Good Teachers

Good Teachers

Florida Master Naturalist Student and Florida State Park Ranger, Bruce Williams, prepares for his snowy plover lesson.

There is an oft quoted proverb “those who can’t do, teach.”  It is meant to be humorous, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Teachers of all kinds have enormous impacts on our lives.  For graduates of the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) there is a line in the mission statement that reads “The FMNP teaches those who teach others about Florida’s unique ecosystems and wildlife.”  In fact, to graduate, FMNP students must complete a project and present, or teach, it to the class.

A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson (John Henrik Clarke).  In a recent coastal class, we had the good fortune of having a State Park Ranger as a student.  His job requires him to do interpretive education at the park, so he had quite a bit of experience under his belt.  His project, a craft project involving the assembly of a cute snowy plover chick, was his way of holding his audience’s attention while he talked of the importance of preserving and protecting habitat for shorebirds.

I thought the project and message was impressive and worthy of sharing. To all of you teachers out there who work to make our lives and world better, thank you, and here is another great activity to add to your quiver. If you would like more information on the Florida Master Naturalist Program go here: https://masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu.

Making cotton ball snowy plover chicks

Group Project: Make a Snowy Plover Chick (Peipert, 2011)

This project is suitable for Elementary age through Middle school age children. It is recommended when doing project with a class or large group that some preparation is done ahead of time.

Supplies:

corrugated cardboard (disassembled brown packing box will do)

1 bag of cotton balls

1 container of black glass beads (sold at craft stores)

black sunflower seeds

1 container of wood toothpicks (kind with one end blunt)

1 can of black spray paint

several of each black, brown & gray markers

several bottles of quick dry tacky glue (sold at craft stores)

Cotton ball snowy plover chick craft

Preparation:

  • Using an exacto or carpet knife and T-square cut corrugated cardboard into 3”x3” squares for the # of stands needed. To complete stand preparation, write Snowy Plover chick on stand, draw a pair of feet in center of stand and pierce cardboard in center of feet. This step is a real time saver and recommended for young children.
  • Paint toothpicks with black spray paint for legs, easiest way to do this is by taking toothpicks and sticking them into a spare piece of cardboard upright them paint.

Instructions: (skip to instruction #3 if using stands with feet & holes premade)

  1. Draw a pair of bird feet on center of cardboard and if you want write” Snowy Plover chick” on cardboard.
  2. Use the pointed end of a toothpick to make a hole in the center of drawn feet. Then put the blunt end of toothpicks in the holes and put a heavy glob of glue around them. Don’t be shy with the glue, it will dry clear and will be better support.
  3. Take one of the cotton balls and roll around between hands to make it smaller. This will be the head. Next using all three or two markers make many dots on one side of both cotton balls creating a speckled pattern.
  4. Put a glob of glue at top of each toothpick and put larger cotton ball (the body) on top of toothpicks pushing down so the glue is covered by the cotton ball. Next put a glob of glue on the top of body and put white side of cotton ball (the head) on glue.
  5. To complete the chick put a small glob of glue on opposite sides of head then place glass beads on. Lastly put a glob of glue on side of head that the feet are facing forward and place sunflower seed on with the pointed end facing out.
  6. Let stand for at least 15 minutes to dry before handling.
  7. Enjoy your Snowy Plover chick creation!
The World is Your Oyster

The World is Your Oyster

There are a lot of good oyster quotes. One I remember from childhood is the saying to only eat oysters in months with the letter “r,” basically September to April. I believe this originated when all oysters came from the wild. This was a way to avoid the hot months that may have led to a watery oyster, or even food poisoning. Today, with the rise of oyster aquaculture and refrigeration, oysters can be enjoyed year-round.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently made the tough decision to shut down wild oyster harvesting in Apalachicola, FL for up to five years in response to a struggling bay oyster population threatened by water flow issues and overharvesting. This was devastating news to an area that historically produced 90% of the state’s oysters and 10% of the nation’s. On the bright side, oyster aquaculture has been steadily growing in the area and is working hard to fill some of the gap.

A team of Florida Sea Grant Agents recently made a visit to Apalachicola to learn more about this historic oyster town and how the industry is adapting. Our first stop was Water Street Seafood, the Florida Panhandle’s largest seafood distributer. Water Street provides a wide diversity of both fresh and frozen seafood, including oysters, delivering daily in northwest Florida and shipping worldwide. We visited their oyster processing facility where we saw mesh bags of oysters brought in from Louisiana and Texas. The oysters, both farmed and wild caught, are carefully cleaned and sorted, with some going to the live, halfshell, restaurant market and some shucked onsite for the shucked market.

Next, we visited one of the many new oyster aquaculture farms in the area. Oysters farms are permitted by the state and are located in waters that have been carefully evaluated for their suitability for oyster production. Small plots are leased to the farmer allowing off-bottom production in mesh bags teathered with anchors in the shallow, productive bay waters. Oyster farmers tend to their crop by turning the bags regularly to reduce fouling of the oyster shell, and sorting by size as the oyster grows. Oysters take between eight to eighteen months to reach a harvest size.

Given the increasing demand for oysters by tourists and locals, we can thank aquaculture for keeping these tasty gems on our plates. If you are lucky enough to find some locally raised oysters on the menu, take the opportunity to try something new and support a local farmer.

An oyster farmer visiting his lease to monitor his crop. (credit: L. Tiu)
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Fresh live oysters from an Apalachicola Oyster Farm (credit: L. Tiu)

Oyster bag holding cooler at Water Street Seafood with green bags holding wild caught oysters and purple bags holding farm raised oysters. (credit: L. Tiu)

 

Divers Spearheading the Fight Against Invasive Lionfish

Divers Spearheading the Fight Against Invasive Lionfish

A Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival volunteer sorts lionfish for weighing. (L. Tiu)

The northwest Florida area has been identified as having the highest concentration of invasive lionfish in the world.  Lionfish pose a significant threat to our native wildlife and habitat with spearfishing the primary means of control.  Lionfish tournaments are one way to increase harvest of these invaders and help keep populations down.  Not only that, but lionfish are a delicious tasting fish and tournaments help supply the local seafood markets with this unique offering.

Since 2019, Destin, Florida has been the site of the Emerald Coast Open (ECO), the largest lionfish tournament in the world, hosted by Destin-Fort Walton Beach and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC).  While the tournament was canceled in 2020, due to the pandemic, the 2021 tournament and the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival returned to the Destin Harbor May 14-16 with over 145 tournament participants from around Florida, the US, and even Canada.  The windy weekend facilitated some sporty conditions keeping boats and teams from maximizing their time on the water, but ultimately 2,505 lionfish were removed during the pre-tournament and 7,745 lionfish were removed during the two-day event for a total of 10,250 invasive lionfish removed. Florida Sea Grant and FWC recruited over 50 volunteers from organizations such as Reef Environmental Education Foundation, Navarre Beach Marine Science Station and Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center to man the tournament and surrounding festival.

Lionfish hunters competed for over $48,000 in cash prizes and $25,000 in gear prizes. Florida Man, a Destin-based dive charter on the DreadKnot, won $10,000 for harvesting the most lionfish, 1,371, in 2 days.  Team Bottom Time secured the largest lionfish prize of $5,000 with a 17.32 inch fish.  Team Into the Clouds wrapped up the $5,000 prize for smallest lionfish with a 1.61 inch fish, the smallest lionfish caught in Emerald Coast Open History.

It is never too early to start preparing for the 2022 tournament. For more information, visit EmeraldCoastOpen.com or Facebook.com/EmeraldCoastOpen. For information about Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, visit FWCReefRangers.com

“An Equal Opportunity Institution”

Ocean Potion

Ocean Potion

A great blue heron enjoying the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo: Chris Verlinde

June is National Ocean Month.  Close your eyes and think about just how many oceans there are.  Surprise, there is only one!  The ocean is huge, covering over 70 percent of the earth’s surface.  Traditionally, the ocean was divided into four named ocean basins: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic. However, most countries, including the United States, now recognize the Southern (Antarctic) as the fifth ocean. No matter where you live, you are connected to our one global ocean.

What do you know about our ocean? The ocean is where life began over 3.5 billion years ago. The ocean covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface and includes over 96% of the Earth’s water. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on Earth and can be seen from the moon! The deepest part of the ocean is in the Mariana Trench, and nearly 7 miles beneath the waves! Coral reefs cover only 1/50th of the ocean floor but about one quarter of all the marine species make coral reefs their home. No light penetrates the ocean at depths greater than 3,280 feet. Aided by deep diving rovers and remote sensing cameras, scientists are still discovering new species beneath the waves. The Gulf Stream transports more water than all the Earth’s rivers combined. The mid-ocean ridge crisscrosses the globe for over 40,000 miles and is the largest geological feature on Earth. Did you know that about 95% of the ocean remains unexplored?

What about our beloved Gulf of Mexico? Is it an ocean? No! While both oceans and gulfs are large bodies of saltwater, gulfs are smaller and are bordered on three sides by land.  In the case of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s bordered by the United States and Mexico. So, although it is large and salty like the ocean, the Gulf of Mexico is considered part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Happy National Oceans Month!

Reference: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/ocean/30days/welcome.html

The equatorial currents of the Pacific.
Image: NOAA

 

Ocean Potion

The Mystery of the East Pass

I am a curious person by nature.  When I first moved to the Emerald Coast, I had many questions about the area.  For example, why do they call this the Emerald Coast?  To help answer my questions, I turned to the Destin History and Fishing Museum in Destin, FL. If you haven’t yet visited the museum, I highly recommend it for locals and visitors alike.

It was easy to see why they call this the Emerald Coast once one lays eyes on the beautiful emerald color water.  Other questions weren’t so easily explained.  For example, I wanted to know why the pass out of Destin Harbor is called the East Pass, when it is clearly on the west side of Choctawhatchee Bay?  In fact, in the early 1900’s, the only outlet from the Bay to the Gulf was about 1.5 miles east of where the current pass resides and was called Old Pass Channel.  In 1929, a storm sealed off Old Pass Channel and a heavy dose of spring rain raised Choctawhatchee Bay five feet.  The threat of flooding inspired four local fishermen to take matters into their own hands and they dug a small trench across Santa Rosa Island to let the water out of the Bay. By the next morning, the trench had significantly widened into the East Pass we have today, connecting Choctawhatchee Bay to the  Gulf of Mexico.

 

 

 

 

However, that still didn’t explain the East Pass moniker.  To explain, we need to look west.  Choctawhatchee Bay is connected to Pensacola Bay by the Santa Rosa Sound.  This narrow passageway is the space between the Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island, and the mainland.  In the early 1900’s, many of the goods and services traded between inhabitants in Okaloosa and Walton counties traveled on ships from Choctawhatchee Bay, through the Santa Rosa Sound, and over to Pensacola Bay, instead of going out into the Gulf.  The opening between the Sound and Pensacola Bay is the West Pass, and hence the opening between the Sound and Choctawhatchee Bay is the East Pass.  Another mystery solved.

If you are interested in knowing more about the history of this area, the Destin History and Fishing Museum is the place to go.

 

 

 

 

 

Citation: Morang, A. . A study of geological and hydraulic processes at East Pass, Destin, FL.  Accessed: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a253890.pdf

“Foundation for a Gator Nation”