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Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys - What Does it Mean?

Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys: What Does it Mean?

Tim Grollimund[
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Author: Tim Grollimund

Date Published: January 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-3707997-1-8

Publisher: Shakespir Edition

Copyright © Apex Global Solutions LLC 2017. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified or distributed without the prior and express written permission of the copyright holder. All inquiries via timgrollimund.com

Acknowledgments

To Dad, who knew I loved the sea, and always encouraged me to pursue my passion.

Introduction

When I moved to the Florida Keys in 2009, I had one objective in mind. Simply, to become highly proficient as an underwater photographer. For the previous several years, I had helpd my brother take care of our ailing parents. A few days before our Dad passed away (Mom had passed several weeks before), my dad said something to me that was simple, yet profound. “Go get in the water where you belong”. I will never forget that. He knew how much I loved the sea, and for fifteen years I had not been in the water. I honor my father’s wish every time I jump off a boat.

My first foray in underwater photography was in the 1980s and 1990s. Dad loved seeing my seemingly endless slide shows in that [film/E-6] era. He knew, in my heart of hearts, I needed to be by the sea. So after he passed away, I came to the Florida Keys – and I don’t plan on living out of sight of the ocean, ever.

There are 75 ebooks in the collection. My goal is to produce one per week, which will run through all of 2017 to the middle of 2018. I will post new releases on my blog site: timgrollimund.com. Stay tuned, it’s going to be an entertaining ride! 

The ebooks will be priced at a discount during the Pre-order period ($0.99). On the Release Date the prices will increase to $2.99 – so get ‘em while they’re discounted! Make sure you go to my blog and get on the list for the Pre-Release Discounts!

The Reporter

The column as it appeared in The Reporter on March 11, 2011

The following image shows how the column was presented in The Reporter.

Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys: What Does it Mean?

Is the decline in this species significant for the Florida Keys?

Why should we care if yellow stingrays are on the decline?

While I was doing some background research for a previous column, I went off on a tangent and began collecting information on ecological issues facing the Keys. One topic that caught my eye was a study about the changes in the population of yellow stingrays in various parts of the Caribbean.  So why should we care about yellow stingrays?

REEF divers accumulated data on yellow stingrays

In this study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, Reef Environmental Education Foundation data on the yellow stingray population were used to study the abundance of the species, as observed by REEF divers, from 1999 to 2007.  Several noteworthy items emerged from the work, which you can see on the Reef web site (www.reef.org/db/publications). 

Data on yellow stingrays comes largely from volunteers and citizen scientists

First, as we discussed before, volunteer work to the organization has great value. Over 83,000 observational surveys were used in the study.  Imagine that!  Eighty-three thousand times volunteers gave their time and effort to advance science (and that was only in the Caribbean; it’s over 146,000 in total).  While the accuracy and consistency of the observations may be subject to some scrutiny, the study authors stated the training requirements of REEF did support sufficient consistency for validating the study results.  And citizen science is becoming a widely accepted practice.  Again, my hat goes off to all who give of themselves for the benefit of others.  And to REEF for emphasizing proper training so their results may be used for important studies such as this.

The main thrust of the work details the decline in abundance in yellow stingrays in many, but not all areas.  The Florida Keys had the largest decline, while Jamaica had an increase.  Why is that significant?

Several possible reasons were cited for the population changes.  First, maybe they just moved out. But that reason is discounted because yellow stingrays are benthic (they live on the bottom) and stay in a rather small area, which has been independently verified in other studies.  Habitat degradation from loss of seagrass cover, declines in fish densities, coral diseases, coral bleaching and water quality degradation seem at first blush to be reasonable causes – but if that were true, why the increase in Jamaica?  Direct exploitation from the aquarium trade and the research industry are also noted.  But again, why the increase in Jamaica, where habitat protection is minimal?

Did the rise in Goliath grouper populations affect yellow stingrays?

The last reason, and the one I feel is the most compelling, is due to changes in trophic interactions – eating or being eaten.  As the yellow stingray population declined, the large grouper population increased – or is it the other way around – the proverbial chicken or egg question.  The goliath grouper is protected and has made a significant comeback in our waters.  Contrast this with Jamaica, where there is a stark absence of larger predators, most notably, groupers.  When groupers were protected here, yellow stingrays declined… but is that a return to normalcy, and did the stingrays just “fill the gap” when the grouper population suffered?  Now I’ll grant you, from the standpoint of the local economy, that groupers will always get the nod over yellow stingrays, but in a perfect world who is to say what the value of one species is relative to another?

What are the implications of imbalance?  I found an example of this with sharks along the east coast. In a report from Oceana (www.oceana.org), as 11 species of large sharks declined over a 15 year period, the population of skates, rays and smaller sharks increased dramatically, up to ten times their number in some cases.  The result?  The collapse of the bay scallop industry as the dramatically increased numbers of cownose rays feasted on scallops, and had no predators to curb their growth rate.  Now, without the bivalves to act as water filters, more algae grows and the water quality declines.  And on and on it goes. 

Local case in point: Lionfish.  Can we ultimately overcome the introduction of such an invasive species?  What will nature do to adjust?  Even if we could kill all the lionfish, how has the balance of species been affected in the mean time, and what are the long-term consequences on our fisheries? 

Lionfish have invaded the Florida Keys

As divers, it is vitally important for us to appreciate how difficult it is to maintain the balance of an ecological system from a resource management point of view.  And who truly knows the answer to the question of the optimal balance of species?  Do resource managers have all the answers?  And if they don’t, how close are they?  All the more reason for the diving community to support our researchers, scientists and policy makers.  We may not always agree with their decisions, or understand the reasons, but there is one thing I do know.  The situation will change and adjustments will be made based on newly acquired knowledge. 

During my conversation with Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, one of the co-authors of the study, and the Director of Science for REEF, she taught me that adaptive management was the key to ongoing success in conservation.  Scientists and resource managers have a very difficult job.  The ecosystem is, quite literally, a moving target.  The impact of different stressors, such as changes in water temperature – remember our fish kill last winter – yield a different set of circumstances than conservation managers could have foreseen when policies were put in place.  Christy says that there are no easy answers, and as the coral ecosystem becomes less resilient due to increased and varied stressors it makes it harder for nature to adjust.  In the words of “Kay” from Men in Black, “Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

If you have information on unusual marine life sightings or great diving conditions, please  write to me.  I welcome your feedback.

***

About The Author

About Tim

I am a freelance photographer and PADI divemaster based in Key Largo, Florida. After a career in banking, marketing and consulting I moved to Key Largo in August 2009 to pursue my passion for underwater photography.

In December 2010 I won the underwater photography contest conducted during the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park 50th Anniversary Celebration. That led to a gig as the scuba diving columnist for the local newspaper.

It also led to a direct involvement with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as a member of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group and as an Alternate member of the FKNMS Advisory Council.

From January 2011 to April 2014 I wrote a bi-weekly column called DIVE TIME for The Reporter in the Upper Keys. Each time I wrote a column, I included a collection of images for the editor to choose from for the print edition. The editor did not have space available in the print edition to run all the images. I always felt a little “short-sheeted”, since all the photos I selected, to me, belonged with the column. I have always wanted to publish the columns as ebooks, and include all the images.

As the newspaper column developed, I became enamored with the behaviors of the critters I was spending many hours with on the reefs of the Upper Keys. As an extension of that curiosity, I ended up spending over a year as a representative on a working group for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and for a short while, as an Alternate member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

I spent endless hours reading the science and interviewing any scientist that would talk to me, with the objective of conveying their findings to the public in understandable language. As all this progressed, I wrote more and more about the science. I have compiled these as a series, which I call the “Sanctuary Science Series”.

Thank you for your interest in the ocean. It has been a great learning experience for me to find a subject, go through the discovery process by reading the science, and now, through this ebook format, to expand on the concepts and the images from the original columns published in The Reporter.

All the best to you as you dive with me to learn more about marine life.

Best Regards,

Tim

Email: [email protected]

Connect with me:
Gallery Site: http://timgimages.com
Blog: http://timgrollimund.com
Shakespir Interview: https://www.Shakespir.com/interview/timgimages
Shakespir profile page: https://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/timgimages 

Other eBooks, Prints and Keepsakes

By Tim Grollimund

Wreck Series

The Key Largo area has several wrecks that attract divers from all over the world. 

The wrecks that get the most attention in the Key Largo area are the Spiegel Grove, Duane and Benwood. 

  • Spiegel Grove: the most popular wreck in Key Largo. Over 500 feet long, diving depth from 65 to 130 feet. 
  • Duane and Bibb: Sunk as artificial reefs in the 1980s, these were the trend setters for using decommissioned Navy ships as artificial reefs in the Florida Keys. The exposed prop on the Bibb is a highlight of that deep dive.
  • Benwood: A great spot for diving and checkout dives for newbies. It’s a shallow dive, also well known for quality night dives.

See all the titles here: Wreck Series on timgrollimund.com

Sanctuary Science Series[
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Bonus: The first ebook in this series if Free! Look for “Aquarius Habitat is unique in the world”

This series focuses on a wide range of scientific topics. Several of these were associated with my trips to Aquarius Reef Base. The others were primarily from the time I spent as a Working Group Member and an Alternate Representative for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. 

There are 25 ebooks in this series. A loose generalization of the topics includes:

  • A summary of the FKNMS Conditions report that formed the basis of information for the Working Groups 
  • The connectivity and resilience of the reef system
  • The size, shape and placement of protected areas in the Florida Keys
  • The relevance of spawning areas and the importance of temporal restrictions during spawning seasons
  • The food chain, and how fishing pressure has potential unintended consequences

Over the years I wrote the newspaper columns, these topics generated the most spirited discussions in the Working Group meetings. Only time will tell if the conservation or the commercial interests prevail. In the next couple of years new regulations and boundaries will be released. Based on my experience, extreme opposition from some groups to increase protected areas may have a negative environmental impact on the health of the reef. The Florida Keys are in trouble. It’s all outlined in the Sanctuary Science Series.

See the full list here:  Sanctuary Series on timgrollimund.com

Marine Life Series

There are over 30 ebooks in this group. Many of the columns were species-specific. These were the most fun to write, since they were based on an innate curiosity for something I saw or wanted to know about a particular animal.

Here are some of the topics in this group:

  • Iconic species: eels, eagle rays, Goliath groupers, whale sharks, angelfish, barracuda, octopus, and more… 
  • Coral restoration efforts in the Florida Keys
  • Behavior: cleaning stations, schooling, relationships on the reef
  • Small critters: hamlets, butterfly fish, trunk fishes, wrasses, blennies, damsels, and more…
  • Gamefish and others: hogfish, permit, porgies, scorpionfish, snook, spadefish, trumpetfish, filefish, and more…

The variety of life on the reef can be quite exhilarating. I hope you share my enthusiasm as you dive deep into this abundance of species. See the full list here: Marine Life Series on timgrollimund.com

Wall Art and Paper Prints

The images you see on these pages are available on my website. Each image in the ebook has a link to the order page on the site.  

There are many sizes and styles of prints. Personally I prefer the Metal Prints. They are the most durable, bright and crisp presentations of the image, and come ready to hang. 

When you click on any of the images in the text, you will see the one you selected and many more to check out. Visit the gallery website at: www.timgimages.com

Keepsakes and Phone Cases

The coffee mugs, mousepads and phone cases are the most popular items.

You can also make post cards, key chains and coasters if that floats your boat!

Have some fun when you order the images and keepsakes – I certainly had a lot of fun
creating the images and writing the columns!

These make great gifts for your scuba diving friends! Visit the gallery website at: www.timgimages.com

Advertising and Editorial Uses

Need images for your ad campaign or editorial piece?

Contact me directly and we can discuss your specific use.

Email me: [email protected]
or Click to Call: 305-508-5545

Articles I used to write this column

Here are a few references I used to write this column…

Here are three references for the Yellow Stingray ebook. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, click the link below to go to the page on the website to download the PDF files

  • Spatial and temporal trends in yellow stingray abundance: evidence from diver surveys
  • Predicting ecological consequences of marine top predator declines
  • Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks

Table of Contents

  1. Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys: What Does it Mean?
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. Introduction
  4. The Reporter
  5. Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys: What Does it Mean?
  6. About The Author
  7. Other eBooks, Prints and Keepsakes
  8. Articles I used to write this column

Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys - What Does it Mean?

One topic that caught my eye was a study about the changes in the population of yellow stingrays in various parts of the Caribbean.  Why should we care about yellow stingrays? In this study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Biology of Fishes, Reef Environmental Education Foundation data on the yellow stingray population were used to study the abundance of the species, as observed by REEF divers, from 1999 to 2007.  Several noteworthy items emerged from the work, which you can see on the REEF web site. The main thrust of the work details the decline in abundance in yellow stingrays in many, but not all areas. The Florida Keys had the largest decline, while Jamaica had an increase. Why is that significant?

  • ISBN: 9781370799718
  • Author: Tim Grollimund
  • Published: 2017-01-10 03:35:11
  • Words: 2671
Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys - What Does it Mean? Yellow Stingray Population Declines in the Keys - What Does it Mean?