Tarpon Net Pull 2.15.20 Report: Regarding Ongoing Juvenile Tarpon Protected Habitat Research
“Helping Solve the Great Fledgling Tarpon Mystery” by Jim Cooper, President, Lemon Bay Conservancy
Saturday, February 15th this winter dawned on a beautiful, sunny morning at Wildflower Preserve for the Lemon Bay Conservancy’s (LBC’s) monthly juvenile Tarpon sampling. Which directly supports solving several great mysteries about Southwest Florida’s famous Silver King Tarpon: where do fledgling Tarpon go after spawning at sea and how do they avoid predators? How long does it take for them to grow to maturity? What is the perfect habitat for juvenile Tarpon? How can conservation efforts best support strong Tarpon populations?
LBC’s baby tarpon sampling is accomplished by the use of a specially designed 600 foot net paid out by a jon boat around the diameter of two largest Wildflower Preserve tidal ponds. The net is pulled in by volunteers, with many types of fish counted and measured. Great care is taken in the measuring process to avoid stressing the fish and then returning them to the ponds. This month’s “net pull”, was also a record day for several key aspects of the LBC SEA mission: Saving, educating and advocating.
LBC’s Wildflower Pond One has been old faithful this year for finding fledgling tarpon. Yet on this day LBC volunteers netted less than expected, but a nice healthy crop of 18 fledgling tarpon. At both Wildflower Ponds One and Two FL F&W marine professional Janelle Johnson educated and supervised students performing water sampling, an important aspect of understanding the habitat.
Janelle also instructed and assisted students in logging the precise measurements of all fish collected. Two of the students assisting at Pond one were the son and daughter of Dr. Phil Stephens, Regional FL F&W Director. Dr. Stephens is a renowned, published marine scientist specializing in coastal snook and tarpon growth rates, habits and habitats. He consulted with the SWFWMD engineers in the new design of the expanded Wildflower tarpon tidal nursery ponds to provide more and better habitat in all year.
LBC has recorded all of this very useful net pull data over the past 8 years. It is entered and stored in the FL F&W master data base. Since 2017 it has been shared with Lemon Bay High School at their state of the art Aqualab. This data is quite useful for researchers. Helping them to unlock the secrets of our fledgling tarpon throughout coastal Florida. LBHS students can access this data to help them in future science fair oriented STEM projects. The 6 Net Pull volunteer youth attending this month ranged from ages 6-18. All of these youthful helpers were actively interested & involved in the amazing array of student STEM programs available in our local schools. LBC was delighted and fortunate that LBHS Teacher Mia Conlin participated from the Lemon Bay High School’s renowned Aqualab program.
At pond Two Mia Conlon eagerly helped everyone identify, count and measure a record number of more than 30 big mullet which were netted. She also collected about 6 young mullet to take back to the Aqualab for students to use in their marine science fair oriented STEM project classes.
LBC is also proud to note the amazing range of cheerful, energized and talented adult professionals who participated. Including guides, environmental fish specialists, published marine coastal fish habitat authors, teachers and young adults. Establishing a new record total of LBC volunteers in excess of 33 dedicated people. Which confirms how great the community interest has become in learning more about Wildflower’s backwater tidal nurseries and baby tarpon habitats and growth.
One of the best aspects of this diverse LBC volunteer team effort during each monthly net pull is the caring & enjoyable interaction between those adults with experience; and those attending for the first or second time. As they learn with hands on training, they begin to master the many variables involved in successful seine netting of Wildflower Preserve’s juvenile tarpon from small jon boat. Along with enjoying the fun teamwork lending a helping hand where ever and whenever needed.
Per President Jim Cooper:
“LBC’s Wildflower Preserve is a hallmark community example of how well LBC is carrying out our SEA Saving, Educating and Advocating mission: saving land from development to provide better protections for local wildlife and fish, as well as educating folks on the critical importance of sustaining these invaluable fledgling tarpon sport fish, which are so vital to our economy.”
“I’d add that unfortunately development has taken out more than 50% of the mangrove tidal nursery ponds throughout Florida. LBC is proud to have successfully protected Wildflower Preserve’s 80 acres and their invaluable mangrove lined tidal tarpon nursery ponds since acquiring it 2010.”
“LBC is currently in the process, thanks to a special Southwest Florida Water Management District grant, of a major expansion of our Tarpon nursery ponds. Which will make them three times larger, while also creating several more wetlands and new freshwater ponds. This expansion will include helping to deter harmful nutrients from entering our ponds along with better trails, contoured pond banks, educational signs and more critter friendly native plants. Good news: The new construction and contouring just started this month. It is set to be finished by late November this year. More details on LBC’s website: www.lemonbayconservancy.org
The next LBC Wildflower Preserve Tarpon Net Pull is Sat. March 21 at 7.45 am. All are welcome to help.
If you share our values and would like to help LBC sustain our many great local projects LBC encourages you to join us as a member or use our tax free 501 3-C status to make donations for our programs. Membership info is on the LBC website listed above.