Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
2015 ANNUAL REPORT
OysterCatcher
This year over 27,400 people visited the Reserve Nature Center or took part in educational programs provided by Reserve staff.
This year over 27,400 people visited the Reserve Nature Center or took part in educational programs provided by Reserve staff.

Let Us Know How We’re Doing

If you ever have received an email from the Reserve staff or the Department of Environmental Protection, then you probably have seen the “Customer Service Survey” hyperlink at the bottom. For a long time I largely ignored the survey and tried not to let it irritate me that it was a tag on every email I sent out. Then something strange happened. I received an email from my boss saying that he was appreciative of the work that I had done to provide data to outside researchers. Apparently, on two different occasions, these folks had completed the survey and indicated that I had provided information to them in a timely and efficient manner. I have to admit that it felt pretty good. Everyone likes to be told that they are doing a good job!

2015 ANNUAL REPORT

I share this anecdote for several reasons. For one, I think that it is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs in producing reliable scientific data in support of management, but also to assess the effectiveness of our message to our public. Last year we completed our periodic review by NOAA and came away with very positive responses from the evaluation committee. A few suggestions were offered on how we could improve to better serve our stakeholders. Stakeholders were also invited to our Reserve Advisory Council meeting in April to share their experiences with the Reserve. Formal needs assessments can be helpful in understanding the needs of the public or specific user groups, but in our small county, our sample size is fairly small. To address this, reserve staff have been surveying visitors to our nature center to see if they understand the message we are trying to convey. Not only do we want to know if we are communicating our message well, but if the end-user is changing their behavior because of the information we gave them.

In the end, whether the survey is formal or informal, we should be gaining the necessary information to improve the work that we do here at the Reserve and provide better service to the public (our customers). We always appreciate your feedback, whether it is positive or negative. Feel free to contact me at 850-670-7700 or at Jennifer.harper@dep.state.fl.us to share your feedback. If you think that the Reserve is doing a top-notch job, then let us know by liking us on Facebook or reviewing us on TripAdvisor. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell the staff that I’m proud of the hard work and dedication that I see from them every day. You are doing a great job!

The oyster research team hard at work deploying experiments.
The oyster research team hard at work deploying experiments.

Research & Monitoring

The Reserve’s Research section continued monitoring biological and water quality through the System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), listed (threatened and endangered) species, and to build capacity to achieve Sentinel Site status through NOAA.

July – Endangered species monitoring for sea turtles continued in on St. George and Little St. George islands. Staff collaborated with researchers from Auburn University on a monthly basis to asses ecological impacts of climate change to the Apalachicola River distributaries.
Staff completed initial analysis of trawl study data, composing a peer-reviewed manuscript and provided data analysis and scientific advice regarding the ACF federal supreme court case and consulted on the Apalachicola oyster task force team.

Stewardship Coordinator, Kim Wren surveying a sea turtle nest that was predated by coyotes on Little St. George Island.
Stewardship Coordinator, Kim Wren surveying a sea turtle nest that was predated by coyotes on Little St. George Island.

August – ANERR’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center (ECSC) coordinator served as teaching staff with the 2014 Environmental Cooperative Science Center Center-Wide Core Competency course. Twenty ECSC students spent a week at the FSU marine lab training and developing skills in issues involving the ECSC’s focus areas of Ecosystem Characterization, Ecological Processes, Forecasting & Modeling, Social & Economic Processes, and Policy and Decision tools.

September – The Reserve continued quarterly trawling studies monitoring fish and macroinvertebrate communities at nine locations. Staff concluded an oyster experiment that began in March 2014 with researchers from Northeastern University and continued to collect monthly nutrient grab samples from 11 stations as part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve’s (NERRs) nation-wide System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP). The data is available at www.cdmo.baruch.sc.edu.

October – The Little St. George Island Sea Turtle nesting season hatching concluded with 139 nests total, including 133 Loggerhead nests and six Green nests. 5471 hatchlings emerged out of 9795 eggs laid for a 55.8% hatchling emergence. Fifty-seven nests were affected by predators, 39 of those nests were partially or totally predated by coyotes. Thirteen nests were affected by inundation, washover, erosion, and accretion. Staff also updated the QA/QC on long-term trawling database.

November – The Reserve and the St. George Island permit holder for sea turtle nesting submitted the required Nest Productivity report and the Statewide Nesting Beach Survey report. Staff conducted the first round of the oyster spat monitoring project, which investigated recruitment on fresh and fossilized oyster shells on three of the prominent oyster bars. Staff continue to conduct quarterly surveys of oyster reef habitats, providing an understanding of the health of the oyster reefs by quantifying and measuring all live and dead oysters and all resident species. The Research section successfully completed vendor and DEP contract requirements to allow for safe secure wet-slip storage of a research vessel purchased in 2013. This contract with a local marina enables quick access to the vessel and research sites while providing safe harbor when not in use.

Water quality technician Ethan Bourque works on the telemetry at one of the datalogger stations.
Water quality technician Ethan Bourque works on the telemetry at one of the datalogger stations.

December – Dr. Rebecca Bernard joins the ANERR research staff as Research Coordinator and biannual monitoring of surface elevation tables (SETs) was completed at 20 sites as part of the NOAA Sentinel Site Program.

January – The Research staff attended the second Southeast Regional Sea Turtle meeting on Jekyll Island providing an opportunity to network and collaborate with other people
who monitor sea turtles.

February – The Reserve’s Water Quality technician attended a NERRS Technician Training Workshop; and the oyster team sets a personal record for cold water diving at 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

March – The Water Quality technician completed the 2014 Water Quality annual report. Staff attended the annual Statewide Nesting Beach Workshop, continued to conduct quarterly surveys of oyster reef habitat, and coordinated with University of Virginia graduate students on a mangrove genetics study.

April – The oyster spat monitoring project began again to investigate oyster settlement, survivorship, and growth throughout the season. Staff hosted a Basic First Aid, CPR, and AED certification course for 28 participants; submitted 2014 system wide monitoring program (SWMP) annual meteorological data and metadata to the Centralized Data Management Office (CDMO). These data are available at www.cdmo.baruch.sc.edu. Staff also coordinated a disaster response to simulate community and first responders response to a hypothetical scenario of a tanker truck fuel leak into the bay. Biannual monitoring of surface elevation tables (SETs) was completed at 20 sites as part of the NOAA Sentinel Site Program. Staff was wilderness first-aid certified through a two-day course hosted by ANERR’s Coastal Training Program (CTP).

May – ANERR’s Water Quality technician submitted the 2011 Water Quality review and staff submitted 2014 SWMP annual nutrient data and metadata to the Centralized Data Management Office (CDMO). These data are available at www.cdmo.baruch.sc.edu. Endangered species monitoring for sea turtles began on St. George and Little St. George islands. ANERR’s ECSC coordinator concluded two months of assistance with the Delaware State university-ECSC sponsored research on St. George and St. Vincent Islands, conducting research on Neoarctic migratory songbird use of barrier island ecosystems. Reserve staff assisted the St. Joe Bay and St. Andrew’s Bay Aquatic Preserve’s manger with seagrass surveys.

June – Staff helped coordinate a SCAT (Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Technique) 20-participant training class as part of a grant awarded by NOAA to conduct trainings and exercises related to disaster response at the Reserve. The Reserve’s Research Coordinator is the Florida state co-lead for the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) data and monitoring team and attended the GOMA All-Hands annual meeting in Biloxi, MS. Staff coordinated with a graduate student from University of Georgia on a fiddler crab genetics study. During the period of January to June 2015, Research section volunteers logged 742 hours.

 

Volunteers assisted ANERR with bagging fossilized oyster shells that will be used to protect the shoreline and a piece of history.
Volunteers assisted ANERR with bagging fossilized oyster shells that will be used to protect the shoreline and a piece of history.

Stewardship

The primary goal for Stewardship is to protect Reserve-managed lands from impacts which degrade natural communities and affect adjacent water quality. The program focuses on habitat restoration/maintenance, listed species protection, invasive species control, land acquisition, protection of cultural resources and providing public use/access of suitable upland recreational areas.

Public Use – The nature trail at the Visitor’s Center, an ADA-compliant, elevated boardwalk has ben completed and consists of two segments. The southern section has an observation platform with a spotting scope for viewing various wildlife. The northern side features live oaks, magnolia trees, slash pines and a freshwater marsh. Interpretive signage has been placed along the trail. The two trails connect in an expanded wildflower garden. This project was funded by the Friends of the Reserve Citizen Support Organization (CSO).

A partnership removes 75-year old creosote pilings from Little St. George Island.
A partnership removes 75-year old creosote pilings from Little St. George Island.

Stewardship staff completed the two-mile Island Ridge Trail on Little St. George Island. The trail will lead hikers through unique barrier island habitats including oak scrub, flatwoods, intertidal swales and coastal grasslands.
Staff and a local Boy Scout troop renovated the picnic shelter on Little St. George Island and constructed five benches along the new trail and in two of the primitive campsites. Five primitive campsites are established on the island that are part of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail; Florida’s longest sea kayaking trail consisting of 1,515 miles. Staff installed three educational kiosks on Little St. George Island to provide information on management, resources, wildlife and trail maps with appropriate camping locations. Special thanks to Ted Ruffner, Friends of the Reserve (FOR) board member and local volunteer, for funding and constructing trail/road signs for Little St. George Island.

Cultural Resources – Staff hosted an Archaeology Day event with a lecture by archaeologist Dr. Nancy White on prehistoric and early residents of the Apalachicola valley. The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) staff also participated.

GIS – Staff completed an interactive “Story Map” that allows users to explore ANERR research, stewardship and education projects in the local community. Where a River Meets the Sea- A Story Map for Apalachicola Bay is available at www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/apalachicola/.

Stewardship staff contribute to the Coastal Habitat Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Program Report (CHIMMP). The goals are to bring together representatives from mapping and monitoring programs to increase communication, minimized duplicate efforts and identify data gaps, needs and priorities on the status of salt marshes and mangroves in Florida.

Staff updated the NERR’s Habitat Mapping and Change Plan (HMCP), a component of NERR’s System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) focusing on classifying habitats and monitoring change over time. This will provide baseline data related to anthropogenic influences from the watershed and environmental stressors related to changes in climate.

Prescribed burning – This is one of the most versatile and cost effective tools available to land managers to reduce hazardous fuel buildups and provide increased protection to people, homes and forests. Staff assisted the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve with prescribed burning efforts this season and burned over 1,400 acres including land that had no previous burn history while under state management.

The newly completed loop addition of the nature boardwalk is now open for strolls, wildlife viewing and nature appreciation.
The newly completed loop addition of the nature boardwalk is now open for strolls, wildlife viewing and nature appreciation.

Staff coordinated with St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve to burn the old St. George Island Causeway to improve the habitat for the shorebird nesting season. The causeway is a crucial nesting site for terns, American Oystercatchers and Black Skimmers. The Reserve also worked with the Florida Forestry Service’s (FFS) wildfire mitigation program and St. George Island Plantation to conduct a prescribed fire at Nick’s Hole.

Emergent Vegetation Monitoring – Staff monitored newly established, long-term monitoring sites for fresh/brackish and salt marsh species to characterize the impacts of changes in hydrology and sea level rise on these habitat types. These macrophyte communities form a buffer between upland systems and the sea.
Invasive Plant Control – Staff completed annual herbicide treatment and treated over 300 Chinese tallow stems and spouts on three acres of Reserve-managed lands. ANERR maintains a GIS database of invasive plant locations and treatment options. Staff will continue to partner with the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance (ARSA) to detect these species early and eradicate them.

Partners/Outreach – Stewardship staff collaborated with the University of Florida and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to fund and assist with the removal of 20 tons of creosote pilings from Little St. George Island.

Nineteen volunteers assisted ANERR with bagging fossilized oyster shells that will eventually be used to protect the shoreline and the historic Marshall House on Little St. George Island. Oyster shells were donated from the Florida Division of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in Apalachicola and will be used to build a breakwater to protect the shoreline.

Staff is active in the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance (ARSA) on land management issues, conservation activities, land acquisition proposals, restoration efforts, prescribed fire efforts and invasive species monitoring. ANERR hosted ARSA’s spring meeting at the Reserve.

The Stewardship section and St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve participated in the National Public Lands Day and shoreline cleanup at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, the Annual Coastal Clean-up events in Franklin County, ANERR’s Estuaries Day and Bay Day at the Buffer Preserve.

 

Franklin County students and volunteer Robin Vroegop removing oyster trays for the annual tenth grade settlement by substrate assessment (river rock, fossilized shell and processed shell).
Franklin County students and volunteer Robin Vroegop removing oyster trays for the annual tenth grade settlement by substrate assessment (river rock, fossilized shell and processed shell).

Education

This year over 27,400 people visited the Reserve Nature Center or took part in educational programs provided by Reserve staff. The majority of participation is walk-in visitation which accounted for 25,200 visitors during this. Staff facilitated educational programs for student and adult groups account for the additional visitors and represented another busy year working to foster stewardship of the Apalachicola Estuary.

Group Programs – During the past year education staff has been very busy leading educational programs with participants for school students, Franklin County residents and our seasonal visitors. Addressing our primary mission, to foster stewardship of the watershed, program topics included many topics such as the ecology of oyster reefs, sea turtles, seining the littoral zone for juvenile fish and invertebrates, water quality sampling, trips on the Tideline to study river floodplain ecology and many more topics. The primary venue for activities has been the Reserve’s center in Eastpoint, including our new outdoor classroom and regular sessions in the bay waters at Cat Point behind the Visitors Center. Programs are also conducted on lands managed by the Reserve partners including the U.S. Forest Service and FDEP’s Division of Recreation on St. George Island. Overall there were 2,200 people who participated in staff-led activities at the Reserve.

Teachers on the Estuary at St. Joe Bay assessing
biological diversity and water quality.

School Activities – A highlight of our school programs over the past year was the celebration to mark ten years of facilitating the Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) Program with all seventh graders in Franklin County. This field-based learning program is conducted as a partnership with the Franklin County School District and the DEP Office of Environmental Education. The program models authentic field research in science with a primary goal of developing Franklin County students as stewards of the local environment. This year the field sessions taught were on fire ecology, soil profiles, plant census with dichotomous keys and dendrochronology (tree coring). Thanks to our Friends of the Reserve citizen organization for providing funding for transportation, substitute teachers and materials for the LIFE program and supporting opportunities for Franklin County students to do authentic research as a component of their school experience.

Additional programs for K-12 students included an array of standards-aligned lessons such as (pre-k, second) A Home for Hermit Crab, Beach Scavenger Hunt, (third - fifth) Saltmarsh Seining and Oyster Activities, Plant structure and Saltmarsh Monitoring/Planting, (tenth-eleventh) and an ongoing oyster substrate-settlement research study.
Oyster Substrate-Settlement Research Study – This year marked the fourth year of ANERR education staff conducting an oyster settlement assessment with local tenth graders. In March the students measure the size and number of oysters that settle over the previous 10 months in trays on 3 different substrate materials: river rock, fossilized shell and processed shell. The substrate materials are uniformly quantified and arranged in trays and submerged the previous May at Cat Point, a regular oyster harvest location adjacent to the Reserve center. The May to March timeframe coincides with the two primary seasonal settlement periods for oysters. The students compare the productivity from year to year based on the total number of oysters settled on each of the three substrate materials. The class activity provides an opportunity for the students to experience authentic science and supports a content-rich discussion about the conditions necessary for a healthy estuary.

Presentations – A new natural history lecture series, Reserve Wednesdays, was introduced this year to offer regularly scheduled educational programs for the public. This year lectures were presented on a diverse range of topics: Deadhead Logging, Local Wade Fishing, Migrating Song Birds, Genetics as a Tool for Conversation, Diamondback Rattle Snake Research, Freshwater Turtles and Snakes of Florida.

Publications – Two issues of the Reserve’s newsletter and an annual report were printed this year and distributed to nearly 800 subscribers.

Estuaries Day at the Reserve this year attracted over 600 visitors to the center.

Teacher Training – Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) was held as a two-day professional development workshop for 18 area science teachers. The workshop content included estuarine ecology, diversity assessments, water quality assessments and NOAA’s Estuaries 101 curriculum. The St Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve served as the primary venue for the workshop activities as well as housing our teacher participants. The workshop was funded by a NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training Grant.

Education staff at the Reserve hosted the Creeks to Coast teacher program group from the Georgia Aquarium. The teachers participated in activities that emphasized fundamental components of an estuary that support its productivity. Highlights included a “hands-on discovery dig” through large clumps of live oysters to locate the myriad of invertebrates that depend on the oyster habitat to make their home, seining the near shore tidal marsh for a firsthand look at the amazing numbers of shrimp, crabs and juvenile fish to demonstrate the bay as a nursery and integral to our Florida seafood industry. There were 18 educators in attendance.

Estuaries Day – Estuaries Day at the Reserve this year attracted over 600 visitors to the center and involved 26 staff and 50 volunteers coordinating many learning activities. The Reserve is grateful for the support from businesses and community groups contributing in this celebration.

 

The CTP offered eighteen formal evaluated training programs accommodating 484 participants.
The CTP offered eighteen formal evaluated training programs accommodating 484 participants.

Coastal Training Program

The Coastal Training Program (CTP) seeks to bring the best available science to decision makers in our watershed. Decision makers include elected and appointed officials, planners, volunteer boards, business owners, residents and nonprofit groups. This year CTP Coordinator Anita Grove and CTP Specialist Margo Posten offered training programs on topics ranging from green infrastructure and living shorelines to understanding new FEMA regulations and Blue Carbon.

Training – The CTP offered eighteen formal evaluated training programs accommodating 484 participants between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.

This year’s programs include two SciCafe workshops on the invasive lionfish with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a local fishing guide and two local restaurants. The workshops included over 100 participants studying this highly invasive fish. Local chefs prepared several lionfish entrees for sampling. Two local restaurants now have lionfish on their menu and a local seafood dealer agreed to sell lionfish.

CTP staff and participants conduct a training session aboard a Reserve research vessel.
CTP staff and participants conduct a training session aboard a Reserve research vessel.

In April, we along with the NOAA Office for Coastal Management Office, offered Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience. Participants included 24 members of the Apalachicola and Franklin County planning and zoning boards and staff, floodplain managers and code enforcement staff from four coastal panhandle counties. Private environmental consulting firms, Nature Conservancy staff and land managers also attended.

CTP and the Reserve staged a three-day disaster training with the US Coast Guard, the Department of Environmental Protection Emergency Response team, the Franklin County Emergency Operations Center and local fire departments. The Coast Guard designed exercise resulted in a better working relationship with state, federal and local entities and an increase knowledge of disaster response.

CTP staff also partnered with an 800+ member homeowners association on St. George Island to bring DEP’s Living Shoreline Manager in for a workshop on living shorelines. The workshop resulted in an increased knowledge and awareness of using living shorelines methods for shoreline stabilization, the formation of a HOA committee to explore alternatives to hardening shorelines, and the establishment of a policy whereby property owners must formally notify neighboring property owners prior to requesting a permit to harden the shoreline.

Other trainings included Real Time Kinematic (RTK) training for NERR staff, SCAT training for professionals, nonpoint source pollution and stormwater, blue carbon, wilderness first aid, and sea level rise.

CTP also conducted three ecology classes, Barrier Islands, Estuary and Rivers and Floodplains. These courses help residents increase their knowledge about these important ecosystems within the ANERR estuary.

Performance Measures – Evaluations were collected from participants at all training events. A summary of the evaluations was used to analyze the effectiveness of the training programs and for reporting to the NOAA Performance Database.

Meeting Needs – A new CTP Coordinator was hired in August 2014, and started the year by reviewing and updating the CTP Program Strategy for 2012-2017, and the 2012 Needs Assessment survey.

Getting the Word Out – CPT staff used a variety of media to engage decision makers and stake holders including calling targeted audiences, web based resources, and several partner group venues. A press release is written about for each training and distributed to a variety information outlets throughout North Florida.

The CTP seeks to bring the best available science to decision makers in our watershed.
The CTP seeks to bring the best available science to decision makers in our watershed.

Outreach – CTP staff interacted with decision makers on a regular basis and offered technical assistance to the City of Apalachicola Planning and Zoning Board and staff, the Friends of the Franklin County Library, and the Carrabelle Waterfronts Florida Program. CTP staff also addressed water quality and water management issues, rain gardens, bay friendly landscaping practices and rainwater harvesting.

Engagement with National, Regional and Local Partners CTP staff works with their counterparts at the five Gulf NERRS. To expand the CTP capacity these Gulf NERRs collaborated on a three year EPA grant to hire a regional training coordinator. The Regional CTP Coordinator works with the Gulf CTPs and researches funding for and implement trainings relevant to the NERRs. The C.H.A.R.M. (Community Health and Resource Management) workshop in June and the Blue Carbon training in July are two trainings the Regional CTP Coordinator helped to implement. These trainings would not have been possible with this collective effort of the Gulf Coastal Training Programs.

CTP staff collaborates with the other Florida NERRs on managing the statewide Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMP) training program. This program offered 18 workshops to 276 landscape professionals in best management practices for the application of pesticides
and fertilizer.

CTP staff also worked with Weeks Bay and Grand Bay NERRs, The Nature Conservancy, University of Central Florida and Louisiana State University on a grant, Connecting Scientist to Citizens Regarding Sea Level Rise. This two-year grant included the development of a mapping tool for local leaders to use to discuss sea level rise with their communities. The CTP Coordinator also participated in planning the NERRS 2016 meeting and monthly CTP webinars, and made a presentation during June webinar. Locally, the CTP Coordinator assisted with the first Franklin County Emergency Management EXPO, featuring exhibits and activities that increased participant’s awareness of disasters and how to make their homes and families more resilient. She also participates on the Local Mitigation Strategy committee.

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