Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
SRPING 2017
OysterCatcher
Pelicans on the Bay

Springtime at the Reserve

Spring is all about new beginnings and here at the Reserve we are excited to deliver two new springtime events. Depending on their popularity, we will repeat these efforts into the future.

The first of these events was already quite a success with over 74 participants from across the northern part of the state. The Living Shorelines Workshop took place on March 14 and brought together experts and practitioners in the field of Living Shoreline installation. Living shorelines have gained popularity over the last several years as an alternative to hardened shorelines such as rip-rap or seawalls. New installation methods are continuously evolving and this meeting allowed for information sharing amongst professionals throughout the panhandle. Monitoring practices of existing living shorelines and measures of success were also discussed.

Another new event at the Reserve is the Birding the Bay Festival on April 22. The Gulf Coast, specifically the barrier islands, is an important stop-over location for migratory bird species. Relying on local expertise and visiting researchers, the Reserve will have on- and off-site activities to learn more about these species, how to identify them, and where some of the “hot spots” to visit are located if you want to see them. Participants will also learn about the avian species that reside year-round in our area. One field trip will highlight efforts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service to conserve the habitat of the Federally Endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker.

For more information, or to register, please contact the Reserve at 850-670-7700.

The Apalachicola Basin Biosphere, known internationally as Central Gulf Coastal Plain Biosphere Reserve, is one of four UNESCO designated reserves in the United States (photo by Isaac Lang).
The Apalachicola Basin Biosphere, known internationally as Central Gulf Coastal Plain Biosphere Reserve, is one of four UNESCO designated reserves in the United States (photo by Isaac Lang).

Apalachicola Basin Biosphere

To ensure environmental, economic and social sustainability

In 1983 the UNESCO-United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization designated the lower portion of the Apalachicola River basin a World Biosphere Reserve. The boundaries of the Biosphere Reserve follow the boundaries of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR), which encompasses the Apalachicola Bay and River estuarine environments, sloughs, uplands, bay islands and swamp hardwood forests.

There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries.
There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries.

Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognized areas of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems that strive to be sites of excellence and demonstrate approaches to conservation with sustainable use. They emphasize local engagement and seek to integrate scientific, traditional and indigenous knowledge to identify, understand and address present and future environmental, economic, ethical and societal challenges which are related to sustainable development. This requires collaboration between all stakeholders including scientists, policy makers and members of the local community.

Biosphere reserves seek to demonstrate sound sustainable development practices and policies based on research and environmental monitoring. They act as sites of excellence for education and training promoting the exchange and transfer of knowledge on environmental issues. They also foster green communities by encouraging green infrastructure and economic development options such as sustainable tourism and training for eco-friendly jobs.

The mission of the Biosphere Reserve Program is to ensure environmental, economic and social sustainability through:

Currently, there are 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries throughout the world. Other biosphere reserves in the US include Yellowstone in Wyoming, the Everglades, and the Hawaiian Islands.

The Apalachicola Basin Biosphere is known internationally as the Central Gulf Coastal Plain Biosphere Reserve. For more information on Biosphere Reserves around the world, go to www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/man-and-biosphere-programme/.

 

Now Showing

At the Nature Center Theater

Apalachicola River and Bay – A Connected Ecosystem is now playing in the theater at the ANERR Nature Center. The film is also available online through our Facebook page where it made its debut last September. The decision to release the film online was made due to the wide reach and flexibility of the medium. Through social media, we were able to reach as many viewers as possible in the shortest amount of time. So far, over 15,000 people have watched the movie on Facebook and Youtube. We started showing the film at ANERR in October after installing a new video screen to take full advantage of the amazing, high resolution footage. The reception by our visitors and online viewers has been overwhelmingly positive.

Telling the story of an ecosystem covering 20,000 square miles and encompasses parts of three states in just twelve minutes of film proved challenging.
Telling the story of an ecosystem covering 20,000 square miles and encompasses parts of three states in just twelve minutes of film proved challenging.

The idea for a new film started over two years ago as a way to reinforce the information that is presented in the Nature Center through print media and maps. It was becoming increasingly clear that while all our visitors enjoyed the aquaria and exhibits, many were missing the primary message of the importance of the river and estuary. Telling the story of an ecosystem that covers over 20,000 square miles and encompasses parts of three states in just twelve minutes of film proved challenging. Using the information in the Nature Center as a template, the idea of telling the story of the river and bay as a five-piece puzzle began to emerge. The five pieces of the ACF watershed are the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and floodplain, the Apalachicola River and floodplain, Apalachicola Bay, the barrier islands and the Gulf of Mexico. One of our primary goals was to make the film interesting and captivating to all audiences. Animated maps and drawings, soaring drone footage, underwater camera work, and captivating wildlife photography tell the story of Apalachicola River and Bay. The result is fast-paced and visually exciting.

When it came to choosing a production company to make this idea a reality, there was only one logical choice – Live Oak Production Group. Owned and operated by Elam Stoltzfus and his son Nic, this company has produced many high quality eco-based documentaries throughout the state of Florida. Based out of Blountstown, Florida, they are also part of the Apalachicola River community. Elam and Nic worked closely with the Education staff at ANERR in the writing and editing of the film to ensure the accuracy of the script and matching the script to the images on the screen. It was a big project accomplished in a short time, and we could not be happier with the results. The film was nominated for an Emmy award for writing, received a Secchi award at the annual NERR conference, and was used in the Florida vs. Georgia Supreme Court case.

If you have not seen the movie yet and are in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by the Nature Center and watch it in the theater for the “big screen” experience If you would rather view it from the comfort of your own home, just go to our Facebook page and click on the link at the top of the page. After watching, please share it with your friends. The more people that gain an understanding of this important ecosystem, the better chance we have at preserving it.

 

Diamondback terrapins are found in Florida’s coastal marshes, tidal creeks and mangroves and are the only true brackish water resident turtle in the United States.

Diamonds in the Marsh

Visit the Nature Center to see the diamondback terrapin

A diamondback terrapin caught in a derelict crab trap.
A recently hatched diamondback terrapin.
Top: A diamondback terrapin caught in a derelict crab trap. Bottom: A recently hatched diamondback terrapin.

Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are found statewide in Florida’s coastal marshes, tidal creeks, mangroves and other brackish and estuarine habitats. They are the only true brackish water resident turtle in the United States. The diamondback terrapin is found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys and west along the Gulf Coast to Texas. They are named for the diamond-shaped growth rings on their top shell or carapace. The ornate diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin macrospilota, ranges from Florida Bay north along Florida’s Gulf Coast and west along the Florida Panhandle. These ecologically significant coastal species look much like their freshwater relatives, but are well adapted to the near shore marine environment. They have several adaptations that allow them to survive in varying salinities. Their skin is largely impermeable to salt and they can live in full strength salt water for extended periods. Terrapins have lachrymal salt glands in their eyes which allow them to excrete excess sodium. Terrapins exhibit unusual and sophisticated behavior to obtain fresh water, including drinking the freshwater surface layer that can accumulate on top of salt water during rainfall and raising their heads into the air with mouths open to catch falling rain drops.

Terrapins spend their time basking in lagoons near the surface or on open mudflats at low tide. They don’t seem to migrate but rather spend their entire lives in the same marsh. They feed primarily on shellfish, preferring snails like the marsh periwinkle, but will also feed on small crabs, shrimp, worms, fish, and occasionally vegetation. The females are larger than the males and have shorter tails.  Terrapins need high ground to lay their eggs and may travel several miles in search of suitable nesting. A mature females will typically lay ten eggs in their nest, cover and disguise it and then leave it to its fate. Nesting season is between May and August and females will lay multiple clutches every 16 days.

There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries.
There are currently 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries.

Terrapin populations have declined over the last 150 years. In the early 1900’s the terrapin was nearly hunted to extinction because of its popularity as a food source. The Great Depression in the 1930’s crashed the market on terrapin meat and many states started to enact regulations on the harvest of these heavily exploited turtles. Current threats to terrapins include habitat degradation (loss of salt marsh, pollution, sea walls) and incidental drowning in crab traps. Terrapins have been known to enter these traps to eat the bait and subsequently drown if they cannot find their way out. An inexpensive device called a BRD (Bycatch Reduction Device) can be incorporated into traps to prevent terrapins from entering. Cleaning up abandoned, ghost traps, can also prevent incidental mortality. We can help ornate diamondback terrapins by protecting our coastal waters and estuaries. Plant native vegetation, dispose of marine waste properly, don’t dump anything down storm drains, remove harmful litter from the shoreline, plant native landscapes, use environmentally sensitive shoreline erosion control, volunteer for a clean-up event and spread the word! Visit the Reserve’s Nature Center to see our resident diamondback terrapin and to learn more about our connection with the bay.

 

Tiny travel bag: Northern waterthrush with a tiny VHF transmitter backpack.
Tiny travel bag: Northern waterthrush with a tiny VHF transmitter backpack.

The Long Journey

Non-stop flights over the Gulf require a lot of energy and stamina

Did you travel somewhere for the holidays? Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house perhaps? Was your trip easy and smooth or were there travel hiccups along the way? Think about how convenient it is for you to travel—hop in a car or plane and in a few hours of your time you reach your destination. Seasonal animal travel, also known as migration, often has long journeys involved for the traveling animal. Seasonal cues such as temperature and day length give the animal the urge to migrate. In the spring, some migrating songbirds fly non-stop from South or Central America over the Gulf of Mexico on their way north. The non-stop flight over the Gulf requires a lot of energy and stamina and as the birds burn through their fat stores, they will catabolize muscle to have energy through the trip. Barrier islands like St. George and St. Vincent are critical “rest stops” for migrating songbirds after that long flight. If the birds are really exhausted and burned through a lot of muscle tissue, they may stay several days to rest and eat and fatten back up for the trip north. The barrier islands provide a buffet of insects and other food and safe spaces for rest and shelter. Relatively fit birds may have a shorter stopover, but nonetheless, the barrier islands are crucial for the survival of the migrating birds just like a gas station to fuel your car is essential for your road trip to make it safely to your destination.

The breast muscle of a migrating bird showing relative fitness with breast muscle intact.
Exhausted birds show a concave breast area with little muscle left. Once the birds stop, rest and eat, this area fills back up.
Fancy jewelry: a leg band with unique identifying numbers (all photos by M. Gutierrez-Ramirez, E. Jackson, and L. Levi).
Top: The breast muscle of a migrating bird showing relative fitness with breast muscle intact.
Center: Exhausted birds show a concave breast area with little muscle left. Once the birds stop, rest and eat, this area fills back up.
Bottom: Fancy jewelry: a leg band with unique identifying numbers (all photos by M. Gutierrez-Ramirez, E. Jackson, and L. Levi).

With support from ANERR, researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Delaware State University study spring migrating songbirds on St. George and St. Vincent Islands. Researchers Mariamar Gutierrez-Ramirez and Alexander R. Gerson from The University of Massachusetts Amherst seek to understand how environmental conditions impact the body condition of birds during migration and how differences in body condition influence migratory success. Their research questions are: Do birds in poor body condition stop over longer or change their habitat or resource use? Do birds in better condition travel faster in order to arrive first to the breeding grounds?

Their work on St. George Island, Florida combines traditional field methods with new tracking technology and precise non-invasive physiological measures to address these questions. During the peak of spring migration, the researchers safely capture birds unharmed using mist-nets. The bird is removed and a quick process puts a bracelet (leg band) with identifying numbers on the bird’s leg. In addition to taking standard measures and samples, the reachers also use Quantitative Magnetic Resonance (QMR) technology, similar to an MRI scan, to precisely determine the body condition of each migratory bird captured non-invasively. This quickly gives detailed physiological data without any harm to the birds.

One tool the researchers use to track migration travel is radio telemetry which allows the researchers to track bird movement over time and space to better understand long-term trends in migration patterns. Tracking the movements of birds provides insight into many aspects of their ecology, but it can be extremely difficult because songbirds are too small to carry the GPS trackers used on raptors and marine birds. For instance, the Northern Waterthrush weighs 23 grams, about what four quarters weigh. Instead, the researchers use “nano-tags”, which are tiny VHF radio transmitters that weigh 0.3 grams -- light enough for a songbird to carry unencumbered. The songbird wears the tag like a miniature backpack. To detect these tagged birds on the landscape, an array of automated radio telemetry receiving stations throughout the Apalachicola Bay area detect when a tagged bird is nearby. When the bird leaves the area to continue its migration to the breeding grounds, it may be detected by towers setup by other researchers all over the country. This cooperative tracking system is called the Motus Wildlife Tracking System and you can learn more about it here (motus.org/). Mariamar and Alexander would like to thank ANERR for their cooperation as well as the generosity of the local community for their help with this important project.

If you are interested in learning more about songbird migration, please join us at ANERR for Birding the Bay on April 22, from 9am to 3pm. We’ll have info booths, a bird banding and mist net demonstration, a plenary speaker and a silent auction. For those early risers that want to see songbirds and shorebirds or red cockaded woodpeckers, consider joining us for a birding tour that day from 7 am until noon. Space is limited and first come first serve. For more information, tour fees and registration signup, please visit birdingthebay.eventbrite.com.
Please note: Birding the Bay does not guarantee that you will see birds banded or on the tours. We can’t control their flight patterns.

Also this spring we will host a special presentation lecture, free and open to the public, on various avian research topics, given by the UMass PhD student, Mariamar Gutierrez-Ramirez at 2pm on 4/22 in the multipurpose room.

Some nice places to go birding on St. George Island are the St. George Island State Park and ANERR Unit 4 property. Next time you are traveling and find yourself exhausted after a long trip, remember the little songbirds that fly non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico! Long distance migration travel is pretty amazing and we are thankful for the critical rest stop.

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