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Ocean Love

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Fun Fish Friday - Atlantic goliath grouper

What animal is as large as a refrigerator, spotted and striped, and enjoys dining on spiny lobster? That’s right – The Atlantic goliath grouper! This fascinating giant is next up in our “Fun Fish Friday” series because they are one of our favorite fish here at Sanibel Sea School. Here’s why:

Atlantic goliath grouper are huge. As their name suggests, these fish can reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh up to 800 pounds – that’s about 100 pounds per foot! These hefty fish aren’t afraid to use their size to their advantage either. By contracting the muscles around their swim bladder, they are able to stun their prey with a sonic blast. In addition to lobsters and other crustaceans, they like to chow down on octopus, small sea turtles, and stingrays. Goliath grouper also have 3-5 rows of teeth that aren’t used for chewing, but instead for catching prey and keeping it in their large mouth!

A SCUBA diver with a goliath grouper.

A SCUBA diver with a goliath grouper.

Grouper (and their cousins the sea basses) have a unique characteristic to their family in which they spend part of their life as both male and female. This is called sequential hermaphroditism. When environmental cues are just right, female grouper transition to male, but we aren’t positive when exactly this occurs during development, or why. Once the males and females mature, a massive offshore spawning of over 100 individuals occurs where eggs and sperm are released into the water for fertilization.

Due to its popularity as seafood and as a target for sportfishermen, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper declined rapidly in past years, and is now a federally protected species listed as “Critically Endangered” by the World Conservation Union. It is illegal to harvest this fish and if accidentally caught, it is to be returned quickly and unharmed to the sea. We are optimistic that these strict regulations will bring the population numbers of these outstanding fish back up, so that we can enjoy their beauty for generations to come. 

A small goliath grouper caught (and promptly released) by a Sanibel Sea School staff member!

A small goliath grouper caught (and promptly released) by a Sanibel Sea School staff member!


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Microbeads - The Invisible Pollution

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Microbeads - The Invisible Pollution

Try to imagine what ocean pollution looks like. What is the first image that comes to mind? Oil, plastic water bottles, maybe fishing nets? We often conjure up images of tangible objects, such as things we have seen bobbing along in the water or washed up on the beach, but there is an even larger culprit that is actually quite small.

Microbeads or sometimes referred to as nurdles, are tiny bits of plastic smaller than 5mm long. Microbeads were initially designed to be used in biomedical research but have recently been utilized in personal hygiene products as a skin exfoliates. These tiny particles are often found in face wash, hand soaps, and even toothpaste. This concept was seemingly a convenient idea – having a built in scrubber for a squeaky-clean feel. However, after these particles disappear down the drain, they are unable to be filtered out by sewer treatment plants – ultimately ending up in our oceans, rivers, and The Great Lakes.

Here’s the problem: microbeads are composed of polyethylene, a plastic that is not biodegradable. Once they enter the ocean they are consumed by plankton and then passed through the food chain to larger fish or mistaken as fish eggs by other sea creatures. We’re unsure how exactly these particles are affecting the digestive system of these the animals, but we do know that they are increasingly accumulating in our waters.

Luckily, this global issue is already being addressed by states in the US pushing to ban the sale of these products; even large companies like Unilever, are now committed to phasing-out all microbeads from their products by 2015. You can make a difference too by following these 3 simple steps:

1.     Discontinue the use of personal products that contain polyethylene beads.

2.      Download this app to determine if your personal products contain microbeads.

3.      Look for products that contain natural exfoliates as an alternative, such as crushed apricot shells and walnuts. We recommend Burt’s Bees or St. Ives, both use 100% natural exfoliates. 

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5 Great Places to Fill Up Your Reusable Coffee Mug


Piggybacking off of our last 'Sanibel Tips' blog post, we are back this week to help you fill up those reusable mugs with our top picks for coffee on Sanibel. Here's where we recommend to get hydrated or caffeinated: 

1) Bennett's Fresh Roast. Delicious coffee and homemade donuts - the perfect morning kick start.  

2) The Sanibel Bean. At this family friendly establishment, you can cool down with a yummy frozen chai or even a smoothie. 

3) Bailey's Coffee Bar. Fill up your reusable mug here to fuel your grocery shopping. 

4) Dolce Tesoro - Simply Cupcakes. Enjoy your coffee paired with the best cupcakes on island. 

5) Sanibel Sea School. That's right, SX3 is now serving our own house blend coffee - organic, artisan roasted, fair-trade African beans. Our coffee comes with great conversation and fun facts about the ocean. The best part - it's free! 

Still need a reusable bottle? Sanibel Sea School has two stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles for sale: an 18oz water bottle and a 20oz vacuum insulated thermos. The insulated thermos keeps your beverages cool for 24 hours or hot for 6 hours and even comes with a cafe lid - a must have! 

Still need a reusable bottle? Sanibel Sea School has two stainless steel Kleen Kanteen bottles for sale: an 18oz water bottle and a 20oz vacuum insulated thermos. The insulated thermos keeps your beverages cool for 24 hours or hot for 6 hours and even comes with a cafe lid - a must have! 


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Shark Spotted Nearshore on Sanibel!

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Shark Spotted Nearshore on Sanibel!

A few weeks ago, someone sent us this photograph of a shark taken along the shores of Sanibel Island.  They asked if we could identify it, but due to the anatomical similarities between many shark species, that’s no easy feat. So we asked a group of shark biologists to help us out and ensure that the identification was as accurate as possible. 

 First, we reached out to former University of Florida shark expert Jason Seitz. Jason mused that it could be a lemon or bull shark based on his previous fishing experience and the visibility of the dorsal fins.  In the photo, the second dorsal fin was below the surface of the water, suggesting that it was relatively small in size. A smaller second dorsal fin is a good field mark for bull sharks, so Jason thought that this species was the presumable choice. Jason also ruled out a black-tip shark due to the lack of pigmentation on the dorsal.

Even though these species were both plausible suggestions, Robert E. Hueter, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory, had a different idea. Based on the photo, Dr. Hueter decided that the fin shape and position weren't exactly fit for a bull shark. He confirmed that the species was, in fact, a sandbar shark – it is typical for them to swim near shore in the winter months in SW Florida, passing through on a migratory journey or following their prey.  And so we found our answer.

It’s always fascinating to catch a glimpse of shark fin from the beach, but this example just goes to show that fish identification isn’t always as easy as it might seem. From land, it’s hard to see what is swimming below the waves, and sometimes it takes great experience and skill to solve the mystery. Luckily, there are biologists ready and willing to step up to the challenge!

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