“Want to catch fewer fish? ‘Improve’ Oslo boat ramp”

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2011

It is really gratifying to see an excellent research scientist such as Dr. Grant Gilmore, Florida’s foremost fish expert, step up to the plate and speak out in the February 19th guest editorial in the Press Journal, on the Oslo Road boat ramp dredge and fill project entitled “Want to catch fewer fish? ‘Improve’ Oslo boat ramp” (SEE: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/feb/17/grant-gilmore-want-to-catch-fewer-fish-increase/).  In his editorial, he explained that paving the parking lot and dredging would cripple critical habitat for juvenile fish.  At the same time, Dr. Gilmore recognized a former Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory (FMEL) scientist.

FMEL campus & surrounding area.

I am not sure many people know how important the role of the FMEL scientists on Oslo Road was in conducting and instigating the first interdisciplinary research on the Indian River Lagoon.  FMEL is not just a mosquito control research lab.  These researchers were the first to conduct long term integrated scientific studies on the Florida east coast studying the interrelationships between insects, vegetation, birds, fish, habitats, and even tides.  The laboratory is now part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Dr. Robert Harrington, quoted in the article, was one of the first FMEL scientists (President of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the premier ichthyological society) and was hired to work on the use of fish in controlling mosquitoes and who also was involved in some basic studies of fish around mangrove swamps and impoundments.  He was responsible for building the FMEL “Boathouse” for his fish studies on tarpon and other fish species. The Boathouse has been converted into a lecture room, where FMEL and other scientists have provided courses on the wildlife and flora of our native habitats for ORCA volunteers annually for at least 15 years.

In 1961, Dr. Harrington discovered that a small fish called Rivulus was hermaphroditic-i.e., individuals having both ovaries and testes and can produce and fertilize eggs that when laid will hatch.  We now know Rivulus normally and primarily live in the holes along the Indian River Lagoon made by the Great Atlantic Land Crab.  This reproductive process is important and makes good sense if you are the only fish in a hole!  There are also males in some holes with only testes, but most individuals have both ovaries and testes. His wife, Dr. Eleanor Harrington, also an FMEL employee, assisted him in his work and was a strong and valuable PIAS board member for many years.

Earlier, Dr. Harrington contributed some of the evidence used and quoted by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring(page 147)of the bad effects of pesticides.  In 1955, he and FMEL Professor Bill Bidlingmayer, observed 2,000 acres of saltmarsh treated with dieldrin at 1 lb/acre in an attempt to eliminate sandfly larvae in St. Lucie County. The treatment was not done by the FMEL, but they saw the carnage and decided to document it.  By sampling, they estimated that 20-30 tons of fish or 1,175,000 of at least 30 species, including snook, were killed.  No live specimens could be found.  All crustaceans were virtually exterminated including aquatic and fiddler crabs. Dieldrin is now prohibited.

Dr. Maurice Provost, the founding FMEL director, hosted the first interdisciplinary symposium on the Indian River Lagoon in 1972 at the FMEL.  Present were some of the most respected scientists on the planet including Dr. Howard Odum (preeminent ecologist from the UF), Dr. William Odum (University of Virginia and RSMAS/University of Miami, who provided evidence for the value of mangroves to aquatic ecosystems), Dr. Eric Heald (RSMAS/U. Miami, worked with W. Odum on mangrove ecosystems), Dr Sam Snedaker (RSMAS/U. Miami, mangrove ecosystem scientist), Dr. Robert Gore (Harbor Branch Foundation Marine Laboratory), Dr. Robert Harrington, Dr. Herb Kale (FMEL, nationally recognized ornithologist, author of Florida’s Birds, who became Vice President of Florida Audubon, and an ORCA trail is named after him), and many others.  The idea of Rotational Impoundment Management (RIM) may have come out of this symposium.  Dr. Gilmore, as a young scientist, was impressed by the great scientists attending this symposium and their obvious concern for the Indian River Lagoon and the future health of aquatic ecosystems on the Florida east coast.
Dr. Gilmore believes that this FMEL sponsored symposium was responsible for instigating Dr. Gore to write the 1973 proposal to the Smithsonian Institution that started the Indian River Coastal Zone Study that ended up developing the staff scientists at the Harbor Branch Foundation, later to evolve into the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and the Smithsonian Marine Station.  This became the largest long-term interdisciplinary research program on the Florida east coast.  Data and publications from this study are still relevant today and influence present and future research programs along this eastern coast of Florida.  Many of the students and post docs that participated in this study are respected world-renowned scientists around the world today. This all started at the FMEL.  This previous and ongoing research is important to our community and nation today.
As a result of persons dedicated to fishing and Audubon’s goals, friends of fisherman and previous Audubon board member, Joel Day, have raised funds in honor of his memory to purchase Dr. Gilmore’s real-time live fish sounding microphones. These are to be placed in the lagoon with amplifiers and speakers into the future Audubon House to hear fish’s various sounds.  Fish species each have their own unique sounds, just like every bird species has their different call or voice.  If this is carried out, it will be a first for a nature center, an opportunity for the public as well as scientists to study and to hear the calls by various species of fish (like snook, tarpon, and spotted seatrout) from the Lagoon.

Positive support for science is needed now more than ever in our community and state to protect our fragile commercial and recreational fishing and birding industry.

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