Apalachicola Bay has long been famous around the world for its thousands of acres of oyster beds. In fact, in the past, 90 percent of Eastern oysters served in Florida were from Apalachicola. However, changes in climate and reduced freshwater flow into the bay from upstream diversions are changing the estuary. Fortunately, Apalachicola Bay scientists are documenting the altered ecology of the watershed using a wide system of data loggers, towers and observations.
Research at the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve goes beyond water quality, though that remains a critical component of what they study every year. In addition, researchers conduct monthly trawling to measure fish and macroinvertebrate abundances, and also keep tabs on nesting sea turtles and shorebirds. Their stewards apply science to the management of approximately 12,000 acres, conducting restoration projects, invasive plant removals, prescribed burns and more.
During my visit to the site, I was fortunate enough to see some of the reserve’s education initiatives in action. A middle school class pulled on bright white wading boots and headed out into a living shoreline plot (where marsh grasses had been replanted to protect the shoreline from erosion), where were busy estimating vegetation cover and counting snails. Throughout their time in the surrounding school systems, students will return to the bay for additional studies. As the reserve’s website declares, “Reserve educators strive to create a special sense of wonder and discovery that are important in developing a strong bay stewardship ethic.” The kids I saw were obviously having a great time out in the water, and I knew I was looking at the future of the environmental movement.
Read more about Erika’s trip to Apalachicola Bay here.
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