Beginning about seven years ago, beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea have been swamped by feet-thick blooms of Sargassum.

Amy Siuda is an assistant professor of marine science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and is trying to figure out if this Sargassum is a different species than is commonly found in the Caribbean.

“Sargassum is a brown algae, a type of seaweed, that is common throughout the tropics and temperate region. There are hundreds of species of Sargassum and most are attached to the bottom like normal seaweeds. But there are two species that are known right now — of Sargassum — that live their entire lives not attached to the bottom. So those two species have been associated with the Sargasso Sea out in the center of the North Atlantic [Ocean].”

And oftentimes critters live right among these floating algae.

Tampa Bay Estuary Program: to improve water quality, breach causeways

Old Tampa Bay: it’s the most northerly section of the Bay and furthest from the mouth – where the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is located – so that leads to the water there being the most stagnant. The executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program told a St. Petersburg City Council committee this month that means there’s poor water quality, inconsistent seagrass recovery and summertime algae blooms by a genus called Pyrodinium, which is different from the red tide alga. But Ed Sherwood says there’s a way to improve the water quality in Old Tampa Bay – by constructing more pathways for water by breaching bridge causeways, thereby restoring water flow.

“These causeways are impeding circulation and could be contributing to the poor water quality conditions in Old Tampa Bay. And we’ve been working with the Florida Department of Transportation [DOT] since about 2015 to get them to think about breaching these causeways as they’re doing these bridge replacement projects.

“And in fact, there’s one going on right now. If you’ve passed over the Courtney Campbell Causeway on the Rocky Point side — the Tampa side — there’s actually being a breach constructed in the Courtney Campbell Causeway to improve water circulation north of the causeway on the Tampa side.

“So what we’re asking DOT to consider is doing that again when they look at replacing the Howard Frankland Bridge. And what we’re asking them to consider is on that western causeway approach, on the St. Pete side this time.

“And what we’re trying to achieve is basically that picture of what the Bay looked like prior to a lot of these bridges being constructed. Recreating the circulation patterns of the tide coming in and going out and not being obstructed by these causeways. Part of the reason why that particular algal species blooms in this portion of Old Tampa Bay is because the tidal circulation pattern goes up and creates a gyre. And the water just sits there and provides nutrient sources to that particular algal species and that persists through the summertime, until we get flushing rains and the Bay turns over, so to speak.

“What we’re trying to get DOT to consider is reestablishing some of those circulation patterns through those causeway breaches.”

Tampa City Council kills controversial plan to fill in open waters in Tampa Bay

The Tampa City Council has buried a plan to fill in part of Tampa Bay to create land for expensive homes.

Now they're taking action to fill in gaps in the city's comprehensive plan so no one can revive a form of development that went out of style with bell bottoms and smoking in airplanes: dredge and fill.

The unanimous vote on a project that had riled the Rocky Point neighborhood near the Courtney Campbell Causeway came after nearly three hours of discussion late Thursday. Dozens of residents pleaded with council members not to allow a developer to fill in open water off North Rocky Point Drive, where they often see manatees and dolphins, to build town homes. A few hundred residents showed up, overflowing council chambers and crowding into the hallway.

"When I think about this filling, this outdated policy that was essentially outlawed in the 1970s, why are we going backwards? This is 2018," said council member Guido Maniscalco, who represents the area.

Immediately after the vote, council member Charlie Miranda made a motion to ask the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission to bring back an amendment that would explicitly ban dredge and fill projects for residential development. The city's comprehensive plan currently lacks that language.

Commission Planner David Hey said the change could be ready for council consideration in about six months.

Most of the meeting was dominated by Rocky Point residents, who lined up to register their concerns.

Mote scientists studying possible remedy for red tide

What if organisms in Sarasota Bay could help tame the effects of red tide? That's what researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory are hoping to find out.

This week, Mote is starting a lab study on whether certain organisms have any effect on Karenia brevis, the organism responsible for toxic algal blooms called red tide. When the naturally-occurring organism gathers in dangerous amounts, it can lead to respiratory irritation in humans and often causes fish kills.

The study will use six ladder-like structures that have had time to accumulate filamentous green algae — the stringy, matted plant that typically is the first to attach to underwater structures — and filter feeders like barnacles, tunicates and oysters in Sarasota Bay.

Pinellas County Floodplain Coordinator receives award from FEMA

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Pinellas County Public Works Floodplain Coordinator Lisa Foster has received the 2017 CRS Award for Excellence from the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Association (FIMA)—a division of FEMA. The award is presented to individuals who provide outstanding leadership in the Community Rating System (CRS).

In a letter of notification from FIMA, CRS Coordinator Bill Lessor summed up the importance of Foster’s commitment and leadership.

“Your work helps people to insure their most important investment—their home. It provides survivors peace of mind that they will receive an insurance claim payment for their losses. It brings stability to households. And, you enable the cost of insurance to be reduced! Congratulations Lisa.”

Foster’s work has reduced flood insurance premiums for unincorporated Pinellas County by 25%.

“Lisa’s work has saved more than $5 million on an annual basis for flood-insured county residents and businesses,” said Rahim Harji, assistant county administrator. “Her work ethic is tremendous. She believes so strongly in helping people understand their flood potential and getting the word out about purchasing flood insurance to protect families and businesses from financial hardship.”

The CRS Award for Excellence is presented to individuals who are actively involved in a CRS community, knowledgeable about the risk of local flooding, promote the use of flood insurance as a key preparation tool, engage community leaders to continually improve the community’s safety and resilience, and promote programs to alert the public to the risk of flooding.

The work of the CRS, as a whole, has made communities across the nation more aware of and resistant to the dangers of flooding and natural disasters.

Flooding can happen anywhere. Residents are encouraged to access flooding information and preparation resources by visiting www.pinellascounty.org/flooding. Residents are also encouraged to sign up for Alert Pinellas to receive emergency notifications via text, voice and email. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas for more information.