About Florida Sea Grant

Florida Sea Grant is a university-based program that supports research, education and extension to conserve coastal resources and enhance economic opportunities for the people of Florida. We are a partnership between the Florida Board of Education, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Florida's citizens and governments. Our extension, education and outreach programs are done in partnership with UF/IFAS Extension and coastal counties of Florida. Inquiries may be directed to Dorothy Zimmerman, Communications Director.

Tarpon Springs Business Links its Success to Florida Sea Grant

Jim Cantonis is president of Acme Sponge and Chamois of Tarpon Springs, Fla., a successful processor and wholesaler of marine sponges and sheepskin chamois products sold around the world. Florida Sea Grant contributes to the company’s success by conducting research in the biology of marine sponges that helps ensure the sustainability of the commercial fishery.

Q: Tell us about the sponge industry in Florida.

Cantonis: The natural sponge industry in Florida has had its ups and downs over the last few decades. It surged in the ’80s when there was blight in the Mediterranean. Mediterranean sponges have come back, so it’s leveled off the industry activity here. We still maintain a higher level of fishing than we had prior to that boom in the late ’80s, but not close to what we used to see in the 1920s and ’30s.

Q: Where does most of the sponge activity take place in Florida today?

Cantonis: Most of the activity in Florida now, 70%, is occurring in the Keys. But sponges are also fished off the west coast of Florida, primarily from Tarpon Springs north to Cedar Key.

Q: Tell us about Acme Sponge and Chamois.

Cantonis: I’m the fourth generation of the family business going back to the Mediterranean, a little island in Greece called Symi. That was the roots of our company,  but we actually started in the U.S., in NewYork City, when my dad at the age of 21 borrowed a thousand dollars and went there and started peddling Mediterranean sponges out of his trunk. Subsequently we moved to Chicago, then moved the whole operation down here in 1977. The new building we’re in today we built in 1985 to help us process sponges at a higher rate.

Q: What accounts for the 30% growth your business has seen over each of the last two years?

Cantonis: There’s been a real surge in using natural product, and of course there’s nothing more natural than a sponge picked out of the ocean. The biggest increase is for bath sponges, especially for bathing babies. Sponges have a natural antibacterial property to them. It’s amazing how many times we hear, ‘If it’s good enough for my baby it’s good enough for me.’

Q: How does sponge fishing relate to Florida Sea Grant?

Cantonis: Without Florida Sea Grant there would be no sponge fishery in Florida. The research done by Sea Grant and other researchers tells a wonderful story. At current harvest levels, sponges are truly a renewable resource. Sponge tissue left behind after harvesting can actually regenerate to produce a new sponge. No other fishery resource that I know of can tell the same story. This is why it is important to rely on objective scientific evidence in evaluating the management of our fishery resources. These are facts, not just conjecture by well-intentioned folks that don’t have all the information in front of them.

Q: In what ways are you engaged with Florida Sea Grant?

Cantonis: I’m involved on the Sea Grant advisory board now as vice chairman, and I value the time. It has given me the opportunity to work with all of the various constituencies concerned with the health of our coastlines from commercial fishermen to sport fishermen, from environmentalists to research scientists, to other industries unrelated to the fisheries that are directly involved in wanting quality waterways and a healthy Florida ecology.

Q: How can other business leaders become involved?

Cantonis: Call me. Or better yet, contact Florida Sea Grant at the University of Florida and tell them you’d like to get involved. It’s wonderful on two levels. Number one, it’s great for the health of our state. But it’s also a benefit for business owners that have anything to do with the fisheries and our coastline, to get involved and truly be able to make a positive difference. The program is about developing partnerships with businesses to support the work needed to solve practical problems.”

Q: How does Sea Grant ensure its relevance to Floridians?

Cantonis: It’s applied science,so it is science to me at its best. It’s not just the fisheries. It has impact on every aspect of our lives in Florida. Eighty percent of the population of Florida is within 20 miles of the coast. So we’re all directly impacted by the threats of hurricanes — by the threats of sea-level rise. And all of those things are concerns of Sea Grant.

Visit these links to learn more about Florida’s marine sponges:


Innovative national conference to explore how communities solve waterfront challenges

photo of sailboats in biscayne bay

Situated on Biscayne Bay, the city of Miami experiences many of the issues that waterfront communities face each day. (Florida Sea Grant photo)

As urban, commercial, and rural waterfronts across the U.S. face challenges to their continued existence and development, community leaders are increasingly finding solutions by listening, learning and interacting with each other.

That’s the impetus behind the National Working Waterfronts and Waterways Symposium, which runs this year from Nov.16-19 in Tampa, Fla.

It’s the only conference of its kind to bring together planners, property developers, researchers, elected officials, attorneys, and other stakeholders from waterfront communities to learn about local, state and national initiatives, management approaches and tools to address issues of water access and water-dependent industries.

Attendees will hear about new approaches that increase the capacity of coastal communities to balance competing uses and plan for the future of working waterfronts and waterways, according to conference organizer Bob Swett, a specialist in boating issues and waterways planning for Florida Sea Grant.

“They are dedicated champions of local working waterfronts, and they come from throughout the U.S. to share ideas and solutions, and to learn about new approaches,” he said. “Being in the company of hundreds of such like-minded souls can be quite transformative.”

This year’s conference includes sessions on redevelopment of waterfront communities, marine industry sustainability, surviving commercial fishing declines, land-use issues related to waterway management, and preserving maritime culture and heritage.

Registration for the symposium is $425 until Oct. 19. For commercials entities and organizations wishing to engage with attendees, sponsorships that include display space are available through a range of packages on a first-come, first-served basis.

Complete symposium details are available at the conference website, http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/NWWWS/index.html.

Task force formed to address Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery collapse

Florida Sea Grant heads up a task force to examine the collapse of the oyster fishery in Apalachicola.

Victor Garrido, left, a research coordinator with Florida Sea Grant’s seafood safety program, discusses frozen oysters with Apalachicola seafood processor Grady Leavins, center, and Bill Mahan, Franklin County Sea Grant agent. Florida Sea Grant is leading a task force to examine the collapse of the area’s oyster harvest. (UF/IFAS photo)

Responding to the oyster fishery collapse in Apalachicola Bay, Florida Sea Grant and experts with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will join forces with local seafood producers to find ways of restoring sustainable populations of the area’s world-famous oysters.

“We’re extremely concerned and want to help however we can,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “An estimated 2,500 people work in Franklin County’s oyster industry and businesses closely allied with it. Many of them are now wondering how to put food on the table.”

Payne announced formation of the UF Oyster Recovery Task Force and named Florida Sea Grant director Karl Havens to lead it.

The task force has multiple priorities, including learning why oyster populations declined, finding ways to help them bounce back, and identifying solutions for social and economic impacts, Havens said.

Apalachicola has long hosted UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant oyster and ecosystem research projects. It’s home to a UF laboratory dedicated to post-harvest processing that safeguards raw oysters from Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, he said.

More information on this story can be accessed at University of Florida News.

Should the buyer be more aware?

Most new property owners in Florida’s coastal construction line zone are unaware their purchase is subject to more stringent construction standards. Florida Sea Grant photo by Karl Havens.

Florida state law that’s intended to alert coastal property buyers about stringent construction and environmental regulations affecting the property may not be working as well as anticipated.

According to results of a recent research survey, most buyers who had recently purchased property falling within the state’s specially designated Coastal Construction Line zone were not made aware of that fact as required by law. If they did receive notice, they did not remember it.

Property within the coastal construction zone is subject to stricter building requirements that are intended to protect beaches and dunes, the coast’s first line of defense against storms. Approval of construction permits in the zone is based on a review of the potential impacts to the beach dune system, as well as environmental considerations like native vegetation and nesting sea turtles.

Changes passed to state law after Florida’s historic 2004-05 hurricane seasons required that prospective buyers be notifed of these standards.

The research project, conducted by the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, evaluated the extent to which the changes had achieved their intended effect. In a survey of 2,500 random property owners, more than 8 in 10 respondents could not recall seeing the information.

“At the very least, it suggests the manner in which the disclosure is presented, during the transaction process, is just not adequate to meet the law’s purpose,” said Tom Ankersen, Florida Sea Grant legal specialist and co-author of the study.

The final report (TP-194) is available online at fl seagrant.org. The executive summary (TP-195) with conclusions and recommendations for statutory reform is also available online.

What are fish descending devices?

the roklees is one kind of fish descending device

Betty Staugler of Florida Sea Grant field tests the RokLees fish descender, a tool developed in California. The fish is lowered and then released by a sharp tug on the line.

Experienced deep-sea anglers are all too familiar with the challenge of releasing snapper, grouper and other reef species caught in deep water. It’s not an issue unique to the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, it is fair to say it happens worldwide.

The problem is barotrauma, a condition caused by the rapid change in atmospheric pressure when the fish is reeled too quickly to the surface. Gases in the fish’s swim bladder, an organ used to control their buoyancy in the water column, expand and rupture the bladder, escaping into the fish’s body cavity.

Recent research on rock fish on California’s West Coast has shown that many species of these deep-dwelling fish can survive if they are quickly returned to the bottom. A number of ingenious anglers have developed a variety of devices that can be used to accomplish this with minimum injury to the fish.

Some of these devices have just come on the market in the past six to nine months, and Florida Sea Grant extension agents are now conducting field trials of various descending tools on Gulf species to develop expertise in their use. You can read more about this new project by visiting The Marine Scene Plus!

Dive into Florida’s scalloping season

thumbnail of taylor county scalloping mapScallopers, rejoice! Just in time for the start of Florida’s 2012 scalloping season, Florida Sea Grant has published the boat ramp and marina locator map, “Recreational Harvesting of the Florida Bay Scallop: Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach Areas.”

Inside, viewers will find a full-color map identifying access routes to the boat ramps and marinas in southern Taylor County near Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach.

The recreational bay scallop harvest season begins July 1 and ends Sept. 24; the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comission decided to permanently extended the season by two weeks on June 28, 2012.

Free copies of the ramp and marina locator map for Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach are available in numerous marinas throughout Taylor County, the Taylor County IFAS Extension office in Perry, or by contacting Florida Sea Grant, info@flseagrant.org, (352) 392-2801.