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.
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.
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).
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
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/
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.
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
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.
Five tiger shrimp captured by shrimpers in Pensacola Bay.
Giant Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon):
This catchy phrase coined by Robert Turpin (Escambia County Marine Resources Division) describes a recent invader to our marine waters in the past decade. Many coastal residents are aware of the invasive lionfish that has invaded our local reefs but less have probably heard of the Asian Tiger Shrimp. This member of the penaeid shrimp family, the same family are ediblewhite, brown, and pink shrimp come from, was brought to the United States in the 1960’s and 70’s as an aquaculture project. Over the years farmers have moved from Tiger Shrimp to the Pacific White Shrimp and the last known active farm was in 2004.
The Asian Tiger Shrimp can reach lengths of 12″
In 1988, two thousand of these shrimp were lost from a farm in South Carolina during a flood event. Only 10% of those were recaptured and some were collected as far away as Cape Canaveral. No more was heard from this release until 2006 when 6 were captured; one of those in Mississippi Sound near Dauphin Island. Each year since the number of reported captures has increased suggesting they are breeding.
In the Panhandle, one individual was caught in 2011 near Panama City and 5 were collected in 2012 in Pensacola Bay. They have been found in all Gulf coast states and there has been at least 1 record in each of the Florida Panhandle counties. The future impact of this shrimp to our area is still unknown but they have a high tolerance for salinity change and consume many types of benthic invertebrates. Tiger shrimp may out compete our native penaeid shrimps and could possibly feed directly on the juveniles. It is thought that they could possibly transmit diseases to our native shrimp.
Giant Tiger Prawn: This large shrimp, also known as the Asian Tiger Shrimp and the Black Tiger Shrimp, can reach lengths between 8-12 inches. It resembles are native edible penaeid shrimp but differs in that it has distinct black and yellow stripes.
NOAA scientists are interested in obtaining samples of this shrimp for DNA studies. It differs from other local penaid shrimp in that it is larger (8-12” long), dark in color (dark green to black) and has light stripes (white to cream colored). The larva and juveniles live in the bay. Sub adults will migrate offshore for breeding. They are a tropical species that have a low tolerance for cold temperatures, showing no growth below 20°C. If you think you have found one of these shrimp, record size location (GPS preferred), and email information to ExoticReports@MyFWC.com. You can also report to EDDMapS using the website or I’ve Got One! phone app. To learn more about Tiger Prawns view the USGS factsheet.
The nonnative Giant Tiger Prawn – also known as the Black Tiger Shrimp. Photo by David Knott, Bugwood.org