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SCCF Marine Lab scientists present at CHNEP Watershed Summit

By Staff | Jun 10, 2020

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab staffers presented their research and updates on various projects at the Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership 2020 Watershed Summit.

Held on June 1-2 via Zoom for the first time this year, the summit is a tri-annual meeting for scientists, policymakers, managers, and the public to share and learn about current topics of research and restoration in the local watershed. Over 200 people attended and learned about the work being done by SCCF and other organizations within the region.

During “Session 1: Water Quality Improvement,” Marine Lab Manager AJ Martignette presented data on the development of a dead zone near Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico caused by fish kills and high freshwater flows from the Caloosahatchee during the 2018 red tide event. Using depth profiles of dissolved oxygen from sites throughout the affected area and ArcGIS, the size of the hypoxic area was determined to be 628 square kilometers. After Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the water column became well mixed, and dissolved oxygen was restored to healthy levels.

Research Associate Mark Thompson described the performance of the Jordan Marsh that was completed in January 2019. The 3.4-acre marsh was designed to clean water in the Sanibel Slough, which is identified as an impaired water body by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Littoral plants take up nutrients as water from the slough is pumped into the marsh before slowly meandering through the system and then is pumped back into the slough.

Research Assistant Kevin Jones discussed the new in situ continuous nutrient sensors that the lab is testing, with plans to add them to the Beautiful Island and Fort Myers RECON sites. Data from SCCF’s continuous monitoring and long-term data sets provide valuable information about the condition and health of the estuary. The addition of nutrient sensors in the field will expand the lab’s data set and improve research capabilities.

During “Session 3: Fish, Wildlife, & Habitat Protection,” Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt discussed the success and progress of oyster restoration in San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay. He walked attendees through the process of selecting sites for restoration using Trimble and RTS GPS to develop elevation maps. In addition to restoration sites, reference and control sites were used to determine if the results of restoration are due to the efforts of the lab scientists and volunteers or natural processes.

Once the sites were selected, various methods were used to bring fossilized shells, or oyster shells from local restaurants, to the sites including buckets and volunteers and even an excavator on a barge to move large volumes at once. Within two years of construction, the oyster reefs at the restored sites were similar to the reference sites. With the success of the project, more oyster reef restoration is being planned to start within the next three years.

Research Associate Leah Reidenbach talked about the progress of the hard clam restoration pilot project in Pine Island Sound. She discussed the lab’s plans to plant 12,000 hard clams and monitor the site for clam survival, reproduction, and changes in water quality. Hard clams, like oysters, are filter feeders and populations of hard clams were depleted in Southwest Florida in the mid-twentieth century. Hard clam restoration has not yet been attempted in the region, so the purpose of the project is to determine how well clams respond to restoration efforts and if there are effects on water quality where hard clams are present.

Overall, SCCF made a strong presence at the conference and some staff members were co-authors on other papers presented at the meeting. Staff also enjoyed hearing about the progress that other organizations, agencies and non-profits were making on their research. Even though the meeting was online, staff members were still able to network and talk with colleagues.