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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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 #
|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
There was a special Fishery Disaster declaration post-Hurricane Michael. Here is an example of the damage to marinas and vessels that service our local fisheries. Unseen is the economic damage to fishing crews and supporting shore base businesses such as seafood processors, bait and tackle shops, and tourism related businesses. (Photo by Allen Golden).
Florida Governor Scott requested Fishery Disaster Assistance because of Hurricane Michael October 23, and the US Secretary of Commerce official responded with a determination letter providing additional disaster assistance to impacted fishing businesses and individuals October 31, 2018. https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2018/11/us-secretary-commerce-wilbur-ross-declares-fishery-disaster-florida
This link provides an outline for the established process to obtain Fishery Disaster Assistance: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/frequent-questions-fishery-disaster-assistance
Additional Hurricane Michael relief funds and resources for local fisheries are welcome and encouraging. However, there are several steps before these specific program funds will be available. After the Secretary of Commerce sends the Florida Governor a determination letter, there are additional steps before those funds will reach the industry. The timing of these specific fisheries disaster resources varies; Hurricane Irma (2017) funds have not made it through the entire process at this time. A funding plan for Irma was recently developed by the state of Florida in September 2018. http://myfwc.com/conservation/special-initiatives/irma
Other disaster recovery programs, including those for Hurricane Michael, can be accessed now by fishing and coastal businesses. There is a helpful document written to help guide fishermen to other recovery resources with examples of how fishing businesses accessed some of these program funds. See more at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/webdam/download/66759294
One important immediate aid program to consider is the Florida Small Business Development Center ‘bridge” loan program. Solo proprietors can borrow $25,000 while businesses with paid employees can qualify for up to $50,000 for one year interest free. This program is meant to provide immediate dollars to assist business owners while they await other payments from insurance or federal assistance such as the Small Business Administration loan. Important Deadline: Applications will be accepted through December 7, 2018. Learn more about the Florida SBDC Bridge Loan program at http://www.floridadisasterloan.org
Federal Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program is a long term loan to aid in business or personal recovery. https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Documents/Three_Step_Process_SBA_Disaster_Loans.pdf
Business Recovery Centers (BRC) provide one on one counseling and assistance from both the Florida SBDC and US SBA to help individuals navigate the recovery process. The current location of the Hurricane Michael Business Recovery Centers is available at: http://floridasbdc.org/services/business-continuation/disaster/
The Florida SBDC also has permanent offices throughout Florida. Visit http://floridasbdc.org/locations/ to find a location near you.
If you need additional information assistance for your marina, commercial fishing, or for-hire charter business related to Hurricane Michael, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office and Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent.
Bay County – Scott Jackson – LSJ@UFL.EDU
Gulf County – Ray Bodrey – RBODREY@UFL.EDU
Franklin and Wakulla Counties – Erik Lovestrand – ELOVESTRAND@UFL.EDU
Okaloosa and Walton Counties – Laura Tiu – LGTIU@UFL.EDU
By L. Scott Jackson and Julie B. McConnell, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County
Northwest Florida’s pristine natural world is being threaten by a group of non-native plants and animals known collectively as invasive species. Exotic 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”. One of the most problematic and widespread invasive plants we have in our local area is 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 using it for food and traditional medicine. However, 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 tree 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 native shrubs and trees in Bay County, Florida. (Photo by L. Scott Jackson)
Mechanical removal of vines and potatoes from the soil is one control method. Additionally, herbicides are often used to remediate areas dominated by air potato vine but this runs the risk of affecting non-target plants underneath the vine. A new tool for control was introduced to Florida in 2011, the air potato leaf beetle. Air potato beetle releases have been monitored and evaluated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers and scientists for several years.
Air Potato Beetle crawling on leaf stem. Beetles eat leaves curtailing the growth and impact of air potato. (Photo by Julie B. McConnell)
Air potato beetles target only air potato leaves making them a perfect candidate for biological control. Biological controls aid in the management of target invasive species. Complete eradication is not expected, however suppression and reduced spread of air potato vine is realistic.
UF/IFAS Extension Bay County will host the Air Potato Challenge on June 6, 2018. Citizen scientist will receive air potato beetles and training regarding introduction of beetles into their private property infested with air potato vine. Pre-registration is recommended to receive the air potato beetles. Please visit http://bit.ly/bayairpotato
In conjunction with the Air Potato Challenge, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County will be hosting an invasive species awareness workshop. Dr. Steve Johnson, UF/IFAS Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology, will be presenting “Exotic Invaders: Reptiles and Amphibians of Concern in Northwest Florida”. Additionally, experts from UF/IFAS Extension, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and the Science and Discovery center will have live exhibits featuring invasive reptiles, lionfish, and plants. For more information visit http://bay.ifas.ufl.edu or call the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Office at 850-784-6105.
Flyer for Air Potato Challenge and Invasive Species Workshop June 6 2018
In the photo is a Houston area home with storm damage after hurricane Harvey . There are plenty of ways to help. See volunteer and donation opportunities at www.nvoad.org/voad-members/national-members . Photo by Christy Volanski.
Recent images of hurricane Irma and Harvey’s devastating impacts remind all of us living along the Gulf just how powerful tropical cyclones can be. There’s a Gulf of Mexico kinship we all feel. Even more today since Irma has put our Florida homes and cities in the news just like Harvey did a few days ago in Texas.
Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, and Ike are names that conjure personal memories of past storms that I’ve lived through and helped others recover from. Every storm’s impact and response is different but the main question is always the same, “What can I do to help?”
Help is the keyword. Showing up in a disaster area without a plan, without training, or without the support of a recognized and welcomed organization is potentially risky. Rogue, unaffiliated volunteers put themselves and others at risk by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just showing up is not help but compounds emergency recovery efforts.
Donating money is the best method to quickly provide resources where they are needed the most. Donating the wrong items can burden damaged communities and waste efforts. A better place to start to help is Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster or VOAD for short, http://NVOAD.org . VOAD includes well known response organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army, and other non-profit or faith-based organizations which specialize in community disaster recovery. You can visit their webpage to donate to specific recovery efforts and to learn about volunteer opportunities. VOAD organizations support volunteers with training, coordination with emergency managers, and often provide volunteers with some types of work insurance coverage. Similar opportunities and information can also be found with Volunteer Florida at https://www.volunteerflorida.org/irma
The severe impacts from Irma and Harvey will extend recovery for several years, so there will be ample opportunity for individuals to help immediately and into the foreseeable future. Harvey’s flooding reminds me of Katrina. I volunteered months after the storm with a faith-based organization to help rebuild a church in St. Bernard Parish. This church became a focal point to help distribute clothing, food and other resources as local families recovered. Another time we assisted flood victims on the Wakulla River, volunteering with the Salvation Army. This organization provided us with training and support as we helped with mud-outs, removing sediment flooded homes. Look for similar opportunities in responding to Harvey and Irma. These are just two examples of many ways you can help make a difference.
Now is the perfect time to contact one of the VOAD organizations or with Volunteer Florida if you are interested in volunteering. Floodwaters will soon crest, safe access will be restored, and assessments will be completed. As a result, restoration efforts will be prioritized, timed, and coordinated to meet local needs. Quality trained volunteers are needed to help life return to normal. You can be the answer to prayers all across the Gulf.
Giant Salvinia mats completely covering Bay County pond. This fast growing invasive can double in size every week! Photo by L. Scott Jackson
Matthew Phillips and Scott Jackson –
UF/IFAS Extension and Research works with many partners supporting invasive species management actions and strategies across Florida. One key partner is the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Invasive Plant Management Section. FWC Biologists provide resources and expertise to address threats from Florida’s most disruptive invasive species. FWC and UF/IFAS have worked together for years. They have teamed-up to help residents make the best cost-effective management decisions to preserve unique habitats and ecosystems. Most days are filled with routine questions from land managers and pond owners but on rare occasions there are days we will never forget.
Active growing Giant Salvinia was observed growing out of the pond water on to moist soils and emerging cypress and tupelo tree trunks. Photo by L. Scott Jackson
Giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) is an invasive free-floating aquatic fern from South America that is rarely observed in Northwest Florida. The species is on the Federal Noxious Weed List and the Florida Prohibited Aquatic Plants List. After a site visit with a pond owner, Scott Jackson, a University of Florida/IFAS Extension Agent, identified Salvinia molesta in the Bay County pond and notified the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Invasive Plant Management Section. Their staff confirmed the identification of the specimen and a second voucher specimen was transferred to the Godfrey Herbarium at Florida State University.
Jackson reported the observation on the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) housed at the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. This was only the second reported occurrence of giant salvinia in Northwest Florida. It is a high control priority for the state of Florida due to its high invasive potential.
Giant salvinia has caused severe economic and environmental problems in Texas and Louisiana and in many countries including New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Giant salvinia grows rapidly and produces a dense floating canopy on the surface of ponds, lakes, and rivers. It aggressively spreads by vegetative fragments and thrives in slow-moving, nutrient-rich warm fresh water. Floating mats of giant salvinia shade out native submersed vegetation and degrade water quality.
Mats also impede boating, fishing, swimming, and clog water intakes for irrigation and electrical generation.1 Salvinia molesta has been listed in The World’s Worst Weeds – Distribution and Biology2 since 1977. It was recently added to 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species, an all taxa list compiled by invasion biologists with the Global Invasive Species Database.3
The most distinguishing physical characteristic of Salvinia molesta is the basket- or egg beater-like hairs on the upper leaves (a hand lens is required) which distinguishes it from common salvinia (Salvinia minima). Common salvinia also has hairs on the upper leaf surface but they do not form basket-like structures at the tips. The upper leaves of both species repel water.
Photo by Barry Rice, sarracenia.com, Bugwood.org Rows of egg beater or light bulb shaped leaf hairs are a unique identifying characteristic of giant salvinia.
The location of the giant salvinia infestation found by Jackson is precariously close to Deer Point Lake, a 5,000 acre water body that is the main source of drinking water for Panama City and surrounding Bay County. The 2.5 acre infestation was on a 3.6 acre divided pond and both sections were treated. Treatment of the infestation was initiated by FWC in June 2013 at no expense to the property owners.
Bay County pond with no observed Giant Slavinia. Taken Oct 2013 by Derrek Fussell, FWC.
The pond continues to be monitored and, to date, there have not been any signs of living Salvinia molesta. We will continue to monitor the pond to make sure there is no re-establishment of giant salvinia. Investigations continue to try and learn more about the introduction of the pernicious species to this isolated pond.
Read more about the successful treatment regime FWC Biologists used to control giant salvinia in Northwest Florida. This was published in Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society’s publication “Aquatics” – see page 5.
WJHG 7 in Panama City ran this news story. Please see their webpage for additional information and video. “Invasive Plant Threatens Deer Point Lake“.
1 Giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta), Weed Alert, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL, 2 pp.
2 The World’s Worst Weeds – Distribution and Biology. 1977 and 1991. L.G. Holm, D.L. Plucknett, J.V. Pancho, and J.P. Herberger. 609 pp.
3 Alien species: Monster fern makes IUCN invader list. 2013. Nature 498:37. G.M. Luque, C. Bellard, et al.
Matt Phillips is an Administrative Biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Invasive Plant Management Section in Tallahassee; (850) 617-9430; Mattv.firstname.lastname@example.org Scott Jackson is a University of Florida/ IFAS Sea Grant Extension Agent, Bay County; (850) 784-6105; LSJ@ufl.edu