Florida Steps Up Water Protection

Florida Steps Up Water Protection

Florida Governor Rick DeSantis stopped by the Rookery Bay Research Reserve last month to unveil Bold Vision for a Brighter Future, a far reaching executive order focused on water policy in southwest Florida.

The order proposes to tackle many of the state’s water quality challenges head on. It includes $2.5 billion to restore and protect the Everglades, as well as plans to reduce stormwater discharge from Lake Okeechobee to the coasts and recharge water supplies for Ten Thousand Islands and Florida Bay estuaries. The order also pledges to create a Blue-Green Algae Task Force and a new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to coordinate responses to rising sea levels.

“While the Task Force has the potential to benefit water quality for all of southern Florida,  the new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection will have the biggest effect on our Reserve and the others in the state,” says Keith Laakkonen, manager of the Rookery Bay Reserve. “As part of the new office, Florida’s three Reserves will have a larger role in coastal resiliency and serve as a hub for information and coordination of projects addressing sea level rise.”

“It’s encouraging to see Governor DeSantis’ promote such a resilient, science-based vision for Florida’s coasts,” says, Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “Many problems that Florida experiences are felt by coastal communities served by Reserves around the country. We are excited to share lessons learned from Florida’s investments around our national system.”


Thank You, Harbor Seals!

Thank You, Harbor Seals!

 Photos courtesy Narragansett Bay Reserve.

Although today is what passes for “winter balmy” on Narragansett Bay—low forties, clear, a light wind—it’s still cold enough to remind local snowbirds of the human variety to fly south. If they do, they might miss seeing one of the state’s increasingly popular winter residents, the harbor seal.

Coming in from destinations north every fall, these “dogs of the sea” love Narragansett Bay in the winter, when waters are chilly and flush with herring. In recent years, harbor seal populations in Rhode Island have grown as more northern species are traveling further south to state waters.

Watching harbor seals sun themselves on rocks and play in the water just feet from the shores of our Narragansett Bay Reserve is an inspiring sight. For Reserve staff, their arrival not only marks a change in the season, it is a signal that other migrants will soon to be coming to use the Bay’s many protected coves, dunes, and marshes as a winter refuge. It’s also a sign of hope: harbor seals would not make Narragansett Bay their winter home without clean water and a healthy ecosystem.

Thank you, harbor seals! Your presence on Narragansett Bay inspires us to work harder to meet the challenges ahead for 2019.

Have you had an encounter with a harbor seal or another critter at one of our Reserves? We’d love to hear about it! Share your Reserve story.

Nurdles no match for Texas NERRd Power

Nurdles no match for Texas NERRd Power

Beach lovers of all ages have joined the Nurdle Patrol. Watch Parker Tunnell explain how to help. Photos and video courtesy Mission-Aransas Reserve.

Pop quiz: what’s a nurdle? Sounds cute, right? Like the season’s hottest toy? In reality, these lentil-sized plastic pellets used in manufacturing are shaping up to be a big problem in our oceans, where they often absorb pollutants before being snapped up by marine animals and seabirds.

Last October, hundreds of thousands of nurdles started washing up near our Mission-Aransas Reserve and on beaches along the Texas coast. Their origin is a mystery, but not for long. A Reserve-led team of citizen scientists of all ages have rolled up their sleeves to help.

Once they hit the ocean, nurdles do not go away, they break up into smaller and smaller plastic particles that are mistaken for prey by many marine creatures and enter the food chain.

“Twenty-five people have signed up to help us monitor their favorite beaches,” says Jace Tunnell, manager of the Mission-Aransas Reserve, who has been monitoring the pellets since he first spotted them in late September. “We’ve created a process that anyone can follow to help us understand the magnitude of the problem and where it’s coming from.”

Beachcombers from Galveston to South Padre Island are collecting information about the nurdles they spot and sending it, along with a photo, to the Reserve. Mare Kobie from Port Isabel is an avid beach-goer who is no stranger to volunteering her time to protect local sea life. So it was natural for her to step up to help.

“When I found the first one [nurdle] and saw next to it was another and another, it made me sad,” Kobie said. “I just love the sea turtles so if this helps one sea turtle not get a nurdle in their belly, I will be happy.”

Tiny nurdles blend all too well into coastal environments and are a primary contributor to marine debris world wide. Reserves around the counrty work with NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to investigate and prevent adverse impacts of debris.

Tunnell’s latest count shows nearly 300,000 nurdles per kilometer in some beach areas. Because of their small size, the plastic pellets are difficult to clean up. The Reserve, which is part of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, has been monitoring the area’s animals, including the region’s much beloved green turtles, but so far, they have not seen any impact.

“It’s still early to assess,” says Tunnell. “But, unfortunately, we know the end game. It’s just a matter of time before they end up in the food chain. Maybe the release of the nurdles was unintentional, but somebody needs to be held accountable and somebody needs to clean them up.”

Tunnell has created a Facebook group for their local “Nurdle Patrol” and initiated a Gulf-wide effort to look at the nurdles’ distribution and abundance. He is engaging Reserves in Mississippi,  Alabama, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as scientists in Mexico, Cuba, and the United Kingdom. Nurdles, it appears, really get around.

“Last week, Jasper Hamlet, a project officer for FIDRA, emailed me about a nurdle spill in October 2017 around Durban, South Africa,” says Tunnell. “Based on models, his colleagues predicted the nurdles spilled in South Africa would be in Brazil in around 387 to 562 days from October 10, 2017. He was curious to know if our nurdles are similar to the Durban spill because the ocean currents could have brought them all the way to the Gulf. The majority do not look the same; however, I’d love to send him a bag of nurdles to compare!”


Interested in joining the Nurdle Patrol or learning more? Contact Jace Tunnell.

NERRS Alert System Makes Seatrout Support a “Snap”

NERRS Alert System Makes Seatrout Support a “Snap”

Recreational fishing for speckled seatrout and other species is part of the culture and economy of many communities along the Atlantic coast. Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Reserve, Virginia.
Much to the satisfaction of commercial and recreational fishermen alike, the speckled or spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) is abundant throughout the Gulf of Mexico, along the southern Atlantic coast, and into Chesapeake Bay. Seatrout living at or near the northern extent of their range, however, are vulnerable to rapid and sustained drops in water temperature. This can result in winter kills, also known as cold stun mortality.

“Winter kills can impact the population at the regional level,” observes Dr. Willy Reay, manager of our Chesapeake Bay Reserve in Virginia. “Fishery managers who are aware of conditions that may lead to such kills can help these populations rebound by taking actions including reduced catch quotas, emergency season closures, and recommendations for voluntary catch and release among recreational fishermen.”

To help fishery managers address this issue, Reay and his staff are using real-time, NERRS monitoring data to create a pilot cold stun alert system that identifies when water temperatures in the Carolinas and Chesapeake Bay drop to exposure thresholds that can cause mass seatrout die-offs. The system also tracks how long these lower temperatures are sustained over time.

“Winter kills are not infrequent,” says Reay. “Their severity depends on environmental conditions, the characteristics of the water body, and the presence and behavior of the fish.

This winter, our region’s seatrout population experienced a notable winter kill, similar to those that occurred in Virginia and Maryland in 2014, South Carolina in 2011, and in North Carolina between 2010 and 2015.”

NERRS environmental monitoring data showing variations in daily water temperature variation (blue line) between December 1, 2017 and February 12, 2018 at Gloucester Point, Virginia. The dotted line represents historic average water temperatures. Temperatures that dip below the (red line) for one day can lead to fish kills; temperatures that dip below the (yellow line) for eight days can also cause die-off.
The scale of this recent kill prompted North Carolina’s Division of Marine Fisheries to enact an emergency season closure through June 15th to allow surviving seatrout to spawn in the spring. Likewise, South Carolina’s Marine Resources Division asked the public not to target seatrout in its waters. Virginia is continuing to assess population impacts.

“We are working with other reserves to expand the cold-stun tool throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Gulf of Mexico, so it can inform fisheries management decisions like these next year,” says Reay. “Because the NERRS monitoring program collects data on critically important water quality parameters in real-time, we can be nimble in identifying the onset of environmental issues like this and helping coastal communities and resource managers make informed, time-sensitive decisions.”

SWMP Data: Renewable Resource for North Carolina

SWMP Data: Renewable Resource for North Carolina

Kevin McVerry, former GIS specialist, switches out a water quality sonde. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Reserve.

At our North Carolina Reserve, System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) data is a “renewable resource” for local science and education. For 20 years, the reserve has monitored local environmental trends as part of a national initiative to track short- and long-term changes in water quality, biological systems like salt marshes, and land-use and cover characteristics along our coasts and estuaries.

Research partners from federal, state, and regional organizations incorporate this data into their work. Scientists from East Carolina University are using SWMP data to investigate the relationship between water quality and the habitat use of coastal sharks. A SWMP-like station maintained by reserve staff also supports operations at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Wilmington Shellfish Research Hatchery and Seawater System.

The reserve partners with UNC scientists on many long-term projects. One, led by Dr. Jessie Jarvis at UNC Wilmington, explores the connection between submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and water quality conditions captured in SWMP data. The goal is to support the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries on the status and trends of SAV habitat in the state.

“SWMP collects essential water column measurements continuously in sites across the state,” Jarvis said. “When used together, observations of SAV status and SWMP water quality data can help show the cause and effect of local management practices or even highlight a new area for coastal policy makers to address. Without the SWMP data we would only have one side of the story!”

SWMP data is also integrated into the classroom to inspire the scientists of tomorrow. Masonboro Island Explorers is a coastal environmental education program for upper elementary school children conducted in partnership with New Hanover County Schools, the nonprofit Masonoboro.org, and Carolina Ocean Studies. Students use the data to understand the importance of water quality on natural processes in the estuary. Last year more than 750 fifth-graders explored SWMP data after visiting Masonboro Island.

SWMP data from North Carolina and reserves around the nation is available on the NOAA Centralized Data Management Office website. There, you can download and visualize water quality and marsh monitoring data. For more information about the North Carolina Reserve and its work, contact Communications Specialist Michelle Brodeur.

—Story by Michelle Brodeur.


Clean Water Contractors in Ohio

Clean Water Contractors in Ohio

In Ohio, approximately 54% of the watersheds are impaired due to silt and sedimentation that comes from runoff. As concern for water quality and a need to comply with environmental requirements becomes more pressing, green infrastructure, such as pervious pavement and bioretention cells, is starting to take root.

To help local contractors adjust to this transition, the Old Woman Creek Reserve teamed up with the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District to create a new program for those involved in the oversight, construction, installation, and design of stormwater infrastructure to get more “clean and green” in their work. Today, the Erie County Clean Water Contractor Program is helping to expand contractor skill sets, boost their understanding of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, open lines of communication between them and regulatory agencies, and create a pipeline that allows them to access the latest science.

“Before this, many of our trainings focused on engineers and planners, rather than those performing the actual on-site construction,” observes Emily Kuzmick, the Coastal Training Coordinator at the Old Woman Creek Reserve. “Community support and positive responses from participants has encouraged us to plan more innovative outreach events, such as expos with vendors and social networking opportunities for contractors.”

Designed to support a contractor’s work process, the program covers topics including installation, on-site sediment and erosion control methods, and newer, “greener” stormwater control measures. It also hosts events including field site visits and installation demonstrations.

Participants in the program are certified as “Clean Water Contractors” by pledging to participate in one approved training event each year, attending a sediment and erosion control event once every two years, and practicing “clean water” actions, ranging from sediment and erosion control measures at construction sites to implementation of stormwater control measures.

Alongside a high rate of participant satisfaction, the program’s success is reflected in the increasing number of green infrastructure projects implemented in Erie County in 2016. The Erie Conservation District also reported a change in behavior regarding erosion and sediment control implementation on active construction sites during their routine inspections.

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