Help for Remaining Hurricane Michael Impacted Boats and other Shoreline Debris

Help for Remaining Hurricane Michael Impacted Boats and other Shoreline Debris

Sailboat high and dry on the shoreline

A storm impacted sailboat rests along the shoreline of Carl Gray Park near Gulf Coast State College. This vessel was removed after Panama City Law Enforcement Officers submitted the case for judicial processing. Vessels like this one, once legally processed, can be removed with the Hurricane Michael Marine Debris Removal Funds or by utilizing private funding sources. Photo by L. Scott Jackson

By L. Scott Jackson and Brittany Stark | UF/IFAS Extension Bay County and Florida Sea Grant

I received a phone call requesting an interview from a California based news outlet the day before Hurricane Michael made landfall October 10, 2018. The phone call came as I put the final hurricane shutter on my own home. I had spent the day preparing, bagging sand for old friends and new ones, I met at the sand pile in Lynn Haven.  The day’s experience began to sink in – everyone is preparing for a major hurricane! The interviewer asked, “What concerns you the most about this storm?” I thought for second, “What concerns me the most, the Gulf of Mexico hasn’t seen a cold front this year. This is as hot as the Gulf can get, which can fuel large hurricanes.” I couldn’t have imagined what would happen in the next 24 hours after I spoke those words, despite how ominous they were.

In many ways, Michael was our version of the “Perfect Storm”. In the subsequent months and now years, Michael’s extensive devastation continues to confound residents and those responding to provide help.

Emergency responders with the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife with Emergency Support Function 10 (ESF-10) worked effectively to address high priority vessels and marine debris problems immediately after Hurricane Michael. According to a media release January 11, 2019, “ESF-10 response teams have completed the following in their efforts to reduce the potential impact to Florida’s marine environment: Assessed 1,370 displaced, wrecked, sunken or beached vessels – 175 vessels mitigated and/or removed from the environment.”

I have been working with a team of professionals from the University of Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and local county Boards of County Commissioners in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties to acquire funds and setup to clean-up what remains of the Hurricane related debris. The targeted area includes the shorelines of St Andrew, St Joe, and Apalachicola Bays. The team received notification of a 3 million dollar grant award from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in April of 2020. This grant is designed specifically to help communities like ours recover and restore their bays and waterways after hurricanes.

Our project team made extensive use of Aerial Imagery. We estimate about 700 – 800 remaining marine debris targets including 90 vessels in the three-county project area, with the vast majority in Bay County and St Andrew Bay. Our goal is to clean-up and remove over 1,000 tons of marine debris during the project while protecting resources like seagrasses and shoreline vegetation.

The first phase of the vessel removal project was scheduled to begin in 2020. As a result of the pandemic and executive orders from Florida’s Governor, there was a pause to allow vessel owners the opportunity to address violations in this unprecedented situation. This put legal proceedings and investigations on hold from March through September 2020.

As 2021 began we had completed the remaining steps needed to initiate the clean-up and removal activities identified in our grant proposal. FWC completed legal investigations. NOAA finalized the required environmental assessment in consultation with appropriate federal and state agencies. Marine contractors and professionals were qualified and selected. We also employed two dedicated staff to work with impacted property owners that need assistance with shoreline debris and storm impacted vessels in Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties.

Our project Manager is Frank Mancinelli, a long-time Callaway resident and Air Force veteran, with professional experience and training in project management. Frank has a communications degree from Florida State University and a Master of Aeronautical Science / Safety degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Our program Assistant is Bree Stark, a Florida native and long-time panhandle resident, who graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Agricultural Education and Communication.

The number of remaining vessels and marine debris targets are astounding for everyone involved. Especially if it’s your property that is impacted. Each vessel has its own set of challenges that need to be addressed legally and logistically prior to removal. There are many obstacles that our project team can help property owners address.

The Hurricane Michael Debris Removal Team Wants to Hear from You!

Need a Hurricane Michael-impacted vessel removed? The Hurricane Michael Marine Debris Removal Project team wants to help!

If you would like to report a Hurricane Michael vessel in need of removal, contact Bree Stark by calling 850-378-2330 or by emailing bay@ifas.ufl.edu.  Even if the vessel isn’t yours or on your property, the team needs your help to verify and expand their database of known sites for clean-up. You can also report Hurricane Michael impacted vessels via our online survey at http://bit.ly/HMVessel

(Portions of this Article Originally Published in the Panama City News Herald)

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Thomas Obreza, Interim-Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.

New List Provides Assistance Options for Florida Coastal Businesses

New List Provides Assistance Options for Florida Coastal Businesses

Florida Sea Grant is maintaining a curated list of disaster assistance options for Florida’s coastal businesses disrupted by COVID-19.

Boats at dock in harbor

Boats at calmly at rest in Massalina Bayou, Bay County, Florida.

The list contains links to details about well- and lesser-known options and includes “quick takeaway” overviews of each assistance program. Well-funded and widely available programs are prioritized on the list. The page also houses a collection of links to additional useful resources, including materials in Spanish.

 

“There is a lot of information floating around out there,” says Andrew Ropicki, Florida Sea Grant natural resources economist and one of the project leaders. “We are trying to provide a timely and accurate collection of resources that will be useful for Florida coastal businesses.”

 

Ropicki and others on the project team stress that the best place to start an application for disaster aid is to visit with your bank or lender and the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC). They also suggest contacting local representatives by telephone or email and not to just rely on internet-based applications.

Overview of Selected Disaster Assistance Programs Benefiting Florida Small Businesses including Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fisheries (COVID-19)

The project team — which includes experts from Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension, and the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education — reviews the page regularly for accuracy and to include new options.

Commercial seafood is a large part of Florida’s economy and culture.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

“[I] really appreciate the outstanding work that you and FSG have done on consolidating the various types of aid available to fishermen due to the virus,” said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, in a recent email. “I’ve been searching for a comprehensive listing and you just provided it.”

National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2020 – An Opportunity for Action

National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2020 – An Opportunity for Action

February is a month filled with special celebrations and events like Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Groundhog Day, and of course NISAW!

 

NISAW or National Invasive Species Awareness Week isn’t as famous or beloved as the other February dates. You likely won’t get a day off, have a special date or receive a present from your loved ones. However, NISAW is an important time to remember and learn about invasive species that impact our beloved natural areas.

 

Invasive species originate from other continents and have adverse impacts on our native habitats and species. Many of these problem non-natives have nothing to keep them in check since there’s nothing that eats or preys on them in their “new world”.

 

This year NISAW is being celebrated February 24 – 28. It is the largest invasive species awareness effort in the U.S. You can learn more at https://www.nisaw.org/nisaw-2020/

or on Facebook at @invasivespeciesweek. Search other social media outlets using #NISAW or #invasivespecies.

 

We would like you to help celebrate NISAW in a more meaningful way, beyond awareness and clicking a few links or sharing social media posts with your friends. Bay County and Northwest Florida need your help in fighting invasive species this year, especially the air potato vine.

 

Air potato vine originated in Asia and Africa. It was brought to Florida in the early 1900s. People moved this plant with them, having used it in the past for food and medicine. Today, we know raw forms of air potato are toxic and consumption is not recommended. This quick growing vine reproduces from tubers or “potatoes”. The potato drops from the vine and grows into the soil to start new vines. Air potato is especially a problem in disturbed areas like utility easements, which can provide easy entry into forests. Significant damage can occur in areas with heavy air potato infestation because vines can entirely cover large trees. Some sources report vine growth rates up to eight inches per day!

Air potato vines covering shrubs and trees in Bay County Florida.
Photo: Scott Jackson

We plan to start local NISAW activities a few days early on February 22nd, with the collection of air potato vine tubers or potatoes also known as bulbils of this species. Bay County Conservancy will host an “Air Potato Round-Up” behind Panama City Orthopedics in the Audubon Nature Preserve which is located at State Ave and 19th Street. The collection and workday is scheduled from 9am until Noon. Volunteers are encouraged to wear long pants, gloves, comfortable shoes or waterproof boots. Expect a rewarding but dirty job! For details and specific information please contact Teresa Nooney at 850-814-4755.

 

Other communities are promoting other NISAW workdays and events known collectively as “Weed Wrangle”. UF/IFAS Extension Bay County and Escambia County will serve as collection sites for Air Potato vine bulbils through the last week of February as permitted and designated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). For additional details contact and coordinate delivery with your county UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Ron Houser weighs collected air potato bulbils.
Photo: Teresa Nooney

Because air potato vine is a regulated invasive species, only UF/IFAS Extension offices working directly with FDACS under their permit will be able to accept air potatoes. Air potatoes must be delivered in person, you cannot mail or ship them. Participating offices are:

UF/IFAS Extension Bay County, https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/bay , 850-248-8091.

UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County, http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/escambia , 850-475-5230.

Unfortunately, mechanical removal of vines and herbicide applications is difficult and may cause harm to desirable plants making it very difficult to manage. Removing and collecting air potato vine tubers helps in the control of this plant. When the potatoes are left in place, they will produce new vines the following spring.

 

The bubils that are collected by local UF/IFAS Extension offices will be given to Florida Department of Consumer Services (FDACS) air potato beetle rearing labs. This will help them raise more beetles that can be distributed throughout the state for establishment and vine control.

Air potato beetle crawling on a leaf stem.
Photo: Julie McConnell

The air potato leaf beetle was released in Florida in 2011. This beetle was originally identified as a natural predator of air potato vine within its native range and was found to be effective in keeping growth in check as well as being safe to other plants because it has such a specific dietary source. Air potato leaf beetles eat only air potato vines! Only after years of extensive research to ensure the safety of Florida ecosystems, was the air potato leaf beetle cleared as for use as a biological control insect to aid in the control of air potato vine.  Air potato beetle releases are monitored and evaluated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers and scientists as they continue to establish populations and monitor the work of air potato vine leaf beetles throughout the state.

 

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.

New Artificial Reefs for the Florida Panhandle

New Artificial Reefs for the Florida Panhandle

Deployment of the El Dorado as an Artificial Reef

Panama City Dive Center’s Island Diver pulls alongside of the El Dorado supporting the vessel deployment by Hondo Enterprises. Florida Fish and Wildlife crews also are pictured and assisted with the project from recovery through deployment. The 144 foot El Dorado reef is located 12 nautical miles south of St Andrew Pass at 29° 58.568 N, 85° 50.487 W. Photo by L. Scott Jackson.

In the past month, Bay County worked with fishing and diving groups as well as numerous volunteers to deploy two artificial reef projects; the El Dorado and the first of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) reefs.

These sites are in Florida waters but additional opportunities for red snapper fishing are available this year to anglers that book for hire charters with captains holding federal licenses. Federal licensed Gulf of Mexico charters started Red Snapper season June 1st and continue through August 1st. Recreational Red Snapper fishing for other vessels in State and Federal waters is June 11th – July 12th. So booking a federally licensed charter can add a few extra fish to your catch this year.

The conversion of the El Dorado from a storm impacted vessel to prized artificial reef is compelling. Hurricane Michael left the vessel aground in shallow waters. This was in a highly visible location close to Carl Grey Park and the Hathaway Bridge. The Bay County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) acquired the El Dorado, January 14, 2019 through negotiations with vessel owner and agencies responsible for recovery of storm impacted vessels post Hurricane Michael.

The El Dorado was righted and stabilized, then transported to Panama City’s St Andrews Marina by Global Diving with support from the Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife. Hondo Enterprises, was awarded a contract to complete the preparation and deployment of the vessel for use as an artificial reef.

Reefing the El Dorado provides new recreational opportunities for our residents and tourists. The new reef delivers support for Bay County’s fishing and diving charters continuing to recover after Hurricane Michael. Several local dive charter captains assisted in the towing and sinking of the El Dorado.

The El Dorado was deployed approximately 12 nm south of St. Andrew Bay near the DuPont Bridge Spans May 2, 2019. Ocean depth in this area is 102 feet, meaning the deployed vessel is accessible to divers at 60 feet below the surface.

The Bay County Board of County Commissioners continues to invest in the county’s artificial reef program just as before Hurricane Michael. Additional reef projects are planned for 2019 – 2020 utilizing Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) and Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act) funds. These additional projects total over 1.3 million dollars utilizing fines as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Deployments will occur in state waters in sites located to both the east and west of St. Andrew Bay Pass.

Large Crane Deploying Artificial Reef Concrete Module

Walter Marine deploys one of nine super reefs deployed in Bay County’s NRDA Phase I project located approximately 12 nautical miles southeast of the St. Andrew Pass. Each massive super reef weighs over 36,000 lbs and is 15 ft tall. Multiple modules deployed in tandem provides equivalent tonnage and structure similar to a medium to large sized scuttled vessel. Photo by Bob Cox, Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association.

The first of these NRDA deployments for Bay County BOCC was completed May 21, 2019 in partnership with Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection using a $120,000 portion of the total funding. The deployment site in the Sherman Artificial Reef Permit Area is approximately 12 nm south east of St Andrew Bay Pass at a depth of 78 – 80ft.

Patch Reef # Latitude Longitude
BC2018 Set 1

(6 Super Reefs and  4 Florida Specials)

29° 55.384 N 85° 40.202 W
BC2018 Set 2

(1 Super Reef and 4 Florida Specials)

29° 55.384 N 85° 39.739 W
BC2018 Set 3

(1 Super Reef and 4 Florida Specials)

29° 55.384 N 85° 39.273 W
BC2018 Set 4

(1 Super Reef and 4 Florida Specials)

29° 55.384 N 85° 38,787 W

In 2014, Dr. Bill Huth from the University of West Florida, estimated in Bay County the total artificial reef related fishing and diving economic impact was 1,936 jobs, $131.98 million in economic output and provided $49.02 million in income. Bay County ranked #8 statewide in artificial reef jobs from fishing and diving. Bay County ranked #3 in scuba diving economy and scuba diving was 48.4 % of the total jobs related to artificial reefs. Dr. Huth also determine that large vessels were the preferred type of artificial reef for fishing and diving, with bridge spans and material the next most popular. Scuba diving and fishing on artificial reefs contributes significantly to the county’s economic health.

For more information and assistance, contact UF/IFAS Extension Bay County at 850-784-6105 or Bay@ifas.ufl.edu. Follow us on Facebook at http://faceboook.com/bayifas .

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.

This article is also available through the the Panama City New Herald

New List Provides Assistance Options for Florida Coastal Businesses

Strategies for Avoiding Seasickness

Boats at dock in harbor

Boats at a calm rest in Massalina Bayou, Bay County, Florida.

Wow! I was so excited to hear the news. Dad had just called to invite me on a deep sea trip out of Galveston. I had grown up fishing but had never been to sea. My mind raced – surely the fish would be bigger than any bass or catfish we ever caught. I day dreamed for a few moments of being in the newspaper with the headline, “Local Teen Catches World Record Red Snapper”.

It seemed more like a Christmas Morning when dad woke me up for our 100-mile car trip to the coast. We hurried to breakfast just a few hours before sunrise. I had the best fluffy pancakes with a lot of syrup, washed down with coffee with extra cream and sugar. I was wide awake and ready for the fishing adventure of a lifetime!

The crew welcomed us all aboard and helped us settle in. Dad was still tired and went to nap below deck. I was outside taking in all the sights of a busy head boat, including the smell of diesel fuel, bait, and dressed fish. About an hour into my great fishing adventure things started to change. I grew queasy and tired. I went to find my dad and he was already sick. I looked at him and then turned around to go out the ship’s door. My eyes saw the horizon twist sideways and my brain said “WRONG!!!” – this was my first encounter with seasickness.

The crew quickly moved both of us back outside. I was issued a pair of elastic pressure wristbands – the elastic holds a small ball into the underside of your wrist. The attention and sympathy might have made me feel a little better but there was really no recovery until we got back into the bay an excruciating 6 hours later. There were no headlines to write this day, only the chance to watch others catch fish while my stomach and head churned – often in opposite directions.

Fast forward to today, decades later. I often make trips into Gulf to help deploy artificial reefs without any problems with motion sickness. Some of my success in avoiding seasickness are lessons I learned from that dreadful introduction to deep sea fishing long ago.

  1. Be flexible with your schedule to maximize good weather and sea conditions. If you are susceptible to motion sickness in a car or plane this is an important indicator. Sticking to an exact time and date could set you up for a horrible experience. Charter companies want your repeat business and to enjoy the experience over and over again.
  2. Get plenty of rest before your fishing adventure. Come visit and if necessary spend the night. Start your day close to where you will be boarding the boat.
  3. Eat the right foods. You don’t need much food to start the day, keep it light and avoid fatty or sugary diet items. As the day goes by, eat snacks and lunch if you get hungry.
  4. Stay hydrated and in balance. Take in small sips when you are queasy or have thrown up. You need to drink but consuming several bottles of water in a short time period can create nausea.
  5. Avoid the smell zone. When possible, position yourself on the vessel to avoid intense odors like boat exhaust or fish waste in order to keep your stomach settled. It is best to stay away from other seasick individuals as their actions can influence your nausea.
  6. Mind over matter – Have confidence. Knowing you have prepared yourself to be on the water with sleep, diet, and hydration is often enough to avoid seasickness. However, if you routinely face motion or seasickness then a visit with your doctor can provide the best options to make your days at sea a blessing. Their help could be the final ingredient in your personal recipe for great times on the water with friends and family.

For more information, contact Scott Jackson at the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Office at 850-784-6105.