This is Capt. Phil O’Bannon’s very first column written for the Beacon, pertaining to local research and lecture series’ by Mote Marine Laboratory. Capt. Phil is the executive director of the Boca Grande Mote office. Expect to see his work in the paper from time to time.
BY CAPT. PHIL 0'BANNON - As the executive director of the Mote Marine Laboratory office in Boca Grande, my goals are to support Mote’s efforts to protect, preserve and enhance our marine environment. We still have one of the healthiest estuary systems in the country, but after growing up around and guiding in the Charlotte Harbor estuary system all my life, I have seen many changes.
We are all drawn to this area for special reasons, whether it is fishing, boating, bird-watching or spending time on the beach. It is very important that we all do that is necessary to maintain an awareness of these natural resources and protect them. The way to do this is through proper estuary and fishery management. That’s where Mote’s presence can make a real impact. The management agencies need hard data to help them make informed decisions about our wildlife resources that will affect us for years to come. As a world-class research organization, Mote already has a strong reputation providing unbiased information.
Mote is hoping to implement a series of initiatives focused on the health of local species and habitats. To move forward, they will need the strong support of our community.
When Mote opened its doors in Boca Grande we targeted five proposed initiatives that we felt needed attention in Charlotte Harbor.
• Red Tide Initiative: The first of our initiatives on red tide is already under way. We have established beach conditions reports for Boca Grande thanks to a generous donation from a local island resident. Special thanks to GIBA and the Barrier Island Parks Society who are doing these reports daily. The Beach Conditions Report can be accessed online at mote.org/beaches. We also show it on the monitor at the office. The reports show water color, wind direction, surf conditions, dead fish (if any) and respiratory irritation levels.
• Tarpon Conservation Initiative: Boca Grande is the birthplace of the tarpon fishery. The first tarpon caught on hook and line was reported in 1885. But little is known about the life history of this great sport fish — or even how big the population is. It is imperative that we learn more about tarpon so we can properly manage this fishery and Boca Grande remains the Tarpon Capitol of the World.
• Shark Initiative: We are famous for tarpon, and with the tarpon come their predators – sharks. There are many schools of thought on how sharks interact with tarpon, but there is little data on this behavior. Studies must be done to show this interaction between them and how it affects the tarpon population.
• Snook Conservation Initiative: Snook are one of the most prized species in our area. Overall very little is known about snook other than that they are great game fish and are great table fare. The 2010 cold spell was a huge setback to our overall snook population. Now, more than ever, studies must be done to protect and properly manage this valuable fishery.
• Snook and Tarpon Stock Enhancement and Habitat Protection Initiative: Snook and tarpon are a huge part of our local economy. Florida saltwater fishing brings in $5.1 billion annually. The Charlotte Harbor estuary system still has some of the most pristine habitats for juvenile snook and tarpon. The juvenile tarpon we have in the aquarium at the office came from an estuary not far from Gasparilla Island. When we gathered those fish, we also fin-clipped more than 150 others for DNA analysis and noticed dozens of juvenile snook in the same sampling.
These are areas we need to protect. The juvenile snook we have on display now are from Mote Aquaculture Park, a facility in Sarasota County where Mote is growing saltwater species for stock enhancement studies.
Boca resident Andy Ireland worked hard to help bring Mote to Boca Grande. In addition to myself, come meet Mote staff members Glenda Wright and Amy Sankes. They will be helping to educate the community about Mote’s initiatives and develop partnerships that will allow Mote’s proposed research to move forward.
I’d also like to thank the numerous volunteers who have stepped forward to work in the office and Cathy Klettke is helping me to coordinate this great group. Thanks to their help, the office is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Sunday. Please stop in to get a close up look at our snook and tarpon and think about volunteering. I’m sure we’ll need additional help during the summer.
You can find us at 480 E. Railroad Ave., #7. Our phone number is 855-9251.
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