After almost two years of operational problems, water quality monitoring stations at the Dog Island and Gulf Jackson Aquaculture Use Zones are up and running! Real-time information is available for both stations and can be viewed at the Online Resource Guide for Florida Shellfish Aquaculture website by visiting the LIVE Water Quality pages. In 2002-03, monitoring equipment was installed at these lease areas and seven others in six Florida counties with USDA funding. However, lack of continued funding resulted in most of the stations being dismantled. In 2012, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), Division of Aquaculture and UF/IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension Program began jointly maintaining the two stations off Cedar Key, which were the ones most frequently utilized.
For over 14 years, these stations have been monitoring water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity of Cedar Key’s inshore coastal waters. Ongoing maintenance and upgrades have been critical to ensuring continual operation as the stations endure harsh conditions of the saltwater environment, undergo normal wear and tear, and components become outdated. In 2016, UF began required upgrades to both stations. New modems, data loggers, solar panels, and software programs were installed. In addition, DACS discontinued their support, resulting in changes to telephone accounts and computer servers.
Upgrading these systems over the past two years was a large undertaken. Although information at the Dog Island station was not accessible wirelessly and could not be viewed online, water quality was collected using backup batteries. Monthly graphs for this time period are available at the Archived Water Quality Information web page. The station at Gulf Jackson had a few more setbacks, causing the station to be inoperable during this period. The modem, a device that provides access to the Internet, was malfunctioning and replacements only operated a short period of time before going offline again. In addition, the batteries, which are powered by solar energy to run the station components, would not hold a charge. A huge thank you goes to Rusty Dame, a UF/IFAS graduate student, who was instrumental in resolving these problems.
For clam growers, salinity levels at the lease areas are probably the most useful information provided by these stations. This information allows growers to make better decisions on when to plant or transfer seed to grow-out bags. This year growers experienced low salinities during the summer as a result of a rainy season. Predictions for an El Ninõ to form are high (80% chance) for the 2018-19 winter. This is reflected in the recent increase in the Suwannee River discharge. To check river discharge and gage height, go to the USGS gage near Wilcox.