The Nature Coast spans the Big Bend of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from Hernando to Wakulla County. The region contains one of North America’s most pristine coastlines, with extensive seagrass meadows, valuable recreational and commercial fisheries, and healthy wildlife populations including marine mammals (manatee, dolphin), diverse waterbirds, and sea turtles. The region also supports productive shellfish fisheries (shrimp, oyster) and a vibrant hard clam aquaculture industry.
Five-Year Goals for NCBS Research
The UF/IFAS NCBS seeks to improve the conservation and management of natural resources in the region, and our existing grants are currently addressing projects
ranging from seagrass protection, improved shoreline stabilization methods, oyster reef restoration methods, and improved recreational fishing practices.
The NCBS staff are currently partnering with faculty in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Soil and Water Sciences, Food and Resource Economics, the Florida Climate Institute, and the UF Law School on a range of projects. Regarding research, the highest NCBS priority is to evaluate the effects of changes in freshwater flow on the Suwannee River estuary, and specifically to evaluate how oyster reef restoration projects influence all aspects of the system, including fish and bird communities, and water quality.
The NCBS staff are working closely with a wide range of faculty and agency partners to develop project proposals that address this priority, which would be leveraged with an $8.3 million dollar grant to restore the Lone Cabbage Reef (Principal Investigators: Peter Frederick, Bill Pine, and Leslie Sturmer). Collaborative proposals have been developed on this front and have been submitted for consideration for NOAA RESTORE funding. Further, our team has a strong interest in partnering with IFAS faculty from the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center to evaluate how changes in land use and agricultural practices can influence groundwater levels and flows to the Suwannee estuary. These longer-term research priorities are in addition to the existing grants and projects already underway at NCBS.
The five-year goals of the extension program are to continue to grow and improve both aspects of our extension program, including 1) increasing the application of sustainable practices in the Nature Coast, and 2) enhancing engagement with coastal natural resources and science. We will measure growth in both programs through tracking of participants in educational programs and the number of volunteers in ongoing programs (e.g., Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch statewide network, marine cleanups and habitat restoration). We will grow enrollment in training programs such as the Florida Friendly Fishing Guide and living shoreline contractor certification courses and the Florida Master Naturalist Program. We routinely measure learning outcomes and strive for continuous improvement in communications via website, blog, and social media outlets. Further, NCBS seeks to strengthen ties with Florida Sea Grant through enhanced participation in the Fisheries Work Action Group and leadership of the Estuarine and Coastal Health Work Action Group in the coming year(s).
The goals of NCBS are to continue to provide unique and hands-on instructional resources for undergraduate and graduate courses at UF, Santa Fe, and other institutions. The completion of the wet lab and aquarium/public education area will provide facilities that can be used in courses at the NCBS facility, and we will continue to have courses utilize Seahorse Key for both day trips and overnight stay for field courses. Our goal is to maintain the number of courses and students utilizing Seahorse Key, and to increase the total number of courses through offering facilities at NCBS in Cedar Key for teaching. Further, the construction of the classroom on the third floor will provide opportunities for full connectivity and lectures for classes alongside the wet lab and field opportunities from both NCBS and Seahorse Key marine lab.
In the coming year our goal is to have a functioning wet lab, complete the aquarium and initiate construction on the third floor of the main building (summarized above). We also plan to begin renovations of the previous motel site as discussed above. Five-year goals include a range of needs that will improve the function and utility of the NCBS facility to faculty and students. It is a priority to secure overnight housing at Cedar Key for visiting faculty and students. NCBS faculty and staff are working with the IFAS Development team (John Hooker) to secure funding for the facility improvements listed above.
Over the coming five years, we plan to secure permanent funding for the research internships and improve the staff capacity by hiring of a hatchery/facility manager. The NCBS is now fully staffed, but we anticipate the need for further staff support as the facility continues to grow and develop. The station will need a facility manager position that can help with the maintenance and repairs of the NCBS facility. This will be particularly important when the wet lab and aquarium are completed and operational. We intend to pursue funding for a facility manager and have that person on staff within five years.
A key goal of NCBS is to create an incentive to attract faculty to work on issues in this region and to take advantage of the NCBS facility for research. Thus far, we have utilized four matching assistantships, and we plan to continue to rotate those assistantships among faculty in the future. The undergraduate research internships provide further incentive for UF faculty and agency partners to work with NCBS on conservation and management in the Nature Coast region. We seek to secure long-term funding (endowments and corporate sponsors) for our undergraduate research and extension internships.