Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hurricane Michael Displaced Vessel Response

By Jonathan Veach and Timyn Rice

With Hurricane Irma still fresh in the minds of many Floridians, Hurricane Michael made a ferocious landfall as a high-end category 4 storm near Mexico Beach on Oct. 10t, 2018. Michael was the strongest storm on record to strike the Florida Panhandle and was the strongest hurricane in terms of maximum sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. At least 60 deaths were attributed to the storm.

On Oct. 18t, FWC and the U.S. Coast Guard received a FEMA mission assignment under ESF-10 (hazardous materials) to remove the pollution threat caused by displaced vessels within state waters, similar to the response after Hurricane Irma. The total mission assignment funding is $18,600,000 and ends February 16, 2019. 1,363 displaced vessels were identified by aerial imagery and field assessments. The mission is nearly complete, with 543 targets closed out of the 544 vessels deemed as requiring action. To date, 24,381 gallons of pollutants have been recovered.

A vessel being removed from a sensitive site.

FWC Law Enforcement staffed the Incident Command Post and provided uniformed officers and patrol vessels at all recovery operations. FWRI led the Environmental Unit (EU) which identified 341 targets in environmentally sensitive areas such as salt marshes, seagrass beds, aquatic preserves, historical sites and other critical habitats. Responders used ESRI Collector and Survey 123 applications to track and document progress throughout all phases of the response. The EU established a set of Best Management Practices and provided training to the vessel response teams to protect wildlife and minimize the impacts during recovery and removal operations. Hurricanes are a reality of Florida and FWC takes these operations with the respect they deserve.

FWC Conflict Wildlife Strategic Initiative

By Alexander Gulde

Over the last decade, human-wildlife conflict has emerged as a priority issue for state fish and wildlife agencies across the nation. Situations such as:

  • Explosive residential development in or adjacent to wildlife habitat
  • Easy access to food and shelter in neighborhoods and urban green spaces
  • Growing populations of people unfamiliar or uncomfortable with wildlife in close proximity to their homes

contribute to an environment that requires fish and wildlife agencies to step beyond their traditionally perceived role of wildlife management.

Recognizing the increasing potential for human-wildlife conflict incidents in Florida, FWC has taken a number of steps over the years to accommodate constituent needs by allocating resources and creating informational materials to provide guidance on conflict mitigation and resolution to the public.

One step was the creation of the Wildlife Assistance Program within the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. Their biologists work with individual citizens, neighborhood groups, local government agencies and other stakeholders to address nuisance wildlife issues and develop human-wildlife conflict mitigation strategies.

The FWC has taken steps that addressing that human-wildlife conflict is important for the agency and to charter the Conflict Wildlife Strategic Initiative Team as one of six strategic initiatives for the agency. The team’s mission is to

“Ensure continued support and appreciation for fish and wildlife by implementing an integrated programmatic approach across FWC to minimize adverse impacts associated with native and non-native fish, wildlife and plants. Successful efforts should minimize human health and safety, environmental, social and economic impacts.”

Since October 2014, the team has been meeting monthly to develop the goals, strategies, and actions for the initiative. The team identified three broad goals, with several strategies and actions for each:

  1. To develop integrated programmatic approaches to minimize adverse impact associated with wildlife.
    1. Developing and maintaining internal capacity across DOI lines
    2. Internal communications and training
    3. Identifying policy gaps that may hinder integration of the wildlife conflict management function across the agency.
  2. To identify and monitor the human dimensions aspects of conflicts with wildlife
    1. Using social science techniques to understand current conflicts and the associated attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and expectations of the public concerning FWC and human-wildlife conflict management in Florida.
  3. To minimize adverse impacts of conflicts with wildlife
    1. Increasing awareness that FWC is the wildlife management agency for Florida
    2. Increasing acceptance or understanding for wildlife occurring in the interface between human developed areas and wildlife habitat.
    3. Using the media as a form communication about human-wildlife conflict
    4. Educating stakeholders on FWC programs and laws to reduce conflicts with wildlife through community outreach efforts.

As part of the team’s work, a total of 29 actions were developed to achieve the strategic initiative. These actions are in various stages of implementation and include a significant amount of research and behind-the-scenes work to bring to fruition.

To learn more about this and other strategic initiatives, please take a look at the FWC’s Strategic Initiatives Website.


Incorporating Fish Nurseries in Oil Spill Planning and Response

By Shannon D. Whaley

Charlotte Harbor Study Area

Shallow, near-shore waters are used extensively as nurseries by juveniles of many fishery species. These same areas can be particularly vulnerable to damage caused by oil spills. Staff at the Center for Spatial Analysis are currently working with Research Planning, Inc. (RPI) in incorporating spatial distribution information on early life stages of fishes into the latest version of the Environmental Sensitivity Index mapping application for the southwestern portion of peninsular Florida. RPI’s Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) application is used throughout the United States for oil-spill contingency planning and response.  In the event of an oil spill, maps of biological resources are combined with models predicting the trajectory of the spill to quickly and intelligently respond to and minimize its ecological impact .

Using long-term fisheries independent monitoring data collected in shallow waters (< 1.5 m depth) of Charlotte Harbor, we performed

Zone Map

ordination analysis of community structure to identify patterns in species composition and relative abundance along important ecological gradients. We used the most influential ecological/spatial gradients identified in our ordination analysis to develop maps of nekton abundance and distribution patterns.  Results include maps that divide shallow waters of Charlotte Harbor into zones of relatively similar species composition.  These zone maps can be used to examine relative densities and distribution of individual species deemed as having economic, cultural, or ecological significance.

A draft list of fish species to be included in ESI is currently under revision, and the next step will be a formal review of the species list and seasonal distribution maps by fish species experts. Incorporating maps of fish nursery areas will compliment data on many other taxa, including sea turtle nesting sites, bird rookeries, and seagrasses and wetland habitat already in the ESI mapping application.

Studies of Turtle Grass Reproductive Success in Tampa Bay

By Sheila Scolaro and Mike Poniatowski, Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration

As part of a NFWF- funded study, we are investigating the reproductive success of turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) in panhandle estuaries and in Tampa Bay.

Turtle grass and other seagrasses are land plants that moved back into the ocean over geological time. As a result, they produce flowers that look a lot like chickweed (Stellaria sp.) that appears in yards each spring. Seagrasses spread asexually by vegetative fragments (shoots and rhizomes) and sexually by seeds or, in the case of turtle grass, viviparous seedlings.  Male and female flowers are on separate Thalassia shoots, and pollination is haphazard.  Thirty years ago, FWRI scientists Mark Moffler and Mike Durako determined that seedling production was very limited here in Tampa Bay.

This study is important because, in many areas where seagrasses have been lost in the past, recruitment might limit seagrass recovery.  Our study is just beginning, but we have made some preliminary observations.

Here in Tampa Bay, flowering is very patchy in time and space and flowering activity is most common in spring. Interestingly, flowers are more common (or maybe more easily seen) in turtle grass beds with lower shoot densities. As reported by Moffler and Durako, we have also seen that successful production of fruits and seedlings is uncommon in Tampa Bay, but we don’t know why that’s the case.  As we continue this study in 2017, we will visit as many spots around Tampa Bay as we can to find Thalassia flowers and follow those plants through the summer to determine success in seedling production and establishment.  We will also carry out parallel studies in Panhandle estuaries.

Please record locations and email if you see turtle grass flowers next spring.