Keeping tabs on our ecosystem

The climate and scenery of the “Sunshine State” has made Florida a very desirable place to live and attracts an enormous number of tourists each year.

Most of Florida’s nearly 20 million residents live close to its 1,800 miles of coastline and another 100 million tourists are drawn here every year because of its bountiful ocean resources …and the numbers are still rising.

Florida Sea Grant, a coastal and marine extension program within the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, (UF/IFAS) conducts science-based outreach programs designed to conserve and sustain Florida’s precious coastal and ocean resources.

“Healthy oceans and coastlines provide essential nursery grounds for fish, and homes for manatees, wading birds, and other wildlife,” said Brittany Hall-Scharf, a Florida Sea Grant Extension agent affiliated with the University of Florida. “It’s vital that we educate Floridians and visitors about protecting and restoring our natural marine habitats.”

Scharf is a fisheries biologist and also an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa. Her mission is to conserve the coastal and marine resources and enhance economic opportunities in the county.

One of Scharf’s many remits has been to train residents in Hernando County to sample and test the waters along our coastline through a new community-based water monitoring program.

“Engaging citizens as volunteers in our coastal science projects has many benefits, said Scharf. “It can not only improve their knowledge of issues affecting our coastline, but it can help them be better stewards of the many natural resources we have.”

Trained volunteers will jointly administer the program by regularly monitoring the health of our coastal waters so that longterm trends and changes in water quality can be documented.

After training, volunteers must demonstrate the ability to use chemical kits and equipment provided by Scharf. Once trained, the volunteers sample monthly for one year, record the information and send the data sheets to the UF/IFAS Sea Grant Extension Program in Hernando County.

“Volunteers are certified annually for this task,” said Scharf.

Ruby Turner is one such volunteer and is a resident of Hernando Beach. Both she, and a friend, Debbie Bradley, have been trained and certified to conduct the monthly tests.

“We go out once a month and test water samples out in the bay for dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, clarity and other water quality indicators.,” said Turner. “All the necessary equipment and chemicals are provided by UF/IFAS to do the tests.”

Debbie Bradley said she conducts a water clarity test using a Secchi Disk.

“It requires a Secchi disk to be lowered into the water until no longer visible and mark the depth,” she said. “Then the disk is slowly raised again until it becomes visible again and recorded.”

Data are then entered in a regional water quality database to help resource managers assess coastal water trends in areas where public funds can no longer support routine monitoring. Each test is conducted twice for accuracy.

“We enjoy going out in the boat to do the testing,” said Turner. “It’s the least we can do to help keep our waters healthy.”

“If residents understand what causes a decline in water quality in local waters, it’s likely they’ll practice actions to help improve conditions everywhere,” said Scharf.

Florida Sea Grant efforts include outreach programs for artificial reefs, derelict crab trap removals, beach cleanups, mangrove and sea oat replanting and oyster reef restoration —programs that have and will continue to improve and restore thousands of acres of natural habitat.

Contact Brittany Hall-Scharf to find out about more about other innovative programs she conducts to conserve and sustain the precious ocean and coastal resources of Florida.

She can be reached at Hernando County Extension Office, 16110 Aviation Loop Dr., Brooksville, Fl 34604. Phone: (352) 754-4433, ext 7. Email: [email protected]


Volunteeer Ruby Turner and Sea Grant Agent Brittany Hall-Scharf conducting a calibration test.

Volunteers are needed to help assemble oyster bags for an upcoming restoration project. Opportunity is limited to the first 40 registrants. Please register for a time slot and one free t-shirt* through the following link:

When: March 11, 2018 Time: 10:00 am until 12:00 pm OR 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm

Location: We will be filling the bags in the county lot next to the Hernando Beach Water Tower. This is a dirt road off Shoal Line Blvd. Closest address to this tower is 4500 Shoal Line Blvd., Spring Hill, Florida

What to expect: Each event willspan for two hours. Volunteers will be usingshovels to fill bags with recycled oyster shell. Bags will then be loaded for transport to holding site. What to wear: Volunteers must wear closed-toe shoes. Jeans recommended but not required. What to bring: Please bring a pair of heavy duty gloves – oyster shells are sharp! Water bottle, insect repellent, sunglasses, and sunscreen/protection are also recommended.

For more details, contact Florida Sea Grant Agent Brittany Hall-Scharf: 352-754-4433 or [email protected]

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