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Communications Corner

MarineQuest 25

As many know by now, the 25th anniversary of FWRI’s open house, MarineQuest, was cancelled this year due to Tropical Storm Nestor, which brought severe thunderstorms and high winds to the Tampa Bay area. While the public open house on Saturday was cancelled, School Daze still went on without any issues on Thursday and Friday and many school-children were able to experience a day of fish and wildlife education and fun. There were some new editions this year, like the “Bat Bonanza” display that had visitors exploring a “cave” and examining real Florida bat specimens.

This is the first time MarineQuest has been cancelled in its history, which is itself something of an achievement. While it is unfortunate that FWRI had to cancel the event, the safety of staff and visitors takes precedence. We look forward to seeing everyone next year at MarineQuest 26!

Research Spotlight

User Opinions of Hydrilla and Hydrilla Management at Lake Harris

By Daniel Nelson

Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) was introduced to Florida in the 1950’s and impacted over 140,000 acres of waterways by the early 1990’s (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences). The rapid spread of this aquatic plant can be attributed to the plant’s ability to establish new infestations based on small fragments, grow an inch or more a day, and grow in deeper water due to lower light requirements. These factors, among others, allow the plant to quickly out-compete other native aquatic plants, quickly developing a monoculture of submerged plants.

The rapid growth of hydrilla creates dense mats of vegetation at or near the water’s surface among many of Florida’s shallow waterbodies. This creates problems for water level control, and recreational uses including access and navigation of Florida’s lakes. Although there is a significant list of negative results of these infestations, there are definite positives as well. Hydrilla provides habitat for many sport fishes in Florida, especially the highly sought-after largemouth bass. Hydrilla also provides an ample food source for many migratory waterfowl species as well as a natural filtering component for nutrient rich waterbodies.

As these infestations have drastically altered areas of Florida, the issues have become extremely polarizing. In recent years, hydrilla has expanded in Lake Harris. In 2017 and 2018, it was estimated that 30% of the lake was covered in submersed plants, of which roughly 70% was hydrilla. Most stakeholder input received by FWC on hydrilla management was through stakeholder meetings or on various social media outlets. To make more informed decisions on hydrilla management, FWC needed a tool to better assess the varying levels of use on waterbodies, as well as the full spectrum of opinions of hydrilla management at these waterbodies. Biologists from FWRI, Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management and Invasive Plant Management worked together to develop this tool at Lake Harris.

Biologists were able to quantify the proportions of different users at Lake Harris by implementing a moving boat count into the annual creel survey. During the surveys, all moving boats were counted, therefore it could be inferred the proportion of boat included and not included in the creel. Boat type activities were then informed by a secondary survey at access points. These access point surveys then revealed the different activity proportions by different boat types and could be applied to all the moving boats seen on the lake. Finally, a 22-question survey was developed to identify the opinions of the various user groups at Lake Harris.

Since November 2018, 2,908 moving boats were identified using Lake Harris. The proportion of activity by each boat type was categorized by interviewing 1,095 boats. Bass boats and pontoons made up 61% of all boats using Lake Harris. The use at Lake Harris was split between angling (45%) and boating (55%). Boaters had a more negative opinion overall of hydrilla than largemouth bass anglers. Black Crappie and Sunfish anglers tended to be more similar to boaters, as their fishing techniques were negatively impacted by dense hydrilla. A high majority (94%) of all users wanted to see native vegetation expand in the absence of hydrilla. When asked about the use of herbicide as a control method, 35% of users voiced some concern. If FWC was to discontinue their treatment, 86% of users thought that hydrilla would expand greatly or cover the entire lake. Overall, users at Lake Harris had somewhat positive opinions (3.48) when asked if they were satisfied with FWC’s management of hydrilla (Likert scale 1-5; Extremely Negative to Extremely Positive).

This survey provided a framework for future research to quantify different user groups at different waterbodies to inform FWC when making aquatic management decisions. The survey also provided a representative, proactive approach to better understanding the user dynamics at Lake Harris and how they relate to the management of hydrilla. FWC can use the results of this study to target specific groups based on the current contact list when deciding on future management actions. This study at Lake Harris concluded that although biologists may hear from a vocal group of users that are displeased with management, overall users are more satisfied than originally thought.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Eric Weather, from Fisheries Independent Monitoring answered a few of our questions about himself and his career. Thanks, Eric.

What has your professional experience been like?

My experience began as a trout fisherman in the tributaries of Lake Ontario.   On a typical cold and misty fall afternoon in Western New York, I hiked down to a familiar trout hole on the Oak Orchard Creek.  I balanced on submerged cobbles along the shin deep river bank and rolled a marinated salmon egg toward the edge of an eddy with my grandfathers homemade bamboo fly rod.  A fresh run steelhead took the bait and charged down river.  That beautiful fish fought hard.  He was only hooked for a few minutes, but I was hooked for life…

A handful of years later I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with an undergraduate degree in Fisheries Science.  I began my career with the USDA Forest Service in the Klamath National Forest, California, sampling salmon carcasses at varying levels of decay.  A few years later the draw of the warm and diverse gulf brought me to St. Pete where I’ve worked with the FIM program for roughly 13 years. 

What are you working on now?

I work on a wide variety of FIM related projects.  Inshore and offshore field sampling, habitat mapping, GIS analysis, outreach products, etc.  The two science related topics I am most focused on currently are; developing an automated approach for habitat classification for multibeam sonar data and cross-comparing those results with habitat classes derived from side-scan sonar data; and, utilizing historic FIM and HAB data to better understand the impacts of red tide events in the estuaries along the west coast of Florida.

How is this information beneficial?

FIM’s mission is to provide timely data to support stock assessments and management decisions.  The habitat classification information will help inform FIM’s Gulf of Mexico stratified-random sampling survey design, which provides critical information for stock assessments.  The HAB impacts on estuarine fishes information will help managers and stock assessors better understand how to model populations and make informed decisions following perturbations such as red tide.

What is your typical work day like?

I choose this field in protest to the idea of a “typical work day.”

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

This is an extremely competitive field and it requires a unique set of skills and a driving desire to do good for our environment.  My greatest accomplishment has been having the opportunity to hire some incredibly talented individuals and work with them to develop their skills and confidence to become amazing scientists, that are having a positive impact on our world.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge I face is time.  There so much important work to be done here, and so many directions that we can go, it can be difficult to find balance at times. 

What do you like most about your career?

I love the people I get to work with and their passion for this field.  I learn something new every day.  I also love being on the water and staying connected to the data at the level of the sample.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

At 6 years old I was lounging on an itchy corduroy couch in my parents cold basement during a typical 9-month Buffalo, NY winter when an episode of Jaques Costeau’s Undersea World  came on and changed my life.  It was from that point on that I knew I wanted to work on the ocean. 

Before that,  I was primarily interested in being a cowboy.

What would you do if you weren’t involved in science?

It’s the fisheries part of the science that most interests me.  If I wasn’t involved in fisheries science, I’d probably be a charter fisherman or a distracted contractor that cuts out of work early to go fishing, or a cowboy.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

It’s not the opportunities that you can see that make the difference, it’s the ones that you make.  I don’t know who said that but I’m sure I didn’t make it up.  Seth Godin wrote a blog entitled something like – “Pick Yourself.”  This comment was based on his observation that in the world we live in today, the “gatekeepers” are sort of going away.  In this type of highly competitive field full of incredibly intelligent and motivated people, you need to find what problem you’re interested in solving, combine that with what you are good at (or would like to be good at) and create your own space.  Make your opportunities.  Pick yourself.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy sacrificing my free time to run a business that keeps my family financially viable.  I hope to someday have some of this so called “free time” to go fishing more.  I have an amazing family; my wife and two boys are everything to me and we enjoy being together and being healthy.  Everything else is gravy.

Director Message

Introverts in Flatland

By Gil McRae, FWRI Director

“Distress not yourself if you cannot at first understand the deeper mysteries of Spaceland. By degrees they will dawn upon you.”
― Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Some of you may be familiar with Edwin Abbott’s work quoted above.  Flatland (1884) is a novella about a two-dimensional world that satirizes Victorian class culture.  The residents of Flatland, without a third dimension, have no “space” as we commonly know it.  There is no “up” or “down” simply forward, backward and side-to-side.  In addition, there are distinctions based on gender and class.  All women are lines, regardless of standing, so they can literally disappear if viewed end to end.  For men, the complexity of the shape dictates the social class. Middle class workmen are equilateral triangles, gentlemen are pentagons, nobility are hexagons and the priestly order are circles.  Of course, in two dimensions (other than the ability of women to disappear) all these shapes look pretty much the same, so additional senses (smell, sound) are used to distinguish classes.  For example, women (the lines) are required by law to emit a loud cry as they move, lest they accidently stab someone if approaching them end-to-end.  In addition to its satirical elements, Flatland is fascinating from a geometrical standpoint.  This is most notable when a sphere visits from the three-dimensional world (aka spaceland).  A sphere viewed in two dimensions is essentially a line that starts small, gets bigger, then smaller as the sphere passes through flatland – and of course to a Flatlander the sphere appears out of nowhere.  Flatland had a bit of a renaissance moment in the early twentieth century when some interpreted Einstein’s theory of relativity as predicting a 4th dimension.  This is not technically true, and subsequent work by Hermann Minkowski (which Einstein ultimately agreed with) established the notion of “space-time” in which time and space are one intertwined fabric.  Einstein considered time itself the 4th dimension and his theories predict (later confirmed) that time slows down for observers moving fast relative to those moving slowly and that time also slows for observers in higher gravitational fields relative to those within weaker gravitational fields (string theory needs 10 or more dimensions to make the math work, but let’s not go there).  So, does this mean people that live in high rises age quicker (lower gravity) and that truck drivers age more slowly (higher speeds on average) than a non-trucker, non-high-rise dweller?  Yes, but infinitesimally so.  You may have heard about the recent confirmation of gravitational waves by multiple astronomers.  In the most well-known case, these waves were created when two black holes collided a billion years ago.  This collision was so cataclysmic it warped space-time, created the waves that were detected by sensors on earth a few years ago, and confirmed a key component of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

So, Flatlanders are locked into a perceptive bias based on what is observable to them, and there is a lot more going on in our three/four-dimensional world than we realize or can detect with our senses.  This got me thinking about human personality and the way we perceive the world and interact with each other.  The psychiatrist Carl Jung defined the terms introvert and extravert in the early twentieth century, but not how the terms are commonly used today.  Jung used the terms to distinguish whether individuals focus their energy on the inner world or the self (introverts) or external world (extraverts).  This is not necessarily the same as todays common usage where introverts are seen as shy and withdrawn while extraverts are social and outgoing.  The reality is more complicated.  Recent studies have shown that brains of extraverts and introverts (in the Jungian sense) fundamentally differ.  Extraverts are more sensitive to reward than punishment and tend to have more dopamine receptors in the midbrain.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that creates a pleasurable feeling.  Introverts have greater blood flow on the acetylcholine pathway than the dopamine pathway in their forebrain.  Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter associated with attention, learning and memory.  Of course, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the introvert/extravert scale but your tendencies may have a biological (and genetic) basis.  An extreme extravert within a group of introverts can feel a bit like the sphere entering flatland from another dimension – they experience the world in a fundamentally different way.

Wonder where you stand?  Do you gain energy from interacting with groups of people, or do you need a break to be by yourself after social gatherings?  Try this exercise:  draw a diagram with you in the middle and all the big challenging issues you can think of that impact your life in a circle around you.  Draw a line between yourself and the issues.  Where do you put the points of the arrows?

We are all different and perceive the world in unique ways. Sometimes this is due to things beyond our control.  Understanding and appreciating that fact seems like a good place to start for getting along with each other.

Further reading:  ftp://ftp.floridamarine.org/users/director/Nov.%202019%20further%20reading/