Earth Day

Earth Day

What is 54 years old and growing better with age?  Earth Day!  Every year on April 22, we mark the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Prior to 1970, America and Americans lived with a host of environmental threats and concerns from automobile emissions due to leaded gas, industrial waste, and unchecked air pollution.

While a public awakening began to grow after 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, it wasn’t until 1969 when a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired long-term change.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentally conscious junior senator from Wisconsin, spearheaded the movement when he saw the potential to engage students to raise public consciousness about air and water pollution. He partnered with Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize campus teach-ins and to scale the idea to a broader public.

April 22 was chosen as the date, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. They branded the event Earth Day and promoted the event nationally. The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, to participate and demonstrate against the harmful impacts of unsustainable industrial development.

This first Earth Day united groups that had previously been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife. It also let to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and many of the environmental protection laws we have today, including the Clean Water Act.

Today, Earth Day celebrations continue, both as protests and celebrations.  Here in the Florida Panhandle, one way we celebrate Earth Day is by supporting beach cleanups.  It is one avenue to give back to our communities and help take care of the environment that we love.

Why not take the time to celebrate 54 years of progress and tradition?  Find a way to celebrate Earth Day this coming April 22, 2024.


Using Fish to Grow Food in Aquaponics

Using Fish to Grow Food in Aquaponics

I felt it this morning.  That first bit of humidity in the air.  That sign that it might indeed be time to move my tropical plants back outside and consider digging in my raised beds this weekend.  My seed catalogs are dog-eared, and my local garden store is flush with seedlings.  But then I remember, the squirrels, oh how I loath them.  They love to thwart all my soil-based gardening attempts, despite my feeble attempts to guard my crops.  My option?  Return to one of my first loves, aquaponics.



I have been practicing aquaculture as a career for over 30 years and aquaponics for about 15 of those.  Aquaponics is a unique food production method that combines aquaculture with hydroponics, or the raising fish with raising plants in a typically soilless system.  The fish produce waste nutrients that bacteria in the system convert into a form that the plants can utilize and extract from the water, thereby cleaning the water for the fish.  The process is a bit more complex than that and I can spend all day talking about it but that is the short version.  Aquaponics can be done in small homemade systems or very large commercial systems.  There are hundreds of designs online and you can spend hours online viewing what others have done.  My recommendation is to start with the research-based information that you can get for free from colleges and universities and then explore once you are confident in the basics.



In Florida, many types of fish and plants have been successfully grown in aquaponics, however, there are some legal restrictions on some species of fish, so be sure to check before deciding on what fish you will grow.  I chose to grow catfish in my system and over the years produced multiple crops and varieties of lettuce, bok choy, pak choy, cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, basil, turmeric, and snow peas; the sky is the limit. 


If you are interested in learning more about aquaponics in Florida, checkout this page on the Florida Sea Grant website:, or contact me for additional information or to get added to our aquaponics listserv.


Two inch tilapia fingerlings stocked into the Freeport High School aquaponics system in 2024.
Walton County’s Rare Coastal Dune Lakes

Walton County’s Rare Coastal Dune Lakes

October is Dune Lake Awareness month and as part of the celebration, Walton and Okaloosa County UF/IFAS Extension Agents are joining together to host a Coastal Dune Lake Tour at Western Lake in Grayton Beach State Park.  This free event will include a brief lecture and guided tour of the nature trail surrounding the lake.  Laura Tiu, Marine Science Agent, will start the tour with a history of the lakes, the unique ecology and some of the local protections.  Sheila Dunning, Horticulture Agent, will share information on the unique flora in the dunes including which plants have been used by native Americans and pioneers for food and medicine and the trees we find in the dune landscape surrounding the dune lakes and their adaptations to this sometimes-harsh environment.  If you have an interest in our local dune lakes or the tour, you may visit the Walton County Dune Lake website at  If you would like to register for this free tour go to or use our Facebook event link  Feel free to call our office, 850-892-8172, with any questions.

Western Dune Lake Tour
Whale I’ll Be!

Whale I’ll Be!

We are fortunate to have several whale species that have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico including humpback whales, Rice whales, fin whales, sperm whales, sei whales, and orca whales. Recently, however, we have seen multiple reports of whale sharks near shore in Destin and Panama City Beach. 

Whale sharks, however, are not whales, but the largest shark species and the largest fish alive today.  Whale sharks aren’t even closely related to whales.   They have gills, not blow holes.  They are huge, up to 46 feet in length and weigh up to 22,000 lbs., the weight of two African elephants.  Despite their large size, they are filter feeders with plankton being their main food, although they are also known to eat squid, krill, and small baitfish. They glide through the water at speeds of less than 3 m/hr, gently swinging their bodies side to side. They are not aggressive and pose no threats to humans.

Whale sharks prefer warm water, which is why they can be found in tropical areas and are often attracted to coastal areas due to a higher abundance of food. It’s no surprise, then, that they have been spotted in the Gulf. June to October is whale shark season in the Gulf, with Destin sightings being reported previously in 2013 and 2020. They are also found in many other countries around the world including Mozambique, Philippines, Honduras, Ecuador, Australia, Belize, Thailand, Egypt, Mexico, Seychelles, and the Maldives.

Unsurprisingly, many ocean lovers are desperate to get a glimpse of these majestic creatures in the water. However, experts recommend a hands-off policy for these gentle sea creatures.  The Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team has been collaborating with NOAA scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi to tag 10 of this year’s visitors to gain valuable insights into their migratory patterns and habitat use. You can follow their Facebook page for updates on current locations and tracking data.

Dotty, a 25 foot female whale shark tagged off Destin, Florida in July 2023 (Alex Fogg).
The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament May 20-21, 2023, at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL, is gearing up to tackle a pressing ecological challenge while showcasing the power of sport to make a positive impact. This unique tournament, held along the picturesque shores of the Emerald Coast, focuses on combating the invasive lionfish population in the region’s waters.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a significant threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. With their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, these invasive species pose a grave danger to native marine life. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament aims to address this issue by encouraging divers and fishermen to actively hunt and remove lionfish from the waters.

Participants in the tournament will compete to catch the most lionfish, utilizing their skills in underwater navigation, spearfishing, and conservation. Sponsors provide cash and prizes for multiple categories including most caught, largest and smallest lionfish. The event provides an exciting platform for experienced divers and newcomers alike to contribute to the preservation of the marine environment.

Beyond the ecological significance, the tournament also offers a thrilling experience for both participants and spectators. Divers equipped with their spears dive into the depths, searching for lionfish while showcasing their prowess and bravery. The tournament fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among the participants, creating a community dedicated to the cause of protecting marine ecosystems.

In addition to the competitive aspect, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament promotes education and awareness about the invasive species. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to learn about the impact of lionfish on local marine life and explore sustainable solutions to combat the issue at the free Lionfish Awareness Festival from 10:00-5:00 each day. Sign up to volunteer at the event if you want to join the fun. The week prior to the tournament is dedicated to Lionfish restaurant week where local restaurants practice the “eat ‘um to beat ‘um” philosophy and cook up the tasty fish using a variety of innovative recipes. 

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023 represents a unique fusion of sport, environmental conservation, and community engagement. By bringing together individuals passionate about marine conservation, this event serves as a powerful catalyst for change and a shining example of how sport can contribute to the preservation of our natural world.  Learn more at

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

Written with assistance from ChatGPT