South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Working Group

Annual Report 1996



[1996 Accomplishments] [1996 Initiatives] [1997 Goals]

a. Ecosystem Problems and Restoration Objectives

The estuarine, coral reef, and upland habitats have all been altered by anthropogenic changes associated with drainage and development of South Florida.

In Florida Bay a series of changes has become evident since 1987 that indicates acute ecosystem stress. These include:

  1. diminished water clarity;
  2. extensive die-off of seagrass habitat in western Florida Bay (no such loss has previously been observed in the bay, nor reported in the literature);
  3. decline of mangroves on bay islands;
  4. increased phytoplankton blooms;
  5. reduced populations in such species as pink shrimp, sponges, spiny lobster, and gamefish; and
  6. increases in salinity (the bay now exhibits increases in salinity, even hypersalinity, throughout the year because of decreased freshwater inflow).

Unprotected upland areas in the Florida Keys are under extreme development pressure associated with population growth. Vast areas of hardwood hammocks have already been lost to development. Remaining stands are highly fragmented, but are critical to dispersal and movements of the white-crowned pigeon and migratory birds, as well as for protection of many rare plants and animals. The coral reef tract is in a state of decline that began about 1986. The problems include outbreaks of black band disease on coral colonies and disappearance of false coral, a once common colonial anemone. The coral decline may result from the import of anthropogenic substances; however, there is a lack of scientific data to verify this hypothesis.

Efforts are focused on redirecting freshwater and sheetflow into northern Florida Bay; however, there is concern that measures to direct more flow to the Everglades may bring new problems to Florida Bay and the reef. These may include an increased nutrient loading which could cause more algal blooms, and increased contaminant loading, especially of pesticides.


b. 1996 Accomplishments

Involving the Public

Distributed information to ensure that new development complies with the guiding principles for development established by the Florida Legislature for the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern to protect the area's sensitive environmental resources.

Expanded the education/outreach programs including projects like Team O.C.E.A.N. (Ocean Conservation Education Action Network) and a boaters' educational video.

Conducted an annual family Catch and Release Fishing Tournament. Fishery data from the event is used as part of the Rookery Bay National Estuary Reserve's baseline monitoring program.

Conducted ecotourism workshops for local ecotour boat operators to review conservation issues and promote cooperation and coordination.

Developed a weekly cable television show entitled "Gulf Coast Eco-Update" to spotlight environmental issues, conservation and agency programs.

Conducted technical training workshops for planners, regulators and managers. Workshops provide a forum for technical exchange of information on topics such as oil spill response, watershed management and exotic plant control.

Implemented a pilot public education/outreach program on Florida Bay research results through a continuously broadcasting low-power radio station in Key Largo. This program has the potential to reach 22,000 motorists per day.

Ecologic Programs

Developed an inexpensive high quality recording turbidity sensor to enable cost-effective establishment of large monitoring networks in marine waters. This accomplishment, through the cooperative program on effects of multiple stressors on natural systems, is a major breakthrough that will also benefit other projects concerned with effects of increased turbidity.

Built and tested a detailed circulation model of Florida Bay, including mud banks, western gulf boundary and passes between the keys. Along with the continuous year long monitoring program, the first intensive hydrometeorlogical survey was conducted for model calibration. Salinity calculation capability was added to the circulation model.

Developed a Watershed Management Plan for Rookery Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands. The plan identifies priority opportunities for land acquisition, restoration and interagency coordination to restore historic hydropatterns to the Rookery Bay estuarine ecosystem.

Completed an analysis of a 160-year record of Florida Bay salinity that is contained in corals. This study showed the importance of Flagler's railway construction in the southern part of the Bay, with salinity variability decreasing after railway construction. Analysis of the recent record of small corals from other parts of the Bay validated salinity estimates from coral cores.

Completed paleoecologic analysis of 21O-Pb dated cores from Little Madeira Bay and Mud Creek. Fauna and flora present indicate environmental changes have occurred in the short-term (last century) and long term (over the last 2000 years history of Florida Bay. Cores from Little Madeira Bay and Bob Allen mud bank both show an increase in average salinity and in increase in benthic faunal diversity since the turn of the century. Pollen records in the cores indicate that corresponding changes occurred onshore.

Continued monitoring of fauna, flora, and associated environmental parameters, at 14 sites in northeastern and east-central Florida Bay established in 1995. Added five additional sites in Rabbit Key basin in Florida Bay in 1996. These data are used to establish modern analogues for interpreting the historical data.

Found a good spatial correlation between coastal outlets of a recently discovered ancient riverbed, now underground, and areas of algal blooms in Florida Bay. High phosphorus concentrations are found at these locations. The hypothesis is that the underground river is a conduit for transport of high phosphorus ground water from the Florida mainland to Florida Bay. This hypothesis will help shape future research, including efforts to determine the source of the phosphorus.

Sponsored a nutrient dynamics workshop. The objective of the workshop was to ascertain what work needs to be done that would allow for the development of a Florida Bay nutrient budget.

Established a monitoring network to measure flows into Florida Bay.

Coordinated the scope and design of the Florida Bay Hydrodynamic Model with the Florida Bay Program Management Committee. Seasonal data has been collected to assist in model calibration.

Created bi-monthly salinity maps of Florida Bay that are available on the Internet.

Conducted studies to assess the potential for, and effects of, contaminant loading of agricultural pesticides into Florida Bay from the large farming area in southern Dade County. Field studies focused on measuring the occurrence of pesticides in water, sediment and biota. Ecotoxicology studies assessed the potential biological effects of contaminants. The pesticide endosulfan is of special concern because more than 70% of endosulfan used in the southeastern U.S. is applied to vegetable crops in South Florida; it is potentially acutely toxic; and it is known to disrupt endocrine capabilities.

Implemented improved sampling and extraction techniques for pesticides. Sub parts-per-trillion quantification was achieved. The improved methodologies allowed for detection of several pesticides that were not measurable in previous years. The high prevalence rate of pesticides at sites in Florida Bay, in addition to the agricultural area, raises the issue of additive chronic toxicity to living marine resources of Florida Bay. Many of the pesticides detected have the potential to disrupt and alter development and reproduction.

Tested sediments collected from several nearshore sites in Florida Bay for chronic toxicity potential in a partial life-cycle test. Reduced clutch size and nauplii production at several sites (including Little Madeira Bay and the end of the C-111 Canal) suggest alterations in reproduction and development in copepods in certain areas of Florida Bay. In addition, a significant reduction in percent of surviving males was found in Joe Bay and at the C-111 Canal.

Completed studies which indicate significant reductions in condition and gonadal indices in oysters deployed at the lower end of C-111 canal.

Developed restoration success criterion based on pink shrimp catch. Previous work has shown a good correlation between freshwater inflow to Florida Bay and shrimp landings from the Dry Tortugas. Annual forecasts of pink shrimp harvest are based primarily on freshwater inputs to ENP. Analyses were conducted in 1996 to separate from the catch data the effect of variable rainfall and also the fishery effect of the targeting of small shrimp that began around 1980. The result should be the effect of water management, and calculations confirmed a relationship between the variation in annual catch per unit effort of shrimp and water releases across Tamiami Trail.

Organized and held the Florida Bay Science Conference in Key Largo. This annual gathering brought together 260 Florida Bay scientists and interested individuals. The conference featured approximately 35 oral presentations and 55 posters.

Collected data to assess mercury concentrations in biota targeted food-web organisms in eastern Florida Bay, the area of greatest concern for mercury enrichment. Mercury concentrations in bay anchovies were surprisingly high- higher than concentrations found in similar-size forage fish in the WCAs. This suggests that predators on anchovies in eastern Florida Bay could bioaccumulate concentrations of mercury high enough to be of concern. Lower concentrations found in anchovies and mojarra from the site most distant from the Everglades suggest a spatial gradient.

Achieved significant milestones in development of the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) weather prediction model. These included extending the model to actually predict the amount and distribution of rainfall, replicating realistic precipitation patterns along the sea-breeze front, and obtaining a high-powered computer workstation that eliminated expensive remote supercomputer cycles and accelerated ARPS development. These accomplishments make generation of high-resolution simulations of rainfall and surface winds and their application as decision aids in Everglades restoration management a near term possibility.

Analyzed of drifter trajectories in Florida Bay circulation studies. The data indicate net southeastward flow from the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida reef tract through the seagrass die-off region of western Florida Bay. All surface drifters deployed near Shark River and in the western Bay exited the Bay toward the reef tract and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) through Long Key Channel. Results of current-meter studies indicate maximum cross-shelf flow occurs in the outer shelf of the Long Key area. Travel of drifters as far north as Cape Hatteras has initiated a collaborative study on larval fish recruitment to show the connectivity be tween the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay, Florida Keys, and the Middle Atlantic Bight.

Archived hourly digital precipitation data for the 1996 rainy season. Data were made available in near real time on the Internet.

Created the first tropical-pollen reference set for the Everglades, which will serve as a standard for pollen identification, and created the first WorldWide Web site for such. This paleoecology work is part of an evaluation of the sediment record as a tool to monitor changes in the lower Everglades/ Florida Bay system.

Completed first year of modern surface sediment sampling and oceanographic sampling in Biscayne Bay. Analysis of the biogenic composition and trace element geochemistry of the surface samples is in progress. Two sediment cores from southern Biscayne Bay were collected and progress is being mad e on the biotic and geochemical analyses of these.

Developed restoration success criteria for the Florida Keys coral reef tract based on coral cover, coral diversity, coral tissue indices, coral recruitment, fish abundance and diversity, lobster abundance, algae occurrence and extent, sponge abundance and percent cover; and sedimentation rate.

Completed a socioeconomic assessment of the FKNMS, in particular perceptions of user groups about the use of zonation strategy in the Sanctuary.

Demonstrated the importance of sponge habitat in Florida Bay through research to determine if artificial shelters increase recruitment of spiny lobsters in the Bay. Compared to spongeless sites without artificial shelters, where lobster numbers are substantially lower, artificial shelter sites housed numbers of juveniles equivalent to the highest recorded numbers on natural sites with good sponge densities. The importance of the sponge habitat is clearly critical.

Demonstrated a strong geographical and seasonal pattern of phytoplankton distribution and abundance in preliminary results of a project on the effect of blue green algal blooms on Florida Bay. Results also showed significant regional differences in the nature of nutrient limitation in the Bay; some regions were phosphorus limited, others were surplus in nitrogen, phosphorus and silica.

Completed a GIS database of monitoring activities in the Florida Keys/ Florida Bay.

Completed a cooperative aerial survey and published a data analysis to assess occurrence and distribution of sea turtles and marine mammals and to monitor vessel activity along Southeast Florida. Vessel usage throughout the area, including in the Sanctuary Protected Areas and Ecological Reserves of FKNMS and in Biscayne National Park, was documented.

Completed a comprehensive assessment of Florida Bay problems including the completion of monthly maps (for public distribution) depicting the location and duration of harmful algal blooms and turbid waters; identified the potential role of a fungus in the seagrass die-off; determined the change and abundance of fish species; and developed predictive capabilities for the distribution and abundance of mollusks in relation to changes in freshwater.

Completed Phase 1 of a sediment coring study to determine Florida Bay's environmental history. Minimally disturbed sediments with an intact chronology of environmental history were located in eastern Florida Bay. Phase 2 will complete analyses to evaluate the century-long record stored in these sediments. Results of this study will help to define Florida Bay restoration criteria.

Completed a map of the freshwater/ saltwater interface in ENP.

Sustainable Development

Drafted a Monroe County On-site Treatment and Disposal System (OSTDS) ordinance. The ordinance includes a schedule for residents to have their on-site systems inspected and permitted. Cesspools and malfunctioning septic systems will be required for removal through 2001.

Evaluated applicable rules, programs and policies in the Florida Keys for consistency with the Monroe County Comprehensive Plan and the Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC) principles to revise and streamline federal, state and local criteria. The goal is for all changes to state, local and federal regulations and policies to be implemented in 1997.

Florida Keys Water Quality Protection

Submitted the first draft of the Marathon Facilities Plan. The County is expected to make minor revisions and to submit the plan for 97 State Revolving Fund program.

Completed and distributed the final Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) document for the FKNMS and the WQPP Action Plan which was approved by the Steering Committee and included in the Final Management Plan/EIS for the FKNMS.

Completed the second year of the Comprehensive Monitoring Program for the FKNMS, which will provide information about the status and trends in water quality and biological resources and also information on the effectiveness of remedial actions to reduce pollution.

Completed the first year of the Special Studies Program for the WQPP. The purpose of these studies is to identify and understand cause/effect relationships involving pollutants, transport pathways, and biological communities. The information provided will address specific management questions and concerns, improve the general understanding of the FKNMS system, and help develop predictive models and monitoring tools and methodologies.

Completed construction of the Innovative and Alternative Onsite Disposal System Project.

Obtained approval of the "First Biennial Report to Congress on the WQPP".

Completed "Summary Document and Status Report for the Sanitary Sewage Element of the Monroe County 2010 Comprehensive Plan."

Prepared a document that summarized the content and status of the Monroe County Comprehensive Plan as it relates to the recommendations in the WQPP document. This document also provides information on the status of various state and local government agencies' activities associated with implementation of the Comprehensive Plan and serves as a tool for agency coordination.

Completed a final report on Pollutant Load Reduction Goals (PLRGs) for the FKNMS.

Ecologic Programs

Received all comments on the Draft Management Plan and DEIS in December 1995 and revised the plan in 1996 based on the comments from the public and the state. Released the final management plan/EIS in September for review by the state and public comment. The plan will be presented to the Governor and Cabinet.

Continued sampling in Florida Bay which is indicating, in addition to decline in seagrasses in numerous areas, both an overall decrease in numerical abundance of resident fish and changes in fish community composition since 1984. Bay anchovy has become the dominant species, indicating a shift in trophic structure from a benthic epibenthic feeding community to one dominated by planktivores.

Determined seasonal densities and activities, habitats, and locations of wading birds in Florida Bay, and determined annual maximum abundances of several species. Data were provided for use in ecosystem models of Florida Bay; wading bird density maps were generated for use in oil spill hazard assessment planning.

Determined patterns of density of juvenile pink shrimp at locations in Whitewater Bay for comparison with densities in the Johnson Key Basin of Florida Bay.

Habitat Restoration

Developed recovery rate and projected cost tables for each species of seagrass common to FKNMS for use by the Sanctuary in computing recovery costs in damage claims cases.

Continued data analyses on seagrass recolonization rates that are strongly indicating that active restoration of damaged areas may often be required because predicted natural recovery rates to recolonize 1-m-wide areas with equivalent densities may exceed 5 years. Placement of bird roosting posts in some damaged areas - - encouraging guano contribution -- dramatically enhanced both survival of transplants and rates of seagrass shoot growth within the transplant area.

Approximately 4200 ft. x 25 ft. of shoreline was restored in Long Key State Recreation Area by the removal of Australian pine and subsequent planting of native plants.

Ecologic Programs

Released 126,795 hatchery reared red drum in Biscayne Bay in an effort to rebuild the population. This brings the total number released since 1990 to 1,608,000. Anglers caught 43 red drum in the annual Hunt For Reds in October fishing tournament.

Determined red tide to be the cause of death of 158 manatee mortalities in southwest Florida.

Identified a virus as the likely cause of hardhead catfish kills in the region.

Conducted test releases of hatchery reared queen conch for restoration of conch populations and determined the harvest level and abundance of spiny lobster.

Completed the first full year of sampling to monitor health and status of the coral reefs as part of the EPA Water Quality Protection Program.

c. 1996 Initiatives

Ecologic Programs

Began establishing long-term monitoring stations for recommending boundaries of an ecological reserve. Baseline data for monitoring and assessment in the FKNMS were refined by collecting 498 fishery-independent, visual-based samples from 36 reefs in the Florida Keys from Miami to the Dry Tortugas. Each sample contained data on species composition, abundance, frequency of occurrence, and size distribution of reef fishes.

Began field and laboratory work on modern and historical microbiotic distributions and their natural and anthropogenic controls within Biscayne Bay. This project is using modern microfaunal, palynologic, hydrologic and geochemical data to determine historical changes in the Biscayne Bay ecosystem over the last century.

Began field and laboratory work on most tasks of the comprehensive, multiyear, cooperative research program on cumulative effects of multiple natural and anthropogenic stressors on natural ecosystems in Biscayne Bay and the Upper Florida Keys. Projects focused on 1) characterizing the environmental stressors of temperature, salinity, storms, tu rbidity/sedimentation, nutrients, and overfishing; and 2) evaluating candidate indicators of stress, including coral physiology; coral, macroalgal, and amphipod community characteristics; stress challenges to nearshore fish; fish stress neurotransmitters; heat shock proteins in fish and corals; sea turtle papilloma disease; and carbonate sediment dynamics.

Initiated a study to determine the effects of changing freshwater flow to Florida Bay on the input of nutrients to the Bay. This three-year project is measuring the movement of nutrients between the northern part of Florida Bay and the Everglades.

Initiated design and construction of a mesocosm facility that will initially be used to examine the physiological response of Florida Bay seagrass to less dramatic but more prevalent salinity variation than would be found from water released via canals and gated stations. The experimental facility is being constructed at the NPS Florida Bay District in Key Largo.

Began efforts to define future water quality needs and critical parameters. A workplan and cost estimate for a Florida Bay Water Quality Model was started.

Secured funding for the Coral Reef Initiative, which will expand coral research beyond the FKNMS to reef areas along the west and east coasts of South Florida.

Began an assessment of the status of stocks and spawning locations of jewfish in the Florida Keys and southeastern Gulf of Mexico. A tagging study was initiated to monitor movement patterns and population sizes of jewfish aggregations. Additional funding will enable expansion of this research to include juvenile abundance and distribution in Florida Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands.

Initiated development of an integrated monitoring plan for coastal areas.

Biscayne Bay Feasibility Study

Developed the numerical grid for the hydrodynamic circulation model.

Completed a draft scope of work proposing an interagency effort to perform the data collection effort. The draft scope of work is under review by the study team.

Initiated groundwater data collection and modeling.

Florida Keys Carrying Capacity Study

Developed scope of work, established a steering committee and technical advisory committee, and obtained seed money for a study of the effects of population growth on the natural environment in the Keys. The study will identify the interrelationships between human activities in the Keys and the health of the surrounding natural environment.

d. 1997 Goals

Involving the Public

Continue to assure new development complies with the guiding principles for development established by the Florida Legislature for the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern to protect the area's sensitive environmental resources.

Implement a broader public education program/outreach program to disseminate results of research by the agencies currently working in Florida Bay.

Ecologic Programs

Initiate a bioeconomic analysis of Florida's spiny lobster trap certificate program. Spiny lobster is the second most valuable fishery in the Florida Bay region.

Initiate additional research in Florida Bay using corals to detect and reconstruct environmental change.

Conduct the second intensive hydrometeorological survey and complete the Florida Bay circulation model verification in September 1997. Initiate management scenario testing of the circulation model.

Initiate a Water Quality Model for Florida Bay.

Initiate research in areas adjacent to Florida Bay to test viral tracer technology for tracking wastewater contamination of coastal environments.

Publish a retrospective analysis of reef fish stocks in the Florida Keys, using fishery-independent data. This will be the first stock assessment of the coral reef community in the Keys.

Conduct the second 2-year cycle of proposal awards for the Florida Bay Program.

Implement plans for the Coral Reef Initiative.

Complete paleoecologic analysis of Russell Bank core, and begin analysis of Pass Key core to determine if patterns detected in cores analyzed to date are repeated at these sites.

Continue monitoring of modern sites to determine the range of variation that occurs from season to season at specific sites in terms of physical, biological, and chemical parameters.

Collect additional surface sediment samples, oceanographic data and sediment cores from Biscayne Bay. Begin radiometric dating of sediment cores to determine age control and chronology. Begin analyses of sediment core samples for preliminary interpretation of historical changes in the Biscayne Bay ecosystem.

Determine the role of seagrass in spiny lobster recruitment.

Complete analyses of oyster tissues to determine if oysters deployed at test sites in Florida Bay bioconcentrated contaminants from surface waters or sediments and if observed effects can be correlated with chemical contaminant exposure.

Begin a collaborative study on the toxicity potential of pesticides to pelagic copepod species in Florida Bay.

Biscayne Bay Feasibility Study

Initiate data collection efforts to support hydrodynamic modelling. Purchase and install monitoring equipment and service and collect data monthly. Conduct first intensive flow measurement survey with support from Biscayne National Park (BNP). Collect monthly water quality samples. Model grid will be refined and optimized based on available data collection results.

Florida Keys Carrying Capacity Study

Obtain adequate funding for comple tion of the study, continue data collection efforts, and move forward with the study expeditiously.

Florida Keys Water Quality Protection

Prepare status report on implementation of the WQPP for the FKNMS.

Complete public education document entitled "Water Quality Problems in the Florida Keys."

Management Plans

Obtain final approval of the FMP/EIS from the Governor and Cabinet.

Implement the Final Management Plan beginning with establishing the zoning strategies, continuing to build the education/ outreach and research and monitoring aspects, installing channel markers and mooring buoys.

A noisy congregation of birds greets boaters passing Black Point near Biscayne National Park View of birds lined up along point

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