The juvenile tarpon research initiative at Wildflower Preserve officially kicked off in September 2012 when DNA samples were taken from 43 tarpon netted in Lemon Creek. Lemon Bay Conservancy is partnering with the Florida Fish & Wildlife COmmission and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust on a multi-year study of tarpon in the creek system at Wildflower. University of Florida graduate student JoEllen King coordinated the first 18 months of the fish sampling work and data analysis.
Development of coastal areas has caused many mangrove backwaters like Lemon Creek to be lost or degraded. That’s a major concern because these protected mangrove areas play a very important role in the life cycle of tarpon and many other species. Tarpon are born 100 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. By instinct, the tiny fish (called leptocephalus larvae) find their way back to the shoreline and into protected creeks and waterways. In these backwaters, the young tarpon feed and grow for about two years before heading to more open waters.
When the tarpon are netted for the study, they are quickly placed in a holding tank. Each fish is measured and a DNA sample is taken. For tarpon over 19 cm in length, a small RFID (radio frequency ID) tag is inserted into the fish. These tags, similar to those used for pets, provide a unique identifying code for each individual tarpon. As soon as the analysis work is complete, the young fish are quickly returned unharmed to the creek.
The objectives for the initial study phase were to gain an understanding of the tarpon populations in the creek and to learn how many juveniles leave the creek to return to Lemon Bay and more open waters. With the cooperation of the Lemon Bay Golf Course, an RFID antenna was mounted above Lemon Creek near the point where it meets the bay. The antenna and a linked recording system pickedup the RFID signals of passing tarpon and logged that information for the study.
Monthly tarpon net pull work has been continuing at the preserve to track the juvenile populations as we await the expansion and improvement of the estuarine habitats as part of the major Wildflower Preserve Habitat Restoration Project. Once the restoration is complete, we hope to conduct pre and post restoration comparison studies with involvement from FWC, NOAA and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.
If you would like to assist with this initiative by donating toward project funding or assisting with fish sampling, please call the LBC office at 941-830-8922.