Try to find a better group of Sea Grant Extension Agents than we have in Florida. You can’t do it.
For their level of education, years of experience and the impact they’ve made on Florida’s coastal ecosystems and communities, Florida Sea Grant Extension agents can’t be beat. Director Dr. Sherry Larkin and Associate Program Leader Dr. Maia McGuire lead a dream team of 20 county, regional and state Sea Grant agents, with two more positions to be filled. Most of these agents have been active in Extension for more than a decade; an impressive 30% have PhDs and three more are currently enrolled in doctorate programs in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at UF. That’s a pretty deep bench.
Sea Grant’s talent is in play at an especially critical time, as Floridians are struggling with harmful algal blooms, climate change, declining fisheries and many other issues. Sea Grant Extension agents live and work in coastal communities, partnering with local governments, business owners, citizen scientists and volunteers to find science-based solutions to preserve the health of the waters we all depend on.
As we recognize World Ocean Day on June 8, it’s a particularly apt time to call attention to some of Sea Grant’s star players and their accomplishments.
Harmful Algal Blooms
In 2019, Betty Staugler and Dr. Lisa Krimsky organized and hosted a two-day Harmful Algal Bloom State of the Science Symposium. More than 70 HAB researchers gathered virtually and in person to assess the state of the science and identify research priorities for Florida’s red tide (Karenia brevis) and Microcystis aeruginosa cyanobacteria blooms. The agents published the symposium proceedings to inform Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom and Blue-Green Algae Task Forces and to facilitate better public outreach and communication from the scientific community.
Stony Coral Tissue Loss
Ana Zangroniz and Shelly Krueger have taken leadership in teaching South Florida snorkelers and SCUBA divers to recognize and report the spread of stony coral tissue loss disease, which threatens more than 20 species of reef-building stony corals. Ana has recently shared these efforts with colleagues in Puerto Rico Sea Grant.
Florida-Friendly Fishing Guide Certification
Dr. Savanna Barry and the Sea Grant Fisheries Work Action Group used an Extension Enhancement Grant to create the Florida-Friendly Fishing Guide certification program, which teaches Florida’s small boat captains and fishing guides about sustainable boating and fishing techniques. Certification helps fishing guides stand out from their competition and promotes sustainable practices that preserve our fisheries—a win-win for all.
Dr. Angela Collins used Larry R. Arrington Extension Internship Endowment funds to create a student internship opportunity with a shellfish aquaculture business in Manatee County. The internship, which was offered for two years in a row in 2017 and 2018, allowed the producer to increase their clam production while the student gained invaluable experience, leading to a full-time position with the aquaculture industry upon his graduation. This success inspired Florida Sea Grant to create the HARVEST internship program which is entering its second year.
Scott Jackson received a $3 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation for debris removal in the St. Andrew Bay area following Hurricane Michael. The debris include many derelict vessels, many of which were washed up on public and private property, where they present water pollution and navigation hazards.
Oyster Reef Restoration
Dr. Savanna Barry is working with Dr. Mark Clark on developing biodegradable materials to use for oyster reef restoration. These low-cost, low-impact alternatives have applications to replace plastic mesh shell bags and other materials that are used to restore oyster reefs and build living shorelines.
In 2015, Dr. Maia McGuire developed the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project with help from a NOAA Marine Debris Outreach and Education grant. Microplastics are miniscule plastic fragments that enter our aquatic ecosystems—not just from plastic bottles, but from sources like laundry fibers and hand soaps. This citizen science project, which teaches residents how to reduce their contribution to the plastic problem, has grown to include 27 regional coordinators around Florida and has gained more than 3,000 pledges from citizens that vow to reduce their plastic waste. Dr. McGuire is now the Associate State Program Leader for Florida Sea Grant.
Holly Abeels teamed with Dr. Ashley Smyth and Alicia Bradigan-Betancourt to develop the Climate Smart Floridians Program, which is being taught by several Extension agents and some municipalities. Participants in the program learn about home energy use, “green” building, food waste, and water conservation. Each module includes actions Floridians can take to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Libby Carnahan established the Tampa Bay Climate Science Advisory Panel (CSAP) in 2014 to develop science-based recommendations for local governments to plan for climate change. In 2019, CSAP updated its Recommended Projections of Sea Level Rise for the Tampa Bay Region, and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) has been using these data in planning its One Bay Working Group.
Florida Sea Grant responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by developing virtual education programs that nourished minds and supported local aquaculture. Bite-Sized Science is a series of 30-minute Sea Grant science classes offered in English and Spanish, produced live and recorded online. To date there have been more than 15,800 views of the recordings, and they’ve reached audiences across Florida, as well as in 31 states and 7 countries.
Florida Sea Grant agents aren’t just outstanding scientists and educators, they’re also pretty good cooks. Florida Seafood at Your Fingertips gives agents a chance to put on their chef’s hats to share favorite recipes for cooking fresh, locally sourced seafood. Each episode is available on YouTube, and there are blog posts and recipe cards so you can try them at home.
We don’t see many icebergs in Florida, but what I’ve just described is merely the tip of a very deep and very cool iceberg that is Florida Sea Grant Extension. I could name many more outstanding Sea Grant agents whose work is making a vital impact every day. For bringing science-based solutions to Florida’s coastal communities, this team is unbeatable on land or sea.
To learn more about Florida Sea Grant, visit https://www.flseagrant.org/