Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 2014 Caloosahatchee Seagrass Fieldwork Slideshow

NOTE: This is a very sciencey post, which is also presented on my pure-science blog, I haven't quite figured out yet what kind of posts I'll put just on my science blog, just on this jimbo blog, or on both blogs. I guess it depends on how interested my windsurfing followers are in science, which will be indicated by their comments or the lack thereof.

Since 2013 I've been working under a contract with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to monitor Submersed Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. "SAV" includes seagrasses, which live in saltwater, but it also includes freshwater plants that resemble seagrasses. There are two main reasons to monitor SAV:

1. SAV provides valuable "ecosystem services" such as creating food and habitat for animals (and fishing opportunities for humans), improving water clarity, removing excessive nutrients and carbon dioxide, and reducing erosion.

2. SAV is extremely sensitive to water quality, so changes in the amount of SAV can indicate pollution or other problems in the water environment that need to be addressed.

The Caloosahatchee Estuary has historically supported healthy beds of SAV both in the saltwater part where it joins the Gulf of Mexico and in the fresher part around the city of Fort Myers and upriver. Different species of SAV are typically found in the different parts of the estuary; seagrasses near the Gulf of Mexico, and freshwater "tapegrass" in the more inland part of the estuary. Man-made changes in pollution and salinity levels may affect SAV differently in the different parts of the estuary, so we monitor SAV at seven different spots along the length of the estuary.

The red writing on this map shows the seven sites where we monitor the abundance and health of SAV. The yellow writing shows where water quality (salinity, temperature, pollution, etc.) is measured. Collecting all this data allows us to relate changes in SAV to changes in water quality.
CRE SAV Study Sites photo CRESAVstudysites_zps455c6864.jpg

SAV has declined recently in some parts of the Caloosahatchee Estuary, with the worst declines being in the fresh and brackish parts where there's virtually no tapegrass anymore. Unstable salinity levels and murky, polluted water, which are both related to human activities in the land areas that drain into the estuary, are largely to blame.

Keeping track of SAV health over such a large area is a big job, especially with the rigorous monitoring and bookkeeping methods required to meet the high standards of the SFWMD. For example, at each of the seven monitoring sites we survey, we assess seagrass characteristics at 30 random points sprinkled over an area the size of a football field. Each point has its own designated Latitude and Longitude coordinates, and we use waterproof GPS units to find the points. This year we are also entering data directly into specialized "Trimble" GPS units, which seemed like a lot of trouble at first but is OK now that I've reallocated some money from the SFWMD to hire extra helpers. With me plus a paid research technician, plus two paid graduate students, plus a small army of unpaid undergraduate interns, we now have this fieldwork on LOCK. We got our May SAV (Submersed Aquatic Vegetation) monitoring for the SFWMD done with speed and style, and even had the time to take pictures while were out there (See slideshow below).

The SAV in the lower Caloosahatchee Estuary looked thick and healthy in May relative to its sparse abundance earlier in the year. However, the epiphytic algae growing on it was quite thick in places- possibly indicating excessive nutrient inputs from humans or a deficiency of algae-eating animals. In the upper Caloosahatchee Estuary the submerged aquatic vegetation remained very sparse.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Zipping on the Step-Tail Twin-Fin WindSUP

I continue to be smugly pleased with my modifications to the Angulo Surfa 10'4" windsurfable SUP. Whereas the original board loved wave-fuel but couldn't get much speed with wind-fuel alone, the modified board can adapt to whatever power source is available; wind and/or waves.

Yesterday the surf was barely knee-high, but an offshore wind gusting around 15 knots made up for the lack of wave power and led to a fun planing session with a 6.4 sail. The other sailor in the video is Alex from Naples, riding another type of windsup- an 8'5" RRD Wassup.

Boom Mount 5-17-14 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rundown of Spring 2014

I had a busy spring semester of teaching and research at Florida Gulf Coast University and didn't have much leisure time to spend on blogging. So now that I've turned in all my final grades and shifted gears to research-only mode for summertime, I'll catch up on some of the things I would have blogged about if I hadn't been so busy.

I kept my first-year students busy with lab activities in my "Marine Systems" class.  photo 0403140944-1_zps38f5e614.jpg

I hired a research technician to help me with labwork and fieldwork in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. She and my graduate student also made an official school webpage for me:

Sometimes the fieldwork was awesome.  photo P3280064_zpse4bdf723.jpg

In the lower part of the Caloosahatchee Estuary we saw cool saltwater critters like this Spotted Batfish.  photo 2014site8batfish4_zpsf42d883a.jpg

Sometimes the fieldwork was not awesome, but we still got it done.  photo P3240037_zps95b0dd3f.jpg

In the upper Caloosahatchee Estuary, where the water is mostly fresh, we searched for signs of Vallisneria americana, a grasslike underwater plant. As recently as the 1990s, Vallisneria formed lush underwater meadows in this area, full of brackish-water loving fishes and crustaceans. Unfortunately, unstable salinities resulting from irregular water flows through a man-made structure on the Caloosahatchee (the S-79 lock and dam) have decimated the Vallisneria. Where we searched near a bird rookery island in March, all we found were a few solitary blades of the grass, plus lots of gross mud and cracked eggshells and such.  photo P3310137_zpsd88101da.jpg  photo s1p1_zps870e0a87.jpg  photo P3310133_zpsa2d78565.jpg

The one thing I did make time to blog about this spring was windsurfing, although there were a few good windsurfing sessions and projects that I neglected to document. One project was changing the "double concave" bottom on my formula board to a "flat vee." It helped the board plane earlier and easier, and hasn't had any negative impacts that I can tell.

Intermediate stage in the bottom-shape conversion, where I had routed out the concave sections before filling them flush with foam slabs.  photo 0405141423_zps365d7550.jpg

Another windsurfing project was shipping the RRD beginner board I'd picked up on craiglist to a buyer in the Northeast. Shipping windsurfing gear is an expensive boondoggle.

I used about four rolls of packing tape and 20 cardboard boxes to wrap this on up, hence the sarcophagus appearance.
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My dog Grace learned how to SUP. I lured her onto the board with treats, but it was hardly necessary because she took to it quite naturally.

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She's so calm on the water that she'll even lie down and rest on the board.
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The Exocet WindSUP 11'8", with it's ample width and flotation, is nearly perfect for dog SUPing, though if I was only using it for that I would put some grippy padding on the nose because Grace likes to stand right on the bow.

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There were some interesting botanical events around my house in Bonita Springs.

One was the sexual maturation of a large agave plant in our front yard. It shot up a towering inflorescence, which began looking like a giant asparagus, then morphed into a multi-tiered flower structure as tall as our royal palm tree.  photo 0328141555_zps141521eb.jpg  photo 0511141209_zps3361e3d1.jpg

Another botanical event was our replacement of a ratty looking Crape Myrtle with some cute little Bougainvilleas.  photo 007_zps2d98dcc2.jpg

Rhonda also bought us a "tasteful" garden gnome sculpture. I assume our next purchase will be a pink plastic flamingo.  photo 005_zpsdcf7efcf.jpg

I shouldn't forget to mention Rhonda's HUGE spring news: She achieved her life's goal of getting a big book publishing contract. Titan Books bought her latest sci-fi novel, plus two more (not written yet) from the same trilogy.

Despite being a famous author, Rhonda still works full time for NASDAQ and works as a full-time dog parent and semi-pro miniature golfer.  photo 0406141503_zpscba685be.jpg  photo 0507141928_zps839a2ab8.jpg

Besides the worrying environmental trends I've seen during my research outings in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, there have been some other interesting and upsetting things going on with the environment of Southwest Florida. One of them is the relentless conversion of undeveloped greenspace to housing developments and shopping centers.

This is a political cartoon from outside one of my colleagues' offices. It was drawn in 1997. The areas around FGCU now look a lot more like the 2020 picture!  photo 0402141449_zps0a6c3936.jpg

In addition to the permanent loss of terrestrial wildlife habitat when these developments are built, I'm concerned about the additional runoff pollution that they'll introduce to the area's already strained waterways.

The canal near our house, for example, is looking really gunky.  photo downsize-2_zpsa311df10.jpg

One thing that I think degrades the health of the canal is that it's always being sprayed with herbicide. Some of the spraying is because its next to some disused railroad tracks. Though they don't maintain the tracks themselves in a state that would allow a train to pass, they still think it's necessary to poison every living thing in the right-of-way until its a shriveled brown wisp. Not all the herbicide is for the railroad tracks, though. They actually spray it right in/on the water of the canal and the wetland plants around it. I guess the government (city, county, state?) worries that it will get too clogged with plants to effectively drain water off the land in a flood. Some of the plants are non-native, too, like the beautiful floating "Water Hyacinth." The Lee County Hyacinth Control District often poisons them, but sometimes uses other methods, like introducing herbivorous fishes.

Canal filling up with live hyacinths before poisoning.
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Canal full of live and dead hyacinths, and poison, after poisoning.
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I'm not an expert, but my instinct as a scientist is that the best thing to do if the floating plants become a nuisance would be to sweep them up off the surface of the water with some kind of giant net or rake, then turn them into nutrient-rich compost for agriculture and gardening. You see, when aquatic plants grow they absorb the excess nutrient pollution from the water. If you kill them and leave them in the water to rot, all the nutrients and pollution (plus the herbicide) go right back into the water, causing problems downstream and in the ocean. But if you scooped them out instead you'd be removing the excess nutrient pollution- a win-win scenario.

Another uncool environmental trend is the fad of shark-fishing off the beach. Lots of macho young dudes will show up at the beach around sunset and set up tons of rods right in the area where everyone is swimming, beachcombing, and windsurfing. Sometimes they'll cast their baits out, and other times they'll use a kayak to put bigger baits out really far to try to catch bigger sharks.

Believe it or not, this small, butchered shark was actually being used as BAIT by a young man fishing off Bonita Beach Access #10. After an unsuccessful night of fishing he tossed it away in the water, where it drifted back and forth in the waves until bumping into an unsuspecting swimmer the next day, right before this picture was taken. Though there appear to be decent populations of small and medium sized sharks in Florida, their populations are actually extremely low compared to their healthy, historical abundance, and many shark species are still in decline. So I don't think catch and kill shark fishing should be allowed.  photo 0427141716_zps56c686cf.jpg

On a completely different note, I'm going to need a new windsurfing vehicle soon. The speedometer and odometer have never worked, the gas gauge doesn't work, the air conditioner doesn't work, and now the backhatch is rusting off. I might have to make a last-minute new-used minivan purchase before my honeymoon trip to the Florida Keys this June.  photo 0427141609_zps962836f6.jpg

I'll stop there for now.