Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
2017 ANNUAL REPORT
OysterCatcher
Left: National Estuaries Day is one of our biggest events, and impossible to accomplish without volunteers! Over fifty volunteers helped with last year’s celebration. Right: Staff and volunteers from the Reserve and St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve completed a nine-mile beach cleanup on Little St. George Island in January.

The Year of the Volunteer

Another year has flown by at the Research Reserve. Throughout this Oystercatcher you will see a multitude of accomplishments by the Reserve staff. They really have done an amazing job this year and I’m always so grateful that we have such a motivated and creative team. I would like to highlight a couple of big accomplishments to which many of the staff contributed.

One big achievement is we have more than doubled the volunteer hours this year. Each program area has increased substantially, especially the sea turtle nest monitoring program. With the help of staff – and awesome interns – volunteers surveyed over 440 nests on St. George Island this summer. This is one of the highest numbers of nests recorded in the last 30 years. Another great success was the construction of the living shoreline at the Marshall House on Cape St. George. With the help of volunteers from the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, many tons of oyster shells were bagged to create the breakwater for the project.

I would also like to commend the staff on completing the Periodic Review Form for our UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Reserve designation. The content of this document is very similar to our management plan, so we were able to build off of our previous work. In addition to describing our program areas, the MAB program requires each Reserve to identify how it supports sustainable development within our local communities. We engaged with stakeholders throughout the review process and they provided thoughtful comments about how the Reserve serves in this role. The document was submitted to the International Review Committee in June and we are waiting for a response.

Lastly, I would like to bid a fond farewell to Gale Cox, who retired on August 31. Gale has worked for the Reserve since 1990 and has seen some big changes during that time. She has always done her best to answer any administrative questions and keep all of us straight. We will truly miss her!

 

Collecting samples on a nutrient SWMP program trip with Our Most Consistent Volunteer, Jim Hammond (right).

Research & Monitoring

2017 Turtle Nesting Survey Interns - Danielle Huston Hakey (center), 2017, Washington College, BS in Environmental Science. Bryan Moatts (left), 2016, University of Montevallo, BS in Biology. Matthew Togger (right) 2016, Middle Tennessee State University, BS in Geoscience.

Staff changes - This year brought a round of staff changes to the Research Section. Sam Yuan, Hannah Garland, and Kimberly Peter have left us for various positions at FWC. Megan Lamb, formerly the FAMU Environmental Cooperative Science Center coordinator based at ANERR, accepted a Research Assistant position at ANERR and oversees the SWMP nutrient program. Nikkie Cox and Megan Christopher have made internal lateral moves from Research Section at ANERR to the Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves, stationed at ANERR.

New monitoring projects

Microplastics - Through a Gulf of Mexico Alliance grant, Mississippi State University Coastal Research & Extension Center along with NOAA’s Marine Debris Program have begun a citizen science based monitoring project from Florida to Texas coinciding with the International Coastal Clean Up in September. ANERR was invited to participate and has committed sampling water and sand for microplastics at three area beaches during coastal cleanup with the help of volunteers. The data collected will go towards further research in finding out where microplastics are originating and how we can possibly prevent them from entering the oceans.

FAMU Graduate Student, Shareena Cannonier, collecting samples for her dissertation project.

Red tide - ANERR has partnered with FWC’s FWRI Red Tide Monitoring Program to collect water samples for red tide during the monthly SWMP nutrient sampling trip. Samples are collected at East Bay Bridge, Dry Bar, Mid Bay, Cat Point, West Pass and Sikes Cut, preserved, and shipped to FWC for analysis. Red Tide updates can be found at MyFWC.com.

Porewater wells - During FY16-17 the Sentinel Stations at Little St. Marks and Pilot’s Cove were expanded to include porewater monitoring in addition to marsh elevation and vegetation. At each station, 3 pore water wells were installed in the marsh. At the bottom of each well is a logger that records date and time, temperature, salinity, depth, and pressure every 15 minutes to give researchers an idea of salinity in the porewater in the marsh.

System Wide Monitoring Program Activities - All NERRs participate in the system wide monitoring program (SWMP) and as part of that program ANERR collects high-frequency (15-minute interval) water quality and weather data and monthly water column nutrient data at numerous sites to monitor the health of the Apalachicola Bay system. Real time data can be found at CDMO and DEP Stevens websites.

Listed species monitoring - 2016 Sea turtle nesting season

All nests were marked and monitored by staff throughout the season and hatch success was conducted on 471 nests as part of FWC’s Nest Productivity Assessment Program. The past several years high nest numbers reflect a growing trend, indicating these important threatened species are increasing their nesting and utilizing the state owned and managed island as important nesting habitat. Both Cape St. George and St. George Island had record setting years with 319 and 465 loggerheads nests, respectively.

Research section highlights - Research divers have completed over 500 dives from 7/1/16 through 6/30/17. This includes dives for conducting oyster research, data logging instrumentation maintenance, and DEP check-out and training dives. Not only have we logged this many dives, but we have done so throughout the year, in harsh conditions, and have completed arduous research without any emergency or injury.

Ethan Bourque, SWMP technician, was named Employee of the Month for May 2017. Rebecca Domangue, Research Coordinator was recipient of a DEP Star Award for outstanding service.

Special shout out to Research Volunteer Jim Hammond who gets the Most Consistent Volunteer Award and has been on more than 20 research trips this past fiscal year, totaling 207 hours of service time. We think his wife just likes to get him out of the house.

By the numbers

• 2,642 hours of volunteer work were accomplished by more than twenty volunteers on various research and monitoring projects.
• Research staff supported 19 research projects from 17 universities and agencies which included over 50 boat trips with research staff support.
• Began three new monitoring projects.
• Wrote seven letters of support for various research proposals (none were funded).

 

ANERR and St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve staff successfully burned the old SGI bridge causeway to improve habitat for nesting shorebirds and a 5-acre buffer adjacent to the Marshall House on Little St. George Island to protect this historic site from wildfire.

Stewardship

The primary goal for Stewardship is to protect Reserve-managed lands from impacts which degrade natural communities and affect adjacent water quality. The stewardship 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. This sector works with the Research, Education and Coastal Training Program sectors to promote and practice informed stewardship of upland and aquatic resources to conserve the area’s natural biodiversity and cultural resources through applied research and education. ANERR also relies heavily on partnerships with other land managers and conservation groups to accomplish common goals of conservation land restoration.

New Faces - We are happy to welcome Chris Matechik as our new ESI this year. He has a B.S. degree in Biology from FSU and a M.S. degree in Fisheries from Auburn. Chris is currently leading our sea turtle and shorebird programs at the Reserve.

We are also happy to welcome our new sea turtle intern, Danielle Huston Hakey. Danielle graduated from Washington College in 2017 with a BS in Environmental Science and minors in Chemistry and French. She was chosen through NOAA’s College-Supported Internship Program.

Public Use - Staff and volunteers cleaned up trash on nearly nine miles of beach from the wrack line, primary dunes and coastal grasslands on Little St. George Island over the course of three days. Staff hosted a group of 40 Boy Scouts at Unit 4 on St. George Island following Hurricane Hermine and collected over 25 bags of trash and a large amount of construction debris.

These are the first two photos from a Unit 4 photopoint documenting the recovery after April's wildfire. We will continue to capture the regrowth throughout this summer.
These are the first two photos from a Unit 4 photopoint documenting the recovery after April's wildfire. We will continue to capture the regrowth throughout this summer.
These are the first two photos from a Unit 4 photopoint documenting the recovery after April's wildfire. We will continue to capture the regrowth throughout this summer.

Staff worked with a local contractor to removed debris on LSGI from previous construction projects/storm events including creosote pilings, lumber, metal debris, derelict structures, and over 100 tires.

Staff continued to move forward with accessibility improvements to Millender Park at ANERR as part of the Florida Coastal Office’s Ecotourism Initiative. This funding provided new walkways to the site’s picnic pavilions making the areas ADA-accessible.

Prescribed burning - Staff assisted the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve with prescribed burning efforts this season. The Preserve successfully burned over 1700 acres. Staff also coordinated with the Preserve to burn the old St. George Island causeway to improve habitat for shorebird nesting season.

On April 8, 2017, a wildfire moved through the Reserve’s Unit 4 property on St. George Island. The Florida Forest Service (FFS), along with all the Franklin County Volunteer Fire Departments, First Responders, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the fire until it was contained. Staff assisted with monitoring and mop-up of the fire that burned roughly 75 acres of public and private lands. The Reserve is grateful for those who responded and for their exceptional job of containing the fire within the wooded area thereby protecting private structures/property. Signs of new life began to appear shortly following the fire and areas are quickly emerging with green growth.

Emergent Vegetation Monitoring - Staff completed the third year of biannual, long-term monitoring of emergent vegetation at two marsh locations on the Little St. Marks River and Little St. George Island.

Staff continued to map mangrove habitat along the barrier islands (St. George Island, Little St. George Island and Dog Island) to monitor the distribution of both black and red mangroves.

Invasive Plant Control - Staff completed annual herbicide treatment of Chinese tallow trees and treated over 1,200 stems and spouts on three acres located adjacent to a freshwater marsh at ANERR’s headquarters in Eastpoint.

Cultural Resources - Staff conducted annual surveys to assess and monitor cultural/historical resource sites within the Reserve’s boundaries.

Stewardship staff hosted the third annual Archaeology Day in coordination with the Coastal Training Program Coordinator and the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) at the Reserve.

Restoration - Stewardship staff completed construction of a 400’ oyster breakwater on the Reserve-managed barrier island – Little St. George- to protect the eroding shoreline adjacent to the historic Marshall House. Staff will plant native plants to restore approximately .2 acres of marsh habitat.

Staff worked with volunteers from the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast to construct the oyster breakwater. Volunteers contributed over 600 hours to the project and will assist the Reserve with planting efforts.

Stewardship staff worked with a local contractor to maintain and establish 1.3 miles of firebreaks at Unit 4 on SGI and in Eastpoint. In addition, 14 acres of forested area understory were mowed to reduce the fuel load.

Closure of this Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) on the old St.
George Island bridge causeway was extended to cover the
period between March 1 – September 30.

Listed Species - Stewardship staff continues to monitor select listed species within the boundaries of the Reserve. The Reserve coordinates with Audubon Florida to monitor shorebirds and with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to monitor nesting sea turtles on Little St. George Island. Staff continues to monitor the gopher tortoise population on Little St. George Island.

Partners/Outreach - Staff actively participates in the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance (ARSA). Staff continue to collaborate with regional partners on land management issues, conservation activities, land acquisition proposals, restoration efforts, prescribed fire efforts and invasive species monitoring. Staff participated on the Tate’s Hell State Forest five-year Land Management Review Committee.

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

 

Fifth graders from FCS learning about the Spartina they’re planting along the shoreline at ANERR.

Education

More than 29,000 people visited the Reserve Nature Center or took part in educational programs provided by Reserve staff. The majority of that participation is by walk-in visitors, which account for 26,000 people. The remaining participants are accounted for by the staff-facilitated educational programs for student and adult groups. These education programs represent another busy year working to foster stewardship of the Apalachicola Estuary. The following is a summary of the programs conducted over the previous fiscal year.

Group Programs – This year, staff has lead educational programs for over 3,000 students, Franklin County residents, and seasonal visitors. Addressing our primary mission to foster understanding of estuaries and stewardship of the watershed, programs included many topics and activities 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. The primary venue is the Reserve’s center in Eastpoint, including our outdoor classroom and the shoreline at Cat Point. Other sites include Tate’s Hell State Forest and St. George Island State Park.

Seventh graders return to their plots two years later to count periwinkle snails and gain an estimate of what’s living in the habitat they planted in 5th grade.
Seventh graders return to their plots two years later to count periwinkle snails and gain an estimate of what’s living in the habitat they planted in fifth grade.
Tenth graders haul in trays packed with different types of substrate to determine which type collects the most oyster spat.
Tenth graders haul in trays packed with different types of substrate to determine which collects the most oyster spat.

School Activities – ANERR Education Programs, primarily for K-12 students and teachers in Franklin County, are designed to support the long tradition of stewardship of Apalachicola Bay. The rural nature of Franklin County provides a unique opportunity for every student in Pre-k, first, third, fifth, and seventh grades to participate each year in standards-aligned ANERR Education Programs on Apalachicola Bay and its value to the community. Sessions this year were: Pre-k ‘A Home for Hermit Crab,’first grade ‘Beach Scavenger Hunt,’ third grade ‘Saltmarsh Seining and Oyster Discovery Dig,’ fifth grade ‘Living Shoreline Restoration and Monitoring, ‘ seventh grade ‘Saltmarsh Food Webs and Soil Profiles’ and our on-going Oyster Substrate Settlement Study with tenth grade Biology students. Special thanks go to our Friends of the Reserve citizen organization for providing funding for transportation and substitute teachers that allow our local schools to participate in ANERR Education Programs.

Living Shorelines: Fostering Stewardship – Working with the students across multiple years builds stewardship through recurring experiences that promote awareness, understanding and ownership of the watershed. One example is the activities connecting fifth and seventh grades. Each year the new class of fifth graders plant plots of saltmarsh cordgrass with the goal of protecting the shoreline from erosion. They make careful measurements for later assessment, comparison, and evaluation. These data will be compared to data collected when these fifth graders return as seventh graders to evaluate the on-going progress of the shoreline restoration project. The take away message for students is a blend of strong science content as well as a recognition of their role and contribution to the health of Apalachicola Bay.

Presentations – Wednesday’s Summer Turtle Talks continued with over 1,100 visitors checking in for the weekly 2:00 pm talks. Our natural history lecture series, Reserve Wednesdays, continued with programs from September through May on the third Wednesday of each month. This year, public lectures were presented on Black Bear Management, Bald Eagles, Wildflowers, Bottle-Nosed Dolphins, Apalachicola Bay Fish Telemetry, Freshwater Turtles, and Marine Debris.

Teacher Training – The Reserve hosted the Creeks-to-Coast teacher program from the Georgia Aquarium. The group traveled the length of the watershed to learn about water use throughout the system and apply what they learn to lessons with their students. The teachers participated in a series of activities that emphasized fundamental components of an estuary that connect as essential components to support productivity of the system. 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 for shelter; seining the near-shore tidal marsh for a firsthand look at the amazing numbers of shrimp, crabs and juvenile fish to demonstrate that the bay is a nursery and integral to the area’s seafood industry; and a river trip on the Tideline to learn about the lower region of the watershed and flood plain. There were 18 educators in attendance.

Estuaries Day – Designed to focus on local residents, this year’s event attracted nearly 1,000 visitors. Staff and volunteers coordinated many fun activities promoting awareness and understanding of estuaries. The Reserve is grateful for the support from businesses and community groups that contribute to this celebration each year.
ANERR’S New Film – “Apalachicola River & Bay: A Connected Ecosystem,” the Reserve’s new film, informs visitors about the connectivity of the Apalachicola River system and the need for responsible stewardship. The film was nominated for an Emmy Award and won an International Davey Award and a NERR SECCHI Award for quality production designed to educate, inform and inspire communities. Early surveys indicate the film is raising awareness of estuaries. It is available on the Reserve’s Facebook page and on the Friends of Reserve website.

 

Compass Workshop at FSU Marine Lab.
Compass Workshop at FSU Marine Lab.

Coastal Training Program

The Coastal Training Program (CTP) brings the best available science and tools to decision makers in our watershed enabling them to responsibly manage coastal resources vital to the health of our estuary, our economy and our way of life. Decision makers include elected and appointed officials, planning staff and residents, business owners and nonprofit groups. We provide technical assistance to city and county staff and community boards, and collaborate with professional groups and residents to increase community stewardship and conservation through engaging trainings.

Oyster 101 Class
Oyster 101 class.

Trainings – This year, CTP Coordinator Anita Grove and CTP Specialist Emily Jackson offered twenty-eight formal, evaluated training programs (111 hours of training), accommodating 509 participants between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017. Courses focused on the management of invasive plants, archaeological resources, flood plain ecology, living shorelines, bay-friendly landscaping, oyster ecology, and coastal resilience.

The Compass Communication workshop on how to effectively communicate science to leaders and the media was a highlight of this year’s efforts. This workshop brought together professionals and land managers at the FSU Marine Lab for a day of discussion and collaboration.

Speakers included Krista Brown, News Manager with the statewide public TV station WFSU-TV/The Florida Channel; Mary Louise Hester, Regional Director for Northwest Florida from Senator Bill Nelson’s office; and Felicia Coleman, Ph.D., Director of the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab. Participants learned how to communicate complex issues to the media, political leaders and the public.

In February, we hosted 25 participants for a day-long workshop on behavior change communication. The Gulf of Mexico CTP engaged behavior change communication professionals assisting ANERR in bringing this workshop to Franklin County.

ANERR, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves, and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission hosted sixty-four participants for a panhandle-wide forum on living shorelines. Topics of discussion included the state of living shoreline science, success stories of implementation, methods and materials, and the necessary next steps to continue evolving the application of living shorelines in the Panhandle. The Panhandle Estuarine Restoration Team was created to help move the science of restoration forward in the panhandle.

Workshops designed to increase stewardship in our bay and river were also offered multiple times. Bay-Friendly Landscaping, which incorporated green infrastructure and Florida Friendly Landscaping™ techniques; Oysters 101; and the Estuary Class continued to be popular.

The Sea Turtle Stakeholder Group, established last year, continued to work on reducing sea turtle disorientations. The CTP met regularly with vacation rental companies, ANERR’s Research and Stewardship sections, IFAS staff and county representatives to address problems and develop solutions.

Performance Measures - Training participants were surveyed and evaluation results were analyzed to gauge the effectiveness of our programs and submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meeting Needs – The CTP Coordinator regularly attended Franklin County Commission, Apalachicola City Commission and Apalachicola Planning and Zoning meetings to stay up to date on area needs and issues. All were asked about future trainings they would like to see offered.

Getting the Word Out – CTP and Communications staff worked together to promote participation in the CTP by employing social networks, partner agency websites and distribution lists. Press releases on all offerings were distributed to local and panhandle media outlets.

Outreach – CTP staff regularly assisted the City of Apalachicola Planning and Zoning Board and staff, Franklin County Local Mitigation Strategy Committee, and the Franklin County Tourist Development Council. We partnered with the City of Apalachicola and the Apalachicola Area Historical Society to host two workshops on the cultural and economic benefits of old growth urban trees. We worked with the city, commercial seafood vessel owners and the US Coast Guard on improving water quality at the city’s commercial marina. The CTP partnered with the Franklin County Emergency Management Office to develop the Flood Mitigation Assessment Program and worked with the Franklin and Gulf Counties Realtors Association on turtle friendly lighting options for beach properties.

National, Regional and Local Partners – We continue to coordinate with the Gulf NERRs on a three-year EPA grant to expand the Gulf Coastal Training Programs. Two years ago, a regional coordinator was hired to work with the Gulf programs to help fund trainings. The Compass and Salter-Mitchell Behavior Change trainings were sponsored by this Regional CTP grant.

On a nationwide level, the CTP Coordinator and CTP Specialist attended all CTP conference calls and webinars. The Coordinator attended the NERR annual meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, and served on the National Product committee and CTP sector planning committee for the 2016 and 2017 annual meetings. She served on the IFAS Extension/SeaGrant program advisory committee and the Gulf Blue Carbon network. The Coordinator also participates in the monthly national Living Shorelines call hosted by Restore America’s Estuaries.

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