Life on the Gulf Coast can be beautiful, but has its share of complications. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Life on the coast has tremendous benefits; steady sea breezes, gorgeous beaches, plentiful fishing and paddling opportunities. Nevertheless, there are definite downsides to living along it, too. Besides storms like Hurricane Harvey making semi-regular appearances, our proximity to the water can make us more vulnerable to flooding and waterborne hazards ranging from bacteria to jellyfish. One year-round problem for those living directly on a shoreline is erosion. Causes for shoreline erosion are wide-ranging; heavy boat traffic, foot traffic, storms, lack of vegetation with anchoring roots, and sea level rise.
Many homeowners experiencing loss of property due to erosion unwittingly contribute to it by installing seawalls. When incoming waves hit the hard surface of the wall, energy reflects back and moves down the coast. Often, an adjacent homeowner will experience increased erosion and bank scouring after a neighboring property installs a seawall. This will often lead that neighbor to install a seawall themselves, transferring the problem further.
Erosion can damage root systems of shoreline trees and grasses. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Currently, south Louisiana is experiencing significant coastal erosion and wetlands losses. The problem is compounded by several factors, including canals dredged by oil companies, which damage and break up large patches of the marsh. Subsidence, in which the land is literally sinking under the sea, is happening due to a reduced load of sediment coming down the Mississippi River. Sea level rise has contributed to erosion, and most recently, an invasive insect has caused large-scale death of over 100,000 acres of Roseau cane (Phragmites australis). Add the residual impacts from the oil spill, and you can understand the complexity of the situation.
Luckily, there are ways to address coastal erosion, on both the small and large scale. On Gulf and Atlantic beaches, numerous coastal communities have invested millions in beach renourishment, in which offshore sand is barged to the coast to lengthen and deepen beaches. This practice, while common, can be controversial because of the cost and risk of beaches washing out during storms and regular tides. However, as long as tourism is the #1 economic driver in the state, the return on investment seems to be worth it.
On quieter waters like bays and bayous, living shorelines have “taken root” as a popular method of restoring property and stabilizing shorelines. This involves planting marsh grasses along a sandy shore, often with oyster or rock breakwaters placed waterward to slow down wave energy, and allow newly planted grasses to take root.
Locally in Bayou Grande, a group of neighbors were experiencing shoreline erosion. Over a span of 50 years, the property owners used a patchwork of legally installed seawalls, bulkheads, rip rap piles, private boat ramps, piers, mooring poles and just about anything else one can imagine, to reduce the problem. Over time, the seawalls and bulkheads failed, lowering the property value of the very property they were meant to protect and increasing noticeable physical damage to the adjacent properties.”
Project Greenshores is a large-scale living shoreline project in Pensacola. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
In 2011, a group of neighboring property owners along the bayou decided to take action. After considering many repair options, the neighbors decided to pursue a living shoreline based on aesthetics, long-term viability, installation cost, maintenance cost, storm damage mitigation and feasibility of installation. By 2017, the living shoreline was constructed. Oyster shell piles were placed to slow down wave energy as it approached the transition zone from the long fetch across the bayou, while uplands damage was repaired and native marsh grasses and uplands plants were restored to slow down freshwater as it flowed towards the bayou. Sand is now accruing as opposed to eroding along the shoreline. Wading shorebirds are now a constant companion and live oysters are appearing along the entire 1,200-foot length. Additionally the living shoreline solution provided access to resources, volunteer help, and property owner sweat equity opportunities that otherwise would have been unavailable. An attribute that has surprisingly appeared – waterfront property owners are now able to keep their nicely manicured lawns down to within 30 feet of the water’s edge. At that point, the landscape immediately switches back to native marsh plants, which creates a quite robust and attractive intersection. (Text and information courtesy Charles Lurton).
Successes like these all over the state have led the Florida Master Naturalist Program to offer a new special topics course on “Coastal Shoreline Restoration” which provides training in the restoration of living shorelines, oyster reefs, mangroves, and salt marsh, with focus on ecology, benefits, methods, and monitoring techniques. Keep an eye out for this course being offered near you. If you are curious about living shorelines and want to know more, reach out to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Ecosystem Restoration section for help and read through this online document.
DId you know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?” This one is Utricularia inflata. Photo by Lyn Gettys
I don’t know about you, but living in “La Florida” – “the land of flowers” (the Spanish translation of Florida – named in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León) makes it difficult to have a short list of favorite plants. While I do have a number of plants in my “favorites” list, carnivorous plants are always at the top in the “wow, is that real?” category! Many people have read about, or have seen the carnivorous pitcher plant communities in Florida panhandle bogs, meadows, and seepage slopes, but did you also know that Florida is home to 14 species of aquatic carnivorous plants called “bladderworts?”
Utricularia’s many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size, and seen in this photo as small dark spots) actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates! Photo by Lyn Gettys
These bladderworts are in the genus Utricularia whose Latin meaning, “little bag,” is descriptive of the many small bladders (only a few millimeters in size) on the plant which actually trap and digest tiny aquatic invertebrates! Bladderworts are found in lakes, ponds, wetlands, and quiet coves of rivers and streams. They are commonly found in waters with low pH and low nutrients. One interesting fact is that bladderworts do not have roots. They have main stems from which lacy, intricate leaves grow. Like other plants, bladderworts produce food by photosynthesis; but the trapped invertebrates supplement the nutritional requirements of this plant. The Botanical Society of America reports that currently 220 species of Utricularia are found in temperate and tropical habitats throughout the world representing the most diverse and widespread genus of carnivorous plants.
A close-up of the tiny Utricularia bladders. Photo by Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org
Similar to a Venus fly trap, hairs on the opening of the bladder act as triggers. When tiny prey swim by and contact these hairs, it causes the bladder to spring open and inflate, drawing in water and prey like a vacuum. Research has found that bacteria living in the traps act together in a mutualistic role to digest the food trapped in the bladders. An article in the Journal of Experimental Botany entitled “The carnivorous bladderwort (Utricularia, Lentibulariaceae): a system inflates,” details another fascinating aspect of these plants: the bladders often look like the tiny prey (microcrustaceans/cladocerans) they are catching.
“Darwin (1875), noted yet another insight: aquatic Utricularia bladders bear a striking resemblance to microcrustaceans. The bladder shape, surface reticulations, stalk, and especially the antennae and bristles resemble microcrustacean anatomy. Interestingly, the bladders most closely resemble the littoral zone cladocerans (bosminids and chydorids) that are frequently found or overrepresented in bladders (Guiral and Rougier, 2007; Alkhalaf et al., 2009)….Moreover, experiments reveal that the cladoceran-like structures of bladders significantly improve the capture rates of cladocerans (Meyers and Strickler, 1979; Harms, 1999; Jobson and Morris, 2001).”
Bladderwort flowers are small but beautiful, and are designed to maximize pollination. This is purple bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea). Photo by Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Bladderwort flowers are another beautiful feature of this plant. In Florida most species have yellow flowers, some are lavender to purple. The flowers bloom several inches above the water, and their shape is designed to efficiently attract and remove pollen from pollinating insects like bees. Part of the flower is shaped like a spur which contains a nectar reward for pollinating insects. This link, The Utricularia, to a Botanical Society of America publication details the botany and pollination ecology of bladderworts.
We hope this article piques your curiosity about some of Florida’s obscure native, aquatic, carnivorous plants! Maybe you, too, will include them in your list of favorite La Florida plants!
Below are the publications used for this article:
The mission of the Florida Master Naturalist program (FMNP) is to promote awareness, understanding and respect of Florida’s natural environment. FMNP graduates, Paul Bennett and Charlie Lurton have both worked diligently through the permitting process to place living shorelines consisting of oyster shell bags and marsh plants along their coastal properties.
Living Shorelines incorporate a range of natural structures to protect coastal shorelines from erosion and enhance habitat for wildlife. Oyster shell bags, biologs, plants and sand fill may be used or a combination of natural materials may be used in a living shoreline project. These projects provide “soft” shoreline protection that offers economic and ecological benefits to the property owner. They are recommended for use in low wave and erosional settings.
In higher wave energy areas, seawalls and bulkheads may be required for shoreline protection. These types of projects “harden” the shoreline, and do not allow for intertidal habitat and eliminate the natural slope of the shoreline. Hard structure projects can have a detrimental effect on nearby properties as wave energy is deflected from the structure and can increase erosion nearby, alter sand movement and decrease intertidal habitat.
Both Mr. Bennet and Mr. Lurton realized the importance and benefits of shoreline protection using natural materials, both men attributed this knowledge to their experiences in the FMNP. The FMNP graduates worked with the local branch of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Coastal Office, Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves, to obtain funding and permits for the projects. DEP’s Florida Coastal Office has worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ Coastal Program to promote and support living shoreline projects across the Panhandle.
Oyster reef breakwater along the Shoreline of Bayou Grande, Charlie Lurton’s project. Photo credit: Zachary Shang
Installing the oyster reef breakwater along the shoreline of Paul Bennett in East Bay, Santa Rosa County, FL. Photo Credit: Beth Fugate
Mr. Lurton worked with seven of his neighbors to create 1,200 linear feet of shoreline. This project on Bayou Grande in Escambia County incorporated 39 oyster reefs, each built of 200 bags of recycled oyster shells. Each bag of recycled oyster shell weighs approximately twenty pounds for a total of 78 tons of shell! 11,300 native grasses and salt tolerant plants will be installed along the shoreline this year.
Mr. Bennet’s project along East Bay in Santa Rosa County consists of 5 reefs built along the mouth of a freshwater marsh located on his property for a total of 10 tons of shell. DEP’s Florida Coastal Office will determine if native grasses and plants are needed for the project in the future.
“The conversation for both of these projects started years before we were able install any materials so it’s rewarding to see them take hold,” said Zachary Schang, environmental specialist with the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves. “It was in large part due to the persistence of the property owners who wanted to deal with a natural problem using a natural solution.”
These types of habitat restoration projects allow for ecological and economic benefits for the property owners. The Fl. Master Naturalist Program promotes understanding and awareness of natural resources, these two graduates have demonstrated what it means to be a FMN.
Watch this newsletter for more about the FMNP and FMNP graduates. For more information about the FMNP and classes being offered in your area, check out http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/.