Can Culturing Oysters Be Part of the Fishery Recovery?

Can Culturing Oysters Be Part of the Fishery Recovery?

cage growing oysters

Extensive methods of oyster farming have been promoted in various forms and under changing laws for over 100 years in Florida. (UF/IFAS photo)

What: A Conversation About Oyster Aquaculture
When: Monday, July 29, 2013, 2 to 5 p.m.
Where: Community Center, Apalachicola (Ten Foot Hole)

Seeking insights into the pros and cons of growing oysters, Apalachicola’s commercial oyster industry has asked members of the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team to a question-and-answer discussion on Monday, July 29, 2013, from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Apalachicola Community Center. The program is open to the public.

Recent changes in state rules governing shellfish aquaculture in Franklin County have stimulated new discussions about growing oysters to supplement the traditional, wild-caught harvest, according to Karl Havens, director of Florida Sea Grant and the leader of the UF oyster recovery team.

While it is too soon to know if those changes will translate into financial success, culturing oysters remains a demanding and relatively unproven business, Havens said.

“The members of the UF team with expertise in aquaculture methods and economics will answer questions about all aspects of its feasibility.”

In June, the Florida Cabinet modified state regulations to allow owners of two existing oyster aquaculture leases in Franklin County to locate growing cages up off the bottom and into the full water column. The experimental technique applies to just two existing aquaculture leases of 1.5 acres each in Alligator Harbor, near St. Teresa Beach.

Apalachicola Bay’s commercial oyster fishery is trying to recover after extended droughts in 2011 and 2012 dramatically decreased one of the nation’s most productive fisheries. The UF recovery team recommended a long-term plan for future monitoring, research and management to restore the Bay’s oyster populations to historic levels.

The team also recommended a large-scale restoration of the bay’s degraded oyster reefs as a top priority to accelerate oyster recovery.

The meeting is hosted by SMARRT, the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team. There will be no formal presentations, just informal questions and answers.


Beach Vitex… Is It a Growing Problem?

Beach vitex expands it's woody rhizomes aggressively; it can actually grow over sidewalks.

Beach vitex expands its woody rhizomes aggressively; it can actually grow over sidewalks and driveways.


It’s actually a pretty plant, this Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia), and it is very good at stabilizing eroding dunes. In the 1990’s, the state of South Carolina planted this shrub to help restore dunes lost during hurricanes. It was selected because of salt tolerance, production of woody rhizomes (runners) that extend over 60 feet to trap sand, and the beautiful purple flowers that attract beneficial insects; it seemed perfect! However, folks along the Atlantic coast had no idea how invasive it would become a few years later. Residents discovered that it chokes out many of the native species such as sea rocket and sea oats producing an area of only this plant.



It is now causing problems for sea turtles. As you can see in some of these photos, the plant grows over the fore-dune, blocking access for nesting. Beach Vitex grows so aggressively that during the 60 day incubation time many turtle nests are overgrown, entrapping the hatchlings. Some have been found dead, entangled within the rhizome mats. The Beach Vitex “invasion” has become so bad that South Carolina developed a Vitex Task Force to deal with the problem.



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

This yard on Pensacola Beach has become overrun by vitex.

Is this a problem for Florida?

According to the records the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System, Beach Vitex is distributed northward to the Chesapeake Bay area and south to Jacksonville. It is found in coastal Alabama and there is one record of the plant in Escambia County.

With so few records in Florida it is not currently listed as an invasive species in our state and there is no program set up to control it. However the Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County, Rick O’Connor, was alerted in 2013 that vitex was in Gulf Breeze, Florida (Santa Rosa County) and possibly on Santa Rosa Island (Escambia County).



Please circulate to area residents to provide visual identification of Beach Vitex. Contact your Extension Office for control options and help reduce it’s impact on native species.


A “Wanted Poster” was developed by O’Connor to post in the coastal communities of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to see if the plant was more common than the records indicated. At this time, six properties on Santa Rosa Island have confirmed records of Vitex and two more will be surveyed soon. The wanted poster program was published in the local newspaper which reached the east coast of Florida. Reports from that coast indicate that it has extended south into Volusia County. Okaloosa/Walton Sea Grant Agent Brooke Saari is posting the wanted poster in those counties to see if the plant has reached their coasts.




The owner of this yard mowed the vitex.  However the woody rhizomes are still present.  They will need to either dig this up or use mutliple chemical applications to completely remove.

The owner of this yard mowed the vitex. However the woody rhizomes are still present. They will need to either dig this up or use multiple chemical applications to completely remove.


Anyone along the coast of the Florida Panhandle who feels they may have this plant can contact either Rick O’Connor (850-475-5230; or Brooke Saari (850-689-5850; and we can confirm identification. The plant is not currently listed as invasive in our state and removal is not required. However, based on the experience in the Carolina’s and other invasive species, if you wish to eradicate this plant doing so early is important. It is much less labor intensive and less costly when there are few plants. If you do choose to remove it please contact your local Extension office first. We can provide methods of successful removal. We would also like to photograph and log the record on EDDmaps.

Editor’s note: Rick provided all the photos in this article.


A means of survival: Mimicry

A means of survival: Mimicry

“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery,” wrote Charles Caleb Colton. Colton was a sometimes cleric, essayist, wine merchant and gambler who bounced around Europe and North America during the early nineteenth century. It is likely many of his financial lenders hoped the public would not imitate his borrowing practices.

Aside from his few literary works and the catchy phrase above, he was most noted for running up debts then leaving for parts unknown.

Eye spots on a Luna Moths wings are meant to deceive potential predators into believing they are seeing another predator.

Eye spots on a Luna Moths wings are meant to deceive potential predators into believing they are seeing another predator. Photo by Les Harrison.

Imitations are not looked upon kindly when lazy students, or journalists for that matter, complete an assignment by borrowing blocks of text. Plagiarism is a flunking and firing offense with career-ending potential.

The concepts of imitation and mimicry date back to the earliest written records of ancient Greece. The philosopher Plato used mimicry to define beauty and truth, and as a contrast to the negative aspects of life.

For the denizens of north Florida’s untamed regions, mimicry is a form of imitation which assures the survival of some. Survival always beats the alternative.

Insects are particularly effective at using several forms of mimicry to survive and reproduce in a very hostile environment where big hungry creatures always are on the prowl for their next meal. Eyes and disguise are the top tactics for continuation of the species. Multiple eyes on the bug’s face are common in the insect world. Large, eye-like spots on the rear of the bug are an effective form of defensive mimicry used by several local caterpillars species.

The saddleback caterpillar is a good example of how this deception is carried. There are two color-coordinated eye-like spots on the rump of this caterpillar. These spots are exponentially larger than the saddleback’s real eyes, which are barely visible without the aid of magnification. An approaching predator will quickly notice the blankly staring spots and likely recall the last encounter with this appropriately named creature.

Mature larvae of the saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimulea (Clemens). Photo by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida.


It is worth noting the saddleback caterpillar has more defensive weapons systems than an Ageis missile cruiser. The novice predator that attempts to dine on this colorful, plump morsel will always remember the experience.

In addition to insects and caterpillars, some spiders have eye-spots on their thorax. Depending on the circumstances, the hunter can easily become the hunted.

Juvenile water moccasins or cottonmouths are brightly patterned with a yellow tail tip that they wiggle mimic insects attracting small prey such as lizards, toads, and frogs. Photo courtesy of J. D. Wilson and the University of Georgia.

Another mimicry tactic is camouflage, the ability to blend into the background and avoid detection. Millions, if not billions, of dollars of hunting clothing is sold annually to provide deer and turkey hunters that perceived advantage over their potential trophy animal. Moths are quite adept at using this technique to hide in plain sight. In the wild they almost always rest or lay eggs on surfaces which closely resemble their color scheme.

The last form of mimicry occasionally seen is the lure. This method attracts the prey to its demise. A prime example is employed by young water moccasins which have a sulfur-yellow tipped tail. The tail is shaken to resemble a wounded insect as the snake hides in the leaf litter. The unwitting victim is surprised, no doubt, to discover its status as a menu item.


To learn more about how north Florida’s wildlife employs mimicry contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Wildlife Flourishes in Florida’s Summer! But Watch for Invaders Too!


Summer is a time to bask in the sunshine for many of Florida’s wildlife species.

Each of Florida’s seasons are characterized by a variety of amazing and beautiful wildlife activities.  Below is a list of some notable native wildlife behaviors occurring in July and August around the state. 



  • Shorebird migration starts in mid-July, peaking in August.
  • Swallow-tailed kites begin gathering as do purple martins and tree swallows in preparation for migrating south for the winter.
  • Look out for nesting shorebirds, and keep your vehicles and dogs from disturbing them.


  • Later this month, young alligators and crocodiles will begin to hatch.


  • Baby raccoons, foxes, armadillos, possums, and bobcats leave dens and begin following parents.


  • Sea oats flower along the Atlantic and Gulf.
  • Scrub morning glory and butterfly weed begin to bloom.

Of Special Historical Note:



  • First flocks of blue-winged and green-winged teal arrive to winter on Florida lakes and wetlands.
  • Yellow warbler migration begins.


  •  Two-year old black bear cubs will wean from their mothers.
  • Short-tailed shrews will begin a second round of breeding for the year.


  • Young sea turtles are hatching so avoid marked sea turtle nests and turn off lights to reduce light pollution.

    photo by L Avens 2003

    Sea turtle hatchlings are attracted to light sources on their dash to the ocean. Summer hatching means lights out for sea turtles! photo by L Avens 2003


  • Thousands of great southern white butterflies can be seen migrating through coastal areas.


  • Corals along the Keys spawn at the full moon

More of these “happenings” for the calendar year can be found at the University of Florida’s Wildlife Extension Website:  Wildlife Happenings.

Also at the Wildlife Extension website are a number of interesting resources to learn not only about our native wildlife, but our non-native/invasive wildlife as well.  For example: can you distinguish between the invasive Cuban treefrog and our native species?  The Cuban treefrog is well established in central and south Florida and has been documented in Bay and Leon Counties in north Florida.  Be on the lookout for this alien treefrog!


Image by Dr. Steve A Johnson 2005.

Natural habitats invaded by Cuban Treefrogs include pine forests, hardwood hammocks, and swamps. In urban and suburban settings they are most commonly found on and around homes and buildings, and in gardens and landscape plants – Image by Dr. Steve A Johnson 2005.

On the flip side, did you know that our “own” American Bullfrog is invasive in other countries throughout the world?  Also, current research is investigating the observations that mating calls of some non-native frogs may interfere with the dynamics of native frogs’ calling behavior.  These and other up-to-date facts can be found in the UF/IFAS Invader Updater newsletter.  The current issue has articles on the suckermouth catfish, Cuban treefrog, lampreys, and the recent record-sized python caught in south Florida.

Focusing back to our own unique native wildlife, you may find, as I did, this UF website of
Frogs & Toads of Florida of interest to you.  It has beautiful pictures of each species as well as an audio recording of its distinctive call.  So, turn up the volume on your speakers and listen to a sampling of the chorus that serenades Floridians each night. Click Here to listen to the call of the Squirrel Treefrog.