Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gulf Seagrass Meadows

Spring in the Gulf is not so different from spring on shore. It is a time of reproduction, growth, and abundance.

Beneath the shallow waters of Cedar Key, the grass is growing again, just as it is in your lawn. In the grass, there are creatures that creep and crawl, nibble and hunt ... just like in your lawn.

The great difference in this subsea lawn and your terrestrial lawn is the sheer teeming numbers of individuals and the amazing diversity of species.

By comparison, your bug ridden patch of suburban grass is a desert... even more so if you use pesticides ... but that's another rant.

The seagrass meadows of this big bend region are vast and near pristine due to our undeveloped coastline. The submerged seagrass meadows and their emergent cousins, the saltmarsh cordgrasses, form a vast hatchery - nursery system ... sort of a solar powered seafood replenishment factory ... and it does all this for free.

For free.

All we have to do in return is protect it.

In return we are guaranteed beauty, wildlife, life sustaining and delicious food, oxygen, and so much more.

... If we will just protect it.

That's all.

Just don't do anything to ... (and here he bites his tongue) ... "mess" things up.

Of course, this spring, we did something to "mess" things up.

BP didn't do it.

Haliburton didn't do it.

The politicians didn't do it.

We did it.

We all need oil and we, as a tribe, will do whatever it takes to secure it.

Considering the vast amounts of it that we extract, transport, and use ... we usually do a pretty reasonable job of containing it.

But, not this spring.

This spring, a single event threatens destruction to natural systems over a vast swath. Even if the oil stopped pouring out of that broken pipe this very minute ... we would still be facing potentially devastating damage to our coastal ecosystems.

And, it's a damage that can linger for decades.

The oil mass hovering offshore was on my mind constantly yesterday as my students went out to sea on their annual Marine Science Field Experience.

Each time we hauled our little trawl net aboard the boat and the seaweed tumbled out trembling with fish, crabs, snails, shrimp, seasquirts, starfish ... I imagined the same scene covered in oil.

In my little daydream, my students shrunk back in horror as the net emerged from a stinking brown sea covered in oil, it's contents dead or dying, the dolphins and seaturtles that usually swim by the boat instead floated nearby dead and bloated ...

You have to keep your daydreams short when you are on a boat with 14 kids, so luckily I only had to endure a few seconds of that nightmarish seascape.

I'm very aware it could still come true.

For now, the innocent go about their business in the seagrass meadows beneath the salty Gulf waters, unaware of our mistake looming offshore.

What follows is a brief sample of our finds yesterday. We sampled and released 99.9 % of what we caught. Only a few critters came home to our salt water tanks and they will be returned in a few weeks when school winds down.

Enjoy, but don't miss the obvious ... all the creatures you see in this post are either juveniles or in the act of reproducing.

Let's hope the nursery doesn't get poisoned.

A young needlefish.

A young stone crab.

A pretty healthy shrimp ... most were still about half this size.

A young, but feisty blue crab.

A tongue fish.

A very tiny, very stressed out puffer known as a striped burrfish.

A banded tulip snail and a clutch of tulip snail eggs.

A tiny grass shrimp in the act of procreation. The mass under her abodomen is a clutch of eggs.

A tiny crab that ... I need to look up!
The horror. I don't think I've ever seen this one ... and get this ... she is full grown.

Here's how we know. She's carrying her eggs too.

A handful of gracilaria, seagrass, and hard bryozoan structure ... evidence of a healthy seabottom.
I hope we can keep it that way.

I'll be out there again tomorrow with a fresh batch of kids.


Sandcastle Momma said...

Great post, FC. I can't even imagine the loss of grass beds like that one. Let's hope this isn't the last group of kids you'll be taking out to experience the wonders of the sea.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fc,

I'll second SCMomma.

Nice pictures. What a selection you got to see!


threecollie said...

Even here we are praying that treasures like your grass beds aren't lost. Your photos are simply amazing and I thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. At the crux of it, yes we called it but you would think some safe guards would have been put in place.

Tammy in L. Al.

Florida Beach Basics said...

great post, FC. we live in hope.


Floridagirl said...

Those are some amazing shots of life in the Gulf! Love it! Glad life is still thriving there. Makes me want to drive over to the coast.

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Really great photos: it's a treasure trove of biota down there. It's all very upsetting.

Anonymous said...

Is that perchance an undecorated decorator crab?

Deb said...

Great reminder of what stands to be lost if... I can only hope the worst case scenarios don't play out. And the good that can come of this crisis is that people will perhaps feel more stupid chanting "Drill baby Drill!" Of course, however, they won't. Stupid egos.

Thunder Dave said...

Wonderful yet depressing post! I'm looking forward to what you find today.

We've been trying to stay on top of the latest news of the oil spill, but it's funny that since the slick has started to make landfall the coverage of the incident gets less and less!

I do at least feel good about my company donating as much Dawn as we do to help try to save as much of waterfowl and other larger life forms that take a hit from this mess!

Dani said...

Yeah, what's up with the lack of coveage?

Mark said...

Someone on the news the other day said that as of that day the current spill was only (only!) a third the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. In three weeks only a third as much oil as EV spilled has flowed out into the Gulf. So if they can't cap it, at this rate in a month and a half it will be as big as EV. And they don't really even know how much oil is coming out. Only estimates.

Dani said...


ldybug said...

great post and great photos

kathy a. said...

what a great post, and great photos! glad you spoke out about the spill. gusher. whatever the heck you call it, it is very very bad.

Capt. Joe Johnson said...

One native to another... I ain't never seen a crab like the triangular lady you've got.

I can't find it in any of my id guides, or online.

Funny,,, I too am a fan of William Bartram, among others.

Anything about home gets a look from me.

Thanks for caring about her...

Y'ever heard of MOFRO?

Mark said...

I guess you have heard by now that the spill might be ten times as large as estimated, and may already have surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill.

Miz S said...

FC - great post (as always). A member of my extended family said to me proudly the other day that he never bought gas from Exxon after the EV spill, and now he would never buy gas from BP. A little voice inside my head was whispering to me, "Yeah...I'd be way more impressed if you told me you had sold your cars and would only use public transportation from now on..."

jojo said...

what about us? when are you going to take US out? i wanna go and learn! I'll be happy to drive that 4 hours up! :)

Floridacracker said...

Thanks, but between the oil and the budget cuts, it could be.

It's the selection that is so astounding! I've only shared a bit so far.

Thanks. It's all ours and affects each one of us.

Yeah, I wasn't really letting those guys off the hook, just making the point that we share in this need for oil. And yes, you would think that better response plans and EQUIPMENT would be ready.

Thanks Marge,
We do.

It's ab fab for a marine life lover here. Hope it stays that way!

REALLY upsetting! Frustrating too.

It could be, it's just not like any I usually pull up. They tend to be more of the spider crab build and this one is so tiny, clean, and triangular.

Arctic sub ice drilling could commence very soon. Imagine this spill beneath ice.

Thank PG for Dawn! What a mess. Hey when are you building.

I saw more today, but I know what you mean.

Ugh. Yes, the estimate of the size and volume keeps rising.


Thanks. I just wanted to show some of what was at stake.

Captain Joe,
Welcome to Pure Florida!
That crab is a mystery to us both. I've been too busy to dig much, but will keep looking.
Thanks for the MOFRO tip!!! I just ordered Blackwater from Amazon two minutes ago.

Miz S,
I'm sure his boycott really hurt Exxon. LOL!

Floridacracker said...

LOL! I could start a little side business.

LaDivaCucina said...

Well, you probably already know how upset Diva is about all of this. Add to that the helplessness of feeling that for now, there aren't a lot of practical alternatives for consumers.

I love all the babies you caught!! What you do with the kids is amazing, I'm sure getting them involved at this level will help them to understand what's at stake when they become adults in a few year's time.

Great post FC!

robin charlotte humphrey said...

i lOVE your blog! That puffer fish is soooooo tiny!!!!! I cant handle it!