Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sloppy stars surfski kayaking practice in the ocean

I have a new-to-me surfski kayak that is fast but quite tippy in rough water. It's a Nelo 560.



To improve my rough water balance and comfort level for the October 3rd Key West Classic race, I've been deliberately paddling in the ocean at odd angles to the wind and waves. (It's not THAT hard to go straight upwind or straight downwind, perpendicular the bumps, but getting the waves from the side and at oblique angles is quite tricky.) I've sometimes done a workout like this as "sloppy squares," drawing boxes with my path, but I changed it up this week with what I'm calling "sloppy stars." I program the workout in my Speedcoach GPS as 10x800m with no rest between the segments, and then I just have to estimate what angle to go at and remember to always turn left at the end of each segment to make the star pattern. I'm pleased with how this turned out.

Monday, September 7, 2020

COVID-19: What is our endgame?

It’s very hard for a group to accomplish an objective if the objective hasn’t been made clear. I think lack of clarity about objectives explains some of the United States’ ongoing struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dealing with a pandemic is a group effort that requires widespread understanding and agreement about the end goal. This helps us align our expectations with reality and carry out our individual responsibilities effectively. 

In this blog post I will try to articulate as clearly as possible what I think our COVID-19 objectives are, or should be. As of this writing it’s too late for 190,000 Americans whose lives have already been lost to the deadly disease, but millions more lives still depend on our actions now. 

Objectives- 

1. Our primary objective should be to minimize loss of life. Life is the most precious thing we have, and dying before one’s time is a tragedy worth going to great lengths to prevent. Good medical care can improve survival chances among the infected by a modest amount, but preventing infections in the first place is by far the most effective way to reduce mortality. We have straightforward and effective means of preventing infections through hygienic measures, which include social distancing, personal protective equipment, testing, and contact tracing. At some point we will probably have an additional means to prevent infections- vaccines, but the infection prevention strategy can be very effective even while we lack a vaccine

This is important to note, because there is a widespread misconception that without a cure or vaccine, hygienic measures are only “delaying the inevitable.” I.e., there is a misconception that eventual infection of the entire population is unavoidable. It IS avoidable, though, and this would be obvious if we just remembered some of the basic math of epidemiology; the well-established science of how diseases spread through populations. In epidemiology, R0 is the average number of new people than an infected person spreads the infection to before he or she either dies or recovers. If R0 is more than 1, then the number of infected people in the population increases, eventually including nearly everybody. But if R0 is less than 1, the prevalence of the disease in the population dwindles, eventually to zero, and most people are never touched by the infection at all

Just as a fire deprived of access to new fuel will burn itself down to nothing, a disease deprived of access to new victims will also fizzle to nothing. This is the goal, and it has already been achieved by countries like New Zealand, which now need only remain vigilant for smoldering embers and sparks from abroad. 

How long it takes for the disease to fizzle out depends on how low we can get the R0. If the number is only slightly less than 1 then the disease still burns for a long time, but if the number is near zero the disease is rapidly extinguished and society can get back to normal promptly. There's more information on the basic math of epidemiology here- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_reproduction_number 

2. Our secondary objective is to minimize suffering. Sickness and the death of loved ones inflict great suffering, so our most effective measures to prevent infections (see objective #1) are also our most effective measures to minimize suffering. 

While sickness and death are the greatest causes of suffering in a pandemic, our measures to prevent infection may inflict suffering, as well. I.e., there are significant social, emotional, and economic costs to our hygienic measures. This creates a difficult situation, because in a pandemic that is being managed effectively, where hygienic measures are enforced and infections and deaths are kept low, all citizens suffer from the prevention measures while relatively few experience the actual sickness and death. Thus the cure is perceived as worse than the disease, and there is heavy pressure to relax the hygienic measures. 

The social, emotional, and economic costs to our hygienic measures should be minimized to the extent possible, but not to the extent that they increase sickness and death. Indeed there’s a dangerous trap of prematurely relaxing the hygienic measures, causing R0 to rise and the disease to spread again. This dooms us to more deaths and a more painful and prolonged period of hygienic measures than we would have had to endure if we had just stuck with the measures the first time. As they say in addiction recovery programs, “Half measures availed us nothing.” 

3. Our final objective is to extinguish the fires of COVID and prevent them from reigniting. Extinguishing the fires depends on our keeping R0 consistently below 1 for “a while” through hygienic measures. As I noted earlier, how long it takes depends on how well we adhere to the measures. If we half-ass it with weak, unenforced rules and repeated cycles of premature reopening, we could still be fighting it for years. However, if we buckle down it won’t take that long to get to the point where COVID is nearly gone and we can get back to mostly normal life. Preventing the COVID fires from reigniting will depend on watching carefully for smoldering embers within our borders (testing), and guarding against new sparks from abroad (also testing and international cooperation). The social and economic costs at that stage will be a lot less than they are now, and we can maintain them indefinitely if necessary. However, we may get a break if a safe and effective vaccine is developed and widely administered. When a majority of the population has immunity due to vaccination, it’s very hard for a disease to find susceptible victims. An immunized population is a like a wet and soggy forest, where sparks are unlikely to catch and spread. This is the good kind of “herd immunity.” I have more to say on herd immunity, though. 

WARNING- “Herd immunity” is one of the most misinterpreted things about the COVID-19. Whether or not herd immunity is a desirable outcome or a horrible outcome is totally dependent on how we GET to it. Herd immunity achieved by mass vaccination would be our absolute best outcome, minimizing loss of life and minimizing suffering by negating the need for hygienic measures. However, herd immunity achieved by mass infection would be the absolute worst outcome. To get herd immunity through mass infection would mean that everybody who COULD die of the disease WOULD die of the disease. That would be something like 1% of the population, which in a country the size of the United States (330,000,000 people) would be millions of people. 

Conclusion: 

The mass infection route to herd immunity would be an appalling folly resulting in unfathomably large numbers of deaths and untold suffering. 

A half-assed strategy of weak hygienic measures and premature reopening cycles (which seems to be our current strategy) prolongs suffering and leads to high numbers of preventable deaths; not much better than the mass infection route. 

Hygienic measures may be annoying, but they are absolutely our best route (and currently our only route, pending a vaccine) back to normal life. They will get us to a sustainable state where COVID-19 is basically gone and we’re just waiting for a vaccine to put the final nail in its coffin. So mask up, social distance, and call on your elected representatives to do what science assures us we MUST DO to squelch these deadly fires and return us to normalcy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Learn Marine Ecology: My Narrated PowerPoint Lectures

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this spring I had to switch from conventional teaching to "online instruction" halfway through the semester at Florida Gulf Coast University. Online instruction is not as efficient, effective, or fun as conventional teaching, but it IS better than nothing. One bonus of producing recorded teaching materials is that I can make them available for free to interested members of the public. I have done this with the lectures for my Marine Ecology course "OCB4633C." This is a required course in the BS Marine Science program at colleges in the Florida State University system. I recorded the lectures by doing "voice overs" of my existing PowerPoint slideshow presentations, then converting the presentations to video and uploading them to YouTube. The voice over recording function in powerpoint also lets you use a "laser pointer" or "pen" tool to scribble on the slides as you talk, so I did a lot of that.

These presentations are not National Geographic quality, and some of them move a little slowly with an inordinate amount of "ums" and "ok, so"s. Also, they don't cover the entire semester's curriculum because I only started making them when the semester was half over. Furthermore, I did my coral reefs lecture early and out of order this year, so I've substituted another scientist's coral reef lecture video into that spot. If we're still locked down in the fall I'll record and post the rest of my lectures including my own take on coral reef ecology. Anyway, with those disclaimers done, here are the videos, in the order that I would normally present these topics to the students. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, if you note mistakes or unclear segments, etc.


Introduction and Patterns in the Marine Environment


Intertidal Ecology


Primary Production Pt. 1


Estuaries


Seagrass, Saltmarsh, and Mangrove Ecosystems


Coral Reef Ecosystems (NOT MY LECTURE- This is distinguished professor Nancy Knowlton from UCSD)


Deep Sea Ecology


Foodwebs, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Functions (this one is long with a lot of theory; casual watchers may want to skip or save for last)


Fisheries Ecology


Aquaculture (aka Fish Farming)


Disturbance Ecology


Pollution and Climate Change

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Snorkeling spots in Lee County, Florida (Bonita Springs, etc.)

Snorkeling Estero Bay from the East side of the road at Bonita Beach Dog Park.


Folks who know I'm a marine biologist often ask me if I can recommend any good, nearby snorkeling spots. (Within the Naples / Bonita Springs / Estero / Fort Myers / Sanibel area.) The answer is YES I CAN- SORT OF.

The thing is, this part of Florida doesn't have any near-shore coral reefs, and the waters are often dark and murky from a combination of natural and man-made factors like stirred-up mud, tannins, and blooms of microscopic algae that feed off the high levels of nutrients in the water. So even where there IS cool underwater life to see, you often can't see it very well because of the poor water clarity. Having given those disclaimers to set expectations appropriately low, I have had some good snorkeling experiences around here, and I'll tell you where your best bets are to have some good experiences yourself.

General recommendations-

1. Best times are weekday mornings before there is much boat traffic to stir up the water. Boats can also run over you and chop you into little giblets of meat with their propellers. So you should bring a dive flag if you're going in an area that potentially has powerboats.

2. Best times are when it hasn't been too windy / wavy, because wind makes waves and waves stir up mud from the bottom that reduces the visibility. Winds less than 10 knots are usually OK. That said, you can get away with snorkeling when it's windier if the winds are OFFSHORE WINDS. That means winds blowing from the land out to sea. These will not make waves along the shoreline, so they won't stir up the water.

3. Tide (level and whether it's coming in or going out) matters. Particularly when you're near the mouth of the estuary, where there's a changing mix of fresher estuary water and saltier ocean water, you may get the best water clarity when the tide is coming in, bringing the more clear water from offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. However, if there have recently been a lot of waves in the Gulf of Mexico from West winds, the incoming tide won't help and it could actually be more clear further back into the estuary. Tide can also matter because some sites may be too shallow at low tide or too deep at high tide.

Specific sites-

Estero Bay- Estero Bay is a shallow, semi-enclosed body of water where fresh and salt water mix. It has some interesting sea bottom habitats including beds of seagrass and seaweed that often have snails, fish, sea urchins, anemones, crabs, and other organisms living in them. The trick is to find a seagrass bed accessible from shore, in an area where the water isn't too murky. I have had some luck going from the east side of the road at Bonita Beach Dog Park on Lovers Key.There's a shallow area with seagrass, and a deeper channel as you go south towards the New Pass bridge that has some oysters and other shells and often has interesting crabs, urchins, and fish like Mangrove Snappers and Sheepshead.

A sand perch hanging out by a clump of oyster shells in the deeper channel part.




Another site at Estero Bay that sometimes works is the Big Carlos Pass beach access at the north end of Lovers Key. Big Carlos Pass is the biggest opening from Estero Bay into the Gulf of Mexico, and it sometimes has pretty clear water on an incoming tide. The bottom there is shelly, and there are some big pieces of rubble further out, like concrete pipes, that are covered with sponges, seaweed, and sometimes soft corals. Underneath the Big Carlos Pass bridge, around the pilings, there are piles of concrete blocks that often have reef fishes swimming around them. Just watch out for fishing lines and boats.



The ocean side of Lovers Key can also work for brave snorkelers if the tide is slack or outgoing and there are no waves. Near the entrance to Big Carlos Pass there is kind of a deep channel between shore and an offshore sandbar, and the sand is scoured away from the bottom there revealing rocks with urchins, seaweed, and sometimes big fish. You can swim really far out from shore and still in be in shallow water over the shifting sandbars. Watch out for boats, though.



San Carlos Bay- San Carlos Bay is the crossroads of several estuaries in the more northern part of Lee County. It's where the Caloosahatchee Estuary meets Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. The toll bridge to Sanibel Island (the Sanibel Causeway) crosses San Carlos Bay and includes two man-made islands where you can pull off and park to snorkel or windsurf or picnic or whatever. Look at the area on Google Earth and pick a spot where you see dark, mottled patches near shore. Those are seagrass and seaweed beds with a mixed shelly / sandy bottom. Depending on which direction the wind is coming from, different sides of the different causeway islands may offer the best shelter from the wind and waves and the most clear water.



If you want to snorkel in a similar environment but don't want to pay the $7 toll for the Sanibel Causeway, you can pull off on the side of the road just before the causeway at San Carlos Bay beach.



Another interesting spot is Bunche Beach, which has a mix of seagrass, seaweed, sand, rock/shell and invertebrates like sponges.



Good luck exploring, and if you make any great snorkeling discoveries, please share them in the comments.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hydrofoil flyby of buddy's OC1 canoe

My friend Matt is a good artist, and tech wizard who gets lots of cool water shots. The other day he caught this clip of us horsing around off Bonita Beach, FL.



If you want to see more of Matt's artistry, check out his ceramics studio webpage.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Sunday, November 10, 2019

CERF Report 2019


I just got back from five days at the 2019 Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) conference in Mobile, Alabama. https://www.cerf.science/cerf-2019
View of Mobile Bay from the hotel room

Fancy boat outside the Mobile convention center

Statistics workshop with collaborators after the meeting

I’ve gone to science conferences like this once or twice per year since the early 2000s when I was a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science https://www.vims.edu. Conferences are a place to present your research with a poster or a talk, and to absorb and exchange ideas from others’ research. My usual conference is the Benthic Ecology Meeting (BEM https://www.bemsociety.org/), which is a get-together of marine biologists who specialize in sea-bottom life like seagrasses, corals, and shellfish. This was actually the first time I’ve been to a CERF meeting.
CERF overlaps a lot with BEM in terms of topics and attendees, with a couple of distinctions:
  1. CERF includes more of what’s happening on land; in the “watersheds” that funnel freshwater and pollution into the ocean, and along the coastlines where marine and terrestrial ecosystems interact.
  2. CERF has more focus on “applied research” as opposed to “basic research.” I.e., there is more focus on trying to understand and solve particular environmental problems.
My early-career research addressed a lot of basic issues like how grazers and predators, and biodiversity, per se, affect ecosystem processes. I’m still interested in those general topics, but my research since joining the faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University has been more “applied,” addressing particular environmental problems affecting seagrass beds and water quality in Southwest Florida. Going to this CERF conference, and schmoozing with other practitioners of both basic and applied research, was very helpful in inspiring me and giving me useful research ideas. I’ll briefly review some memorable things I picked up from the conference.
  1. Genetic diversity within a single species can be very important, especially in seagrasses. In 2004, A. Randall Hughes et al. published a highly-influential paper showing that there were many different genetic strains within the eelgrass species (Zostera marina) in California. Hughes also showed that a genetically-mixed patch of eelgrass could resist and recover from environmental disturbances (like goose grazing) significantly better, than any one genetic strain alone. Fifteen years later, Hughes’ legacy was apparent at CERF in the numerous presentations on within-species genetic diversity effects in seagrass beds from all over the world.
  2. Living shorelines” are a growing, green revolution, even though most people don’t know what they are. Sea level rise, subsidence, and erosion are eating away at the coasts of the world, threatening both natural habitats and man-made coastal developments. The old way of dealing with this was by heavy-handed “coastal armoring” (seawalls, jetties, dikes, etc.), which tended to be expensive, bad for the environment, and prone to failure. The living shorelines approach uses natural protective elements like oyster reefs, mangroves, and saltmarsh grasses, in combination with man-made structural elements, to protect coasts in more natural, self-sustaining, and environmentally-beneficial ways. I saw talks showing how various living shoreline projects had reversed erosion, helped absorb nutrient pollution and carbon dioxide pollution, and created naturally-expanding habitats for birds, fish, and shellfish. Southwest Florida has hundreds of kilometers of eroding or unnaturally-armored canals and coasts that are prime candidates for living shoreline projects.
  3. The global trend of seagrass decline from the mid 20th century until now may have finally hit bottom and turned around into a recovery phase. However, this optimistic forecast is driven by a few, positive cases of recovery. Seagrasses continue to decline in many areas. Water quality seems to be a key factor differentiating the happy seagrass stories from the tragedies. Where water quality is naturally good, and/or there have been concerted efforts to improve water quality, seagrasses have spread and algae blooms have decreased. However, where pollution oversight has been lax, repeated harmful algal blooms and other water quality issues have devastated seagrass beds. Below is a rank of several important seagrass ecosystems in the eastern United States from most exciting recovery to most tragic decline in recent decades.
    1. Virginia Coastal Bays- Exciting recovery! The shallow estuaries on the sparsely populated eastern side of the Delmarva peninsula are an ideal place for seagrass, with relatively little pollution. However, they lost all their seagrass in the 1930s due to a combination of hurricanes and disease, and they just had bare mud bottoms from then until the 1990s. It was hypothesized that “recruitment limitation” (a lack of seed supply) was the reason for the lack of natural recovery in the area. This hypothesis was tested in the late 1990s when Dr. Robert Orth’s group of VIMS scientists replanted some seagrass in one of the bays. To their joy, the seagrass rapidly expanded. Subsequent re-seeding efforts were even more successful. 20 years later, as Orth is retiring, he can be proud to have helped restore thousands of acres of seagrass, enhancing fish and waterfowl populations, improving water clarity, and furnishing the other wonderful “ecosystem services” that come with healthy seagrass beds.
    2. Tampa Bay and Boston Harbor- Hard-Won Victories. In the late 20th century, population growth in the Tampa Bay watershed led to severe nutrient pollution from wastewater and stormwater runoff. The nutrient pollution caused “eutrophication” – a chronic overgrowth of algae in the water and on the bottom. In these dark and murky waters, seagrasses perished for lack of light. Managers in the region got serious about upgrading wastewater treatment plants and stormwater infrastructure, and implementing stricter regulations on the sale and use of fertilizer. They started a multitude of projects, large and small, to reduce nutrient inputs. As one of their benchmarks for success they aimed to return seagrass beds to 1950s levels. Sure enough, nutrient levels in the water declined, which caused algae levels in the water to decline, which made the water clear enough for seagrass beds to rapidly expand. Tampa Bay recently surpassed the 1950s-based goal, and now has some of the clearest and fishiest water in generational memory. Another seagrass area in the USA that has a big urban population but has nevertheless made good progress in seagrass restoration is the Boston Harbor area. They made billion dollar investments in upgraded sewage treatment infrastructure, which translated into clearer harbor waters, regrowth of seagrass, and an invigorated city waterfront economy.
    3. Chesapeake Bay- Finally turning the corner? Chesapeake Bay is a huge estuary spanning multiple states, with a watershed area that extends into even more states. The watershed includes many, heavily populated areas, as well as many areas of intensive agriculture, which makes reducing pollution to the bay a huge organizational challenge. The federally-funded Chesapeake Bay Program has been tracking bay health and implementing nutrient-reduction and habitat restoration projects in the area for years. There have been some ups and downs, with climate variation (extreme wet and dry, hot and cold years, etc.) often throwing a wrench in the works. But now, finally, it seems that a signal of recovery is emerging through the noise. Seagrasses in the bay are doing a bit better, though they still have a way to go before they meet the restoration goal. It’s time to seize that momentum and double down on restoration to make sure the positive trend continues and stabilizes. One encouraging thing to think about is the developing synergy between different types of habitat restoration effort in the bay. For example, restoring oyster beds along shorelines and channels in the bay increases the bay’s filter feeding capacity, which improves water clarity and can indirectly benefit seagrasses.
    4. Florida Bay- Still Dicey. Florida Bay is the shallow expanse of water between the Everglades and the Florida Keys. It has relatively little nutrient pollution because of its unpopulated surroundings and the fact that most of the freshwater that enters it has been filtered through the extensive wetlands of the Everglades. The seagrass beds in Florida Bay are some of the largest in the world. However, Florida Bay periodically suffers from massive seagrass dieoffs related to hypersalinity (excessive saltiness). These hypersalinity events are worse now that much of the freshwater flow of the Everglades has been diverted for human uses. After a seagrass dieoff in Florida Bay there are after-shocks that can lead to more seagrass dieoffs. For example, dead and rotting seagrass releases nutrients into the water that fuel dense algal blooms. Furthermore, the lack of seagrass allows mud to be stirred up from the bottom by wind waves. The resultant plumes of dark, murky water kill more seagrass and other sea-bottom life, such as sponges, which are important filter feeders and habitat-providers. Everglades restoration projects are supposed to eventually deliver more freshwater to Florida Bay and reduce the hypersalinity events. Unfortunately, restoration progress is slow, and held up by contentious debates about things like how low the nutrient levels in the freshwater must be to prevent damage to the Everglades and the Bay. In the meantime, Florida Bay seagrasses die whenever there is a drought exacerbated by the unnaturally low freshwater flow.
    5. Southwest Florida (Lee and Collier County)- Missing the recovery train. At the CERF meeting there was an ironic juxtaposition between my gloomy talk about “collapsing” ecosystems in SW Florida, and the talk that immediately followed mine, which was a sunny one about “recovering” ecosystems in SW Florida. Really we were both right; we were just talking about different parts of SW Florida. The other guy was talking about the northerly part of SW Florida that includes Tampa Bay but not Lee and Collier County, and I was talking about the southerly part of SW Florida that includes Lee and Collier County but not Tampa Bay. Anyway, seagrasses in my study areas are dying due to a combination of water quantity issues and water quality issues. The water quantity issues are well-known and related to artificial discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, which did not historically connect to the Lake. High discharges make the water of the Caloosahatchee Estuary and other connected estuaries too fresh for most seagrasses to survive, and also deliver dark, tannic waters, high nutrients, and sometimes harmful algae blooms to the estuaries and Gulf of Mexico. However, at other times the Caloosahatchee River flow is withheld for human uses and saltwater creeps abnormally far upstream, killing freshwater plants. While we have been obsessed with our bipolar water quantity problem and its complex solutions (which involve expensive changes to clean Okeechobee water and send more of it south into the Everglades again), we have been developing an equally serious water QUALITY problem that is more local in origin. I.e., sprawling development related to the ballooning population of SW Florida, in combination with weak regulations on both urban and agricultural nutrient sources, have led to rampant eutrophication of SW Florida’s estuaries. Our water is becoming too murky for seagrasses to grow, even at shallow depths, and gunky seaweeds are taking over formerly seagrassy places like Estero Bay. Furthermore, we have become the epicenter of a variety of recurring harmful algae blooms, some of them very dangerous to humans and other animals, and all of them related at least in part to our nutrient pollution. I asked one of the Tampa Bay restoration scientists what folks in “true SW Florida” could do to emulate Tampa Bay’s story of improving water quality and seagrass. He said, simply, “Start doing projects.” I think that’s excellent advice. It’s going to take lots of small and large nutrient-reduction projects to fix our water quality problem, so let’s start now and try to build momentum. While we’re doing little restoration things in our yards and communities, we can ask our leaders for big sewage system upgrades to “tertiary treatment with coupled nitrification-denitrification,” which removes most of the harmful nutrients and is what Tampa has, for the most part.
    6. Indian River Lagoon- Paradise Lost. There’s one major seagrass system in Florida that is doing even worse than SW Florida, and that is the Indian River Lagoon (IRL)- a long, narrow estuary that runs parallel to the coast from Palm Beach to Cape Canaveral. The IRL is significant as the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States, because it spans from the temperate zone to the tropics and has a blend of species from both zones. A lot of those species depend directly or indirectly on the seven species of seagrasses found in the IRL. Up until 2011 the seagrasses and water clarity were slowly declining as a result of nutrient loading from human population growth in the areas around the IRL, combined with water quantity and salinity problems related to various canal systems and water diversions. But in 2011 the shit really hit the fan with a so-called “superbloom” of phytoplankton. The plankton darkened the waters and wiped out a majority of the IRL’s seagrass beds. Since then there have been all kinds of other nasty phytoplankton blooms alternating with nasty seaweed blooms, fish kills related to low oxygen, and even a super duper bloom in 2016 that was bigger than the original super bloom. It’s going to take a lot of nutrient reduction work, including septic to sewer conversions, new regulations on agriculture and suburban fertilizer use, wetland restoration, and other projects to restore the IRL. Needless to say, stricter limits on growth and sprawl are also desperately needed in the IRL watershed, as they are in SW Florida’s watersheds.  PS- Another Florida East Coast estuary that I’ll lump in with the IRL is Biscayne Bay, the high salinity estuary off of South Miami. It recently lost almost all its seagrasses as the culmination of decades of chronic nutrient loading and declining water quality. To preserve delicate ecosystems like seagrasses and reefs next door to a heavily populated area takes a serious investment in nutrient reduction infrastructure and regulation. Boston and Tampa did it fairly well, but SW Florida and SE Florida have dragged their feet to dire effect.
  4. Climate change effects are showing up all over the place. A lot of research was presented on climate change impacts such as warming, sea level rise, and species range shifts. One of the sea level rise impacts examined was the shift of coastal forests to saltmarshes as saline water inundates roots. There were also tons of studies of the expansion of the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) northward into former saltmarsh habitats. If the trend continues mangroves will eventually replace most of the saltmarshes along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Seagrasses are also undergoing species range shifts. For example, in North Carolina where the temperate seagrass Zostera marina is at the southern end of its range and the tropical seagrass Halodule wrightii is at the northern end of its range, the ratio of the two coexisting species is shifting in favor of the tropical one. My own research colleagues presented data from turtlegrass (Thalassia testudinum) beds from Panama to Bermuda, which suggested that the intensity of grazing by tropical grazers is increasing in some areas, possibly due to warming.
  5. Academia is a mixed bag. This is something I got from talking to a lot people I hadn’t seen since graduate school. Some were happy with their current lot, others were very frustrated. It seems that academic institutional cultures and pressures vary a lot from place to place. Some of my peers are flourishing in professional and supportive environments, while others are changing jobs in angst or leaving academia entirely due to shitty work environments. One of the stresses that some institutions seem to handle better than others is the teaching – research tradeoff. Expecting faculty to do a lot of both doesn’t seem to work well, and institutions transitioning from more teaching oriented to more research oriented sometimes jerk their faculty back and forth a lot through this process. I realized I’m pretty lucky to have landed at FGCU, where the teaching-research balance suits me pretty well.